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Volume 7 No. 95

International Football

Man City owner City Football Group said that its ambition is to build the "first truly global football organisation" and its owners "are at the vanguard of a growing trend for wealthy individuals to control multiple clubs," according to Murad Ahmed of the FINANCIAL TIMES. The intention is for "each of the teams in the network to be profitable in their own right, but co-operate to identify and train the world’s best players," while securing marketing deals to "fund the wages of footballing superstars." At its heart is Man City, bought in '08 by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the billionaire businessman, deputy PM of the UAE and a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family. He "promised to transform the team" into a "global megaclub capable of winning Europe’s biggest prizes." At the time, "such ambition was ridiculed" by then-ManU Manager Alex Ferguson, who described it as the excitable talk of "noisy neighbours." In reality, Sheikh Mansour’s estimated personal wealth of $20B, from holdings in Abu Dhabi’s oil and gas entities, gives the club "greater financial resources than all its rivals." In recent years, the Emirati prince "has funded a different spending spree." In '13, Man City joined with the MLB N.Y. Yankees to pay $100M for the franchise rights to create a football team in N.Y. CFG "then struck smaller multimillion-dollar deals" to buy Australia’s Melbourne Heart, since renamed Melbourne City, and Uruguay’s Atlético Torque. It also acquired minority stakes in Yokohama Marinos in Japan and Spain’s Girona. A senior Premier League club exec described CFG as a "hall of mirrors" designed to funnel revenues back to the central entity in Manchester and "justify its enormous spending on players." A £400M ($535.4M), 10-year deal with Etihad, Abu Dhabi’s state airline led to accusations of "financial doping" by Juventus President Andrea Agnelli. Others suggest CFG "represents a geopolitical play, designed to exert Emirati soft power by creating winning teams" in the world’s favorite sport. Salford University professor Simon Chadwick said, "Abu Dhabi is not doing this because it likes Levenshulme [a district of Manchester]. They are doing this to seek sustainable revenue streams from the investments that will provide currency inflows in 10, 20, 50 years' time when the oil and gas is gone" (FT, 12/8).

FIFA "finally admitted" it has yet to perform a single "tampering" test on suspicious Russian drug samples but will do so early in '18 in a move that "might yet embarrass" it and 2018 World Cup host Russia, according to Harris & Draper of the London DAILY MAIL. The governing body "became mired in the Russian doping scandal" after the revelation that at least 34 Russian footballers, including the whole 2014 World Cup squad, "were on a list of alleged beneficiaries of Russia’s state doping and cover-ups." Over the past five months, FIFA has said little, but has claimed its investigations "are ongoing and that tests on stored samples had come back negative." Now it has confirmed it is yet to perform "forensic analysis" of sample bottles because, until recently, there had been "no standard methodology to determine whether bottles containing urine for doping analysis bear marks indicating surreptitious opening." The IOC has "now developed such a method," FIFA said. This test "is crucial." Simple retesting "shows whether drugs are present but it is vital to know whether the bottles have been tampered with" -- indicative of "swapping tainted urine for clean urine." FIFA added that it will continue to attempt to gain access to "key Russian whistleblower" Grigory Rodchenkov who, via his lawyer, said that he "has evidence of Russian football doping" (DAILY MAIL, 12/9).

Japan beat North Korea 1-0 Saturday with a 93rd-minute goal in the East Asian Championship "amid a backdrop of serious tensions between the two nations." There were doubts the game "could even go ahead with North Korean nationals currently banned from entering Japan" as part of the sanctions against Pyongyang. Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic said, "The world is strange but by playing football we can enjoy the best parts of it, which are joy and friendship" (AP, 12/9).

Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg was ordered to "partially close" its stadium by UEFA after fans "displayed a banner praising former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic" during a 2-1 home win over Macedonian side Vardar Skopje in the Europa League last month. The Russian club was found guilty of "racist behaviour" under Article 14 of UEFA's disciplinary regulations (REUTERS, 12/8).