City cheerleaders pawns in a game

Last updated at 19:44 29 February 2008


Smiling and apparently not

shackled, two Manchester City

players fly into Bangkok to affirm that

Thaksin Shinawatra is

a thoroughly good egg,

as their owner fights off

corruption charges and

attempts to unfreeze

£800 million of his assets.

From the violence of Thailand's

recent history, we

probably all agree that what

the people of that troubled

Asian state need now is for

Sven Goran Eriksson to have

a bigger transfer budget this

summer. This, assuredly, is

the former prime minister's

wish, as he tells the nation

he once ruled with an iron

rod: 'There will be Man City

China, Man City Japan, Man

City U.S. in the next season.

Man City will be another

Man United.'

Before 'Blue Moon' is

adopted as the new Thai

anthem, though, perhaps we

should stop to ask why

Kasper Schmeichel and

Kelvin Etuhu have been

dragged off the training

ground to be cheerleaders

for an alleged serial human

rights abuser. It's certainly

an intriguing addition to the

young goalkeeper's normal

drills: 'Monday — crosses

and shots from outside the

box, Tuesday — agility and

visual awareness. Wednesday

— ambassadorial mission

to help keep owner out

of Thai jail and release funds

for manager to go on new

spending spree.'

Thaksin's arrest and immediate

release on bail following

his ground-kissing return

to Thailand to face a corruption

trial looks to all the

world like a pre-planned

buddy-deal with the government

and judiciary. Unless

they've tricked him into

ending his 17-month exile, in

which case Eriksson might

have to shop at Blackpool

and Burnley this summer.

Sitting comfortably: Thai youngsters wait for Schmeichel to start the coaching clinic

But as the 'International

Round' goes the way of the

Sinclair C5 and Betamax

video, Thaksin has again

demonstrated the proselytising

zeal of Premier League

owners. Buying a big club in

this country sometimes has

the hey-presto side effect of

turning a tycoon from a

pariah into an internationally

renowned sporting figure.

That's not why they do it,

of course. Thaksin just fell in

love with Liverpool — sorry,

Manchester City. Then came

the revelation one dark

night: riding back into

Bangkok on English football's

stallion was infinitely

more promising than returning

home with a tasty

telecommunications proposal.

Shame on you if you

think Thaksin's purchase of

City was in any way intended to assist his political rehabilitation.

Borrowing his template of

going back to things, I

returned this week to a letter

the New York-based Human

Rights Watch wrote to Premier

League chief executive

Richard Scudamore when

Thaksin rolled into Eastlands.

That was where, of

course, the Blair government

wanted to build a

supercasino to trap the

locals in low-paid jobs with

anti-social hours while also

encouraging them to acquire

gambling addictions.

For City's famously loyal

supporters, Thaksin's takeover

was another spin of

life's wheel. It's worth

repeating at length the correspondence

to Scudamore.

Certainly Schmeichel and

Etuhu should take a look.

HRW's Asia Director Brad

Adams writes: 'In the light

of the widespread, serious

and systematic human rights

abuses perpetrated in Thailand

under Mr Thaksin's

leadership we are very concerned

that you concluded

that he is a “fit and proper

person” to purchase Manchester

City Football Club.

'Our research and that of

other credible organisations

shows that (his) time in

office from 2001 to 2006 was

characterised by numerous

extrajudicial executions,

“disappearances”, illegal

abductions, arbitrary detentions,

torture and other

mistreatment of persons in

detention, and attacks on

media freedoms.'

The Premier League's

response is not recorded.

There is no urge here to

demonise Schmeichel or

Etuhu. They're simply being

used to promote Thaksin's

flak-deflecting vision of City

as 'the team Thais are proud

of'.

Their presence at 'coaching

clinics' is not the first

time footballers have been

used as political tools. But in

maturity, Peter The Great's

son may not look back with

any fondness on his eulogy

this week: 'He's a very genuine

and very nice person,'

said Kasper. 'Very generous

and passionate about the

club.'

Back home, the problem is

not naivety so much as

megalomania. The doomed

39th game turns out to be

the perfect illustration of the

ethos that allowed Thaksin

to buy Manchester City without

a murmur — and then

permitted him to turn the

son of the Premier League's

greatest goalkeeper into a

travelling stooge.

Last word, then, to Human

Rights Watch, who lectured

Scudamore last summer:

'We hope you would agree

that the integrity of the

Premier League depends in

large part on the integrity of

its owners. The rules

concerning who is “fit and

proper” should ensure that

serious human rights

abusers are not among the

league's owners.'

The Premier League didn't

want him stopped, of course,

they wanted him in, for his

money, for his Asian clout.

Keep smiling, Kelvin and

Kasper. He'll let you go

home soon.

Brown is wrong to wage war

Wes Brown's contract

stand-off with Manchester

United is about more than

money, he says. The last of

the local heroes thinks he's

treated differently because

he's been at the club since he

was 12, and resents being

told to 'take it or leave it' in a

tone United wouldn't adopt

in negotiations with one of

their household names.

This is his side of a story that

looks like a bad case of a

good player committing

professional suicide for the

sake of an extra £10,000 a

week. Brown's contract

expires this summer and he's

deeply entrenched. One day

soon he could find himself

pulling on an Everton or

Tottenham shirt. Hardly a

tragedy, but not quite Old

Trafford. As Sir Alex Ferguson

said this week in another

context: 'You don't leave

Manchester United.'

Ferguson has bashed

Brown's entourage. 'Players

of today live in their agents'

pockets,' he said. 'It's a

situation which depresses

me at times, it really

depresses me. Wes has been

with us since he was 12 but I

don't think that matters

these days.'

The club have offered him

£45,000 a week. He is said to

want £55,000 to bring him

closer to the six-figure men.

He says United delayed their

offer until the autumn and

then refused to budge. The

big names, he argues, are

approached 18 months

before their deal runs out.

Footballers often harbour

these grievances. Some go

the whole hog and impale

their careers on a point of

principle. But Brown has

taken a decade to establish

himself as an automatic

choice, at right back, in Gary

Neville's absence.

Resentment is no basis on

which to make a decision.

That £45,000 a week is still

£25,000 after tax, or

£1.3million a year, enough for

any man. Maybe he should

close his eyes and imagine

never wearing a Manchester

United jersey again, at 28, just

as he puts a long history of

injuries behind him. Perhaps

United could make one last

goodwill gesture. Don't leave,

is the only sensible advice.

Don't let Tyson wreck the boom

The ring-sweeper was

trying to escape. But we

intercepted him at the

gate and he told us how

he had plucked a piece

of Evander Holyfield's

ear off the canvas and

carried it to the

champion's dressing

room, saying: 'I think

this belongs to you.'

That tableau jumped to

mind with Holyfield's

disclosure that Mike

Tyson had sounded him

out about a rematch.

'Tyson-Holyfield III —

The Dessert' might be a

good hook. Coming to

you live on pay-perchew.

Yes, we cracked

all those jokes when

The Real Meal's ear was

mutilated by Tyson,

who was exposed that

night as a bully who

disintegrates when

bullied (Buster Douglas

proved the point, but

Holyfield really drove it

home).

There is no theatre of

the absurd low enough

to stage a third

collision between the

wreck that was Tyson

the fighter in his

defeats to Danny

Williams and Kevin

McBride and the proud

but shuffling gladiator

that Holyfield has

become.

Boxing is booming again.

Tyson-Holyfield III

would wreck that

revival overnight. A

pavement would be

too grand a venue for

them to get it on. 'Bite

Night, y'all.' No. No a

thousand times.

Grant's solution

Chelsea's best starting

XI doesn't seem that

hard to pick. Surely

Avram Grant's post-

Africa Cup of Nations

agonising would be

solved by switching to

4-4-2 as follows: Cech;

Belletti, Carvalho, Terry,

Bridge; Wright-Phillips,

Essien, Lampard, Joe

Cole; Anelka, Drogba.

This attacking line-up

would terrify most opponents.

And since when

were the long-term

contributions made by

Michael Ballack and

Andriy Shevchenko so

great that they're entitled

to agitate when left

out? The two unlucky

losers in my ideal

Chelsea team are Alex

and John Mikel Obi.

Ashley Cole is on some

other planet.

Easy to be a manager,

really, when you're up

there in the stands.

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