Global Agenda: The Battle of Moscow

A lesson in business practices for Chelsea's Roman Abramovich.

global agenda 88 (photo credit:)
global agenda 88
(photo credit: )
This year's European Champions League cup final, played in Moscow on Wednesday night between Manchester United and Chelsea, was a genuine drama, extending through full time into extra time and on to the agonizing penalty shoot-out. Along the way, there was some excellent football, mostly from Chelsea, but that was the team that ended up losing - to the chagrin of most Israelis, who were rooting for the London club's Israeli manager, Avraham Grant. From a wider perspective, the first-ever all-English final of Europe's most prestigious club football competition, confirmed that it is the English Premier League, rather than the Italian or Spanish leagues, that contains the highest concentration of the best clubs and players. But to obtain these players costs clubs huge amounts of money. Chelsea is an extreme example where the owner, Russian-Jewish 'oligarch' Roman Abramovich, has spent an estimated hundreds of millions of US dollars to build the current team. The select group of top European teams are all major businesses, which must generate massive revenues - primarily from franchising their brand names - to pay their huge expenses and still provide profits for the businessmen who own them. Chelsea was indeed unfortunate to lose on Wednesday night. But the fact that Abramovich's Chelsea lost the English league to United, indeed that most objective observers believe that United is the better team and is likely to remain so - has nothing to do with fortune, or with football. The current English dominance of Europe stems from the superiority of Anglo-Saxon market-oriented capitalism over the Continental European tradition of closely-held family firms. And in the specific context of the United-Chelsea rivalry, United's triumph represents the victory of American capitalism over the bastard version developing in Russia. After all, United also has owners - although nowhere near as famous as Abramovich. They are also Jews - but that's secondary. They are, first and foremost, Americans. So what? So they run the business in the interests of the business, and everyone plays within that culture. At United, there are egos as big as those at Chelsea, but the business is not an ego-trip for anyone, not primarily and not secondarily. Once a clear distinction is made between business and personal, it becomes possible to plan and execute a long-term business strategy which doesn't reflect and depend on personal whims and preferences. The business can be run along rational lines, using modern concepts such as transparency, areas of responsibility, accountability, and so on. The alternative model is a hive of Byzantine intrigue, focused on one node of absolute power which tends to be used capriciously and which deliberately creates and fosters uncertainty. True, there are also American companies which fit the latter description, but they are the exceptions and they tend not to last. Current Russian-style capitalism, on public display at Chelsea but much more commonplace in Moscow, is also unlikely to last. It will either mature into the American model or collapse as its flaws become unsustainable. landaup@netvision.net.il