Google+
  • You are here:
  • Home »
  • Archive: December, 2017

Archive Monthly Archives: December 2017

Seahawks @ Cowboys: Dallas throws away playoff chances in 21-12 defeat – Blogging The Boys (blog)


Blogging The Boys (blog)

Seahawks @ Cowboys: Dallas throws away playoff chances in 21-12 defeat
Blogging The Boys (blog)
It was effectively the end to the season for the Dallas Cowboys as they dropped a really poorly played game to the Seattle Seahawks, 21-12. And the Cowboys pretty much handed the win to the visitors with mistakes in all phases of the game. So many

Continue reading

Manchester City’s plan for global domination

The long read: Football has already been transformed by big money but the businessmen behind Man City are trying to build a global corporation that will change the game for ever

On 19 December 2009, Pep Guardiola stood and wept in the middle of Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. The 38-year-old Barcelona manager clasped a hand across his face as his body gave way to huge, shoulder-heaving sobs. Zlatan Ibrahimović, the club’s towering Swedish striker, wrapped a tattooed arm around Guardiola’s neck and then gave him a vigorous push in order to jolt him out of it. But Guardiola could not stop. It was a strange place for the world’s most celebrated football coach to break down: Barcelona had just won a game that few people watched on television to secure one of football’s most obscure titles, the Fifa Club World Cup. But the victory secured an unbreakable record: Barcelona had won all six titles available to any club in a single year. That is why Pep was sobbing.

Back at home in Barcelona, it was a bittersweet moment for Ferran Soriano. A hairdresser’s son from the city’s working-class district of Poblenou, Soriano had become one of FC Barcelona’s top executives – and had helped build what could now claim to be the greatest football team the world had ever seen. “I was happy, but it was also painful not to be there when the team reached its pinnacle,” he told me. Instead, he picked up the phone and called Guardiola.

Soriano had overseen Barcelona’s finances for five years until 2008, and the club’s record owed much to the ideas he had developed after running a US-style political campaign to bring a group of swashbuckling, sharp-suited young men to power at elections for a new board of directors in 2003. He had even written a book, La Pelota no entra por azar (“The ball doesn’t go in by chance”), in which he argued that Barcelona’s success – and, by inference, that record – was the result of good, creative business management. Vicious political infighting had driven him to resign from the club the previous year. But even before that, he had seen one of his more ambitious ideas – to set up franchise clubs in other countries – thwarted at Barcelona. This was a step too far for a club owned by 143,000 voting fans, firmly rooted in their city and Catalonia.

But Soriano’s big idea has now been brought to life by two men who were watching very closely on the night Guardiola wept in Abu Dhabi: one is a member of the United Arab Emirates’ ruling family, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and the other is Khaldoon al-Mubarak, a youthful executive and adviser to the royal family. With their backing, Soriano is now upending football’s established order by building its first true multinational corporation – a Coca-Cola of soccer.

That corporation is City Football Group (CFG). It already owns, or co-owns, six clubs on four continents, and the contracts of 240 male professional players and two dozen women. Hundreds more carefully picked teenagers and younger children who aspire to greatness play in CFG’s lower teams. The longterm ambition is huge. The company will trawl the world for players – shaping and polishing them in state-of-the-art academies and training facilities across several continents, selling them on or sending the best to the clubs it will own (and improve) in a dozen or so countries. Supplied and shielded by the vessels around it, the flagship of this new football flotilla – Manchester City FC – will continue its already startling rise to become the world’s greatest club.

That is the Soriano idea – or at least, a simplified version of a complex plan. The corporation is only four years old, but it is rapidly becoming one of the most powerful forces in the world’s favourite sport – watched with awe, envy and fear by those who wonder if it could become football’s own Google or Facebook.


In a game where top players cost £200m, televised matches attract audiences of hundreds of millions and club owners are among the wealthiest potentates on the planet, no expense is spared in seeking any competitive edge. Once upon a time, money alone was enough to make the difference (if it was spent wisely), but that is no longer the case, in part because there is so much of it sloshing around the game.

When Manchester City won the Premier League in 2012, Sheikh Mansour was widely accused of “buying the title for £1bn” – the amount of money he had poured into City since purchasing the club four years earlier. It was City’s first major trophy in 36 years, and grown men cried when Sergio Agüero’s goal in the penultimate minute of the season’s final game secured the title. Mansour watched it on television: he had only ever been to one match at City’s Etihad stadium, and did not enjoy the fuss his visit caused. In the hours that followed, his phone hummed, filling up with 2,500 messages.

Man
Man City CEO Ferran Soriano. Photograph: Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

But this was also the end of an era. European football’s regulator, Uefa, had brought in new rules designed to stop clubs spending much more than they earned. Critics dismissed Mansour as a spoiled hobbyist, and even today some wonder to what extent his “private” ownership might become an instrument of Abu Dhabi’s soft power. But his few public statements made it clear that he had bought City – and ploughed money into it – as a genuine, long-term investment because “in cold business terms, Premiership football is one of the best entertainment products in the world”.

The ambition, then, was double – he intended to win at both football and business. But with the Uefa spending brake, that was about to become much tougher. He needed something new. Could City win without losing money?

In fact, when Soriano’s gang of smart young businessmen took over Barcelona in 2003, it was a loss-making club. As finance chief, Soriano helped deliver a spiralling “virtuous circle” of high investment, trophies and then even higher revenues. Forceful and analytical, he had built and sold a global consultancy business by the age of 33; at Barcelona, where he was nicknamed both “the Panzer” and “the Computer”, he made a strong-willed but sensible counterpoint to the club’s mercurial president, Joan Laporta. But Soriano also saw Barcelona as something far bigger than a city club, while realising that the global football business itself was poised to enter a new era. In 2006, at a talk Soriano delivered at Birkbeck College in London, he presented 28 slides that set out his early vision. Thanks to the phenomenal growth in their worldwide fan bases, he noted, big clubs were being transformed from promoters and organisers “of local events, like a circus” into “global entertainment companies like Walt Disney”. If big clubs seized the opportunity to “capture the growth and become global franchises”, they would soon stand apart from their rivals, creating a new, world-conquering elite.

“He thought, and thinks, in a different way to most other people in football,” says Simon Chadwick, now a professor at Salford University, who had invited Soriano to give the talk at Birkbeck. At the time, Soriano himself was disappointed to find English football so in thrall to a model in which managers such as Arsène Wenger and Alex Ferguson appeared to run their own clubs, while “the level of conceptualisation of the business model was zero”. Even the language was telling. “They called the coach ‘manager’, as if he managed everything,” Soriano recalled.

With his abrupt departure from Barcelona in 2008, Soriano’s dream of turning that club into a global franchise, with a first satellite team in the US, was definitively dashed. Instead, Soriano threw himself into running an airline, Spanair. But five years after his presentation in London, as Mansour sought a fresh competitive edge, both on and off the field, Soriano found himself, in October 2011, sitting down for a 7am meeting in a Mayfair hotel with the globetrotting New York lawyer Marty Edelman – who was tempting him back into football.

Edelman had been drafted on to City’s board by Mansour, working alongside his appointed chairman, the US-educated Khaldoon al-Mubarak, from the very beginning. Edelman, a real estate expert, was already a trusted adviser in Abu Dhabi, and the choice of an American was an early sign of the club’s new cosmopolitanism. Soriano initially brushed off City’s advances. He was used to associating Manchester with its glittering rival United, and he still distrusted what he called “the stereotype of the rich owner”. (In his book, he had even described City as a club that provoked “savage inflation” through “irrational investment”.) But the two sides were slowly discovering shared values. Chief among them was ambition – and with that came a willingness to challenge the status quo.

Even then, it was an off-and-on affair. Meetings followed in Paris and Abu Dhabi, before, in April 2012, Soriano was sneaked through Manchester airport (where the club says it “can get people in without anyone knowing they have arrived”) and taken to a room at the Lowry Hotel booked in someone else’s name. A former rugby second-row forward, Soriano is, at 6ft 3in, difficult to hide. By now it was a mutual seduction, with City wanting to persuade him that, with Mansour’s long-term commitment, the club could be as great as Barcelona. Soriano, in turn, pitched a mould-breaking plan that required deep pockets, imagination and a steady nerve. Both sides agreed that City should aspire to being the world’s top club – a position long held by either Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United. “And I mean number one – not number two or three,” Soriano told me.


The idea of becoming the world’s biggest club was not just vanity or business machismo. Soriano had spotted long before that a tiny group of elite clubs would capture the new global market, but he also wanted to build something “far bigger”. Football clubs, he pointed out, were massive brands but absurdly small businesses: a team with a global following of 500 million fans might have an income of only €500m. “That’s one euro per fan,” he says, “which is utterly ridiculous.” In business terms, this was “a combination of a lot of love and, literally, no love” – because fans in, say, Indonesia spent nothing on their club. “So what can we do? The answer was pretty simple, maybe too simple, but very bold. You have to be global but local. You have to go to Indonesia and open a shop.” He outlined his idea for a corporation that would have both a global brand – in Manchester City – and lots of local brands, developing talent through a network of clubs that would also provide a pipeline of players for City. He knew this might sound far-fetched. “If I had pitched this idea to Real Madrid, the answer would be ‘you’re crazy’ – and that is actually what had happened in Barcelona,” he told me.

But City was already going through a revolution, and was ready for more. For Edelman, the plan put flesh on the skeleton built with Mansour’s millions. “Any great idea needs to have a host, right? And we were a great host,” Edelman told me at his Park Avenue offices. “You couldn’t take Ferran’s idea and just put it on a blank sheet.” Soriano’s idea (which he now terms his “artistic challenge”) was a way of taking Mansour’s original vision – summed up in his early pledge to build “a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars” – and putting it “on steroids”, in Edelman’s words.

Soriano started work as CEO of Manchester City on Saturday 1 September 2012. Two days later, he arrived in New York to create a new football club. This meant paying $100m (£74m) for a spot in Major League Soccer (MLS), the professional league for the US and Canada, and building a team from nothing. Seeking a local partner, Edelman eventually took Soriano to see Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, the owners of the New York Yankees. The brothers had inherited their baseball team, but Hank is a soccer fan who played at college and coached his local high-school team. It was one of the quickest deals Edelman had ever seen struck, taking “about 15 seconds” to agree it. “It just worked,” he told me. The Yankees took 20% of the new team and offered their stadium as a temporary home. (It still is, though it takes 72 hours to transform it from a baseball field into a soccer pitch.) The team, baptised New York City Football Club, began playing in 2015. Forbes now values it at $275m (£205m). To fans it is “NYCFC”, or simply “New York City” – a marketer’s dream. “Our brand is perfect, because it is ‘City’ and we know we can add that word to any city,” observed Soriano, who began his working life marketing detergents.

Man City global reach map

When I first visited the Etihad campus in March, the wall behind the reception desk bore the shields of City, NYCFC and two other clubs: Melbourne City, and Yokohama F Marinos, a Japanese club in which CFG owns a minority stake. Melbourne Heart, as the Australian club was originally known, had only been founded in 2009. It won its first major trophy last season, just two years after City bought it and changed its name, and changed its colours to sky blue. “It’s like being a start-up tech firm, and Apple buying you,” Scott Munn, the club’s founding CEO, told me. East Manchester, in this analogy, will become the Silicon Valley of soccer. A modest cluster of other football businesses is even forming in the area – making the Californian analogy even more apt.

By the time I returned two months later, City had bought yet another club, this time in Uruguay – Atlético Torque, a second-division side that was founded in 2007 and became professional only in 2012. At the company’s annual staff meeting in May, a representative from the new outpost began his presentation with a map of South America and a large arrow pointing to Uruguay. “Nobody knows what is Torque. Nobody knows where is Torque,” he admitted, only half-jokingly. (It is in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo.) “In this room we have as many people as go to a Torque match.” The ambition, however, was for the club to rise to the first division, finish in the top four and qualify for continent-wide competitions – and this in a country that produces world-class players such as Barcelona’s Luis Suárez or Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani. Rather more mysteriously, the club also aimed to “sign and register players from all across South America”. The latter was the result of a cold statistical analysis, which had revealed that Uruguay was the biggest per-capita exporter of professional footballers – an astounding £25m-a-year business. And this was despite the fact that many small clubs often sold talented players cheaply when they were still teenagers. “It’s astonishing,” Soriano said. “We are big, and will hold on to them longer” – making them even more valuable.

The next time I saw Soriano – at his holiday apartment in the small Catalan beach resort of Tamariu – it was July, and he had closed yet another deal just a day earlier. For €3.5m (£3.1m), City had purchased 44% of Girona, a club in Spain’s top division. This was a far bigger fish. As he sat on a balcony overlooking the bay in shorts and a T-shirt – pulling data on fan numbers and television rights out of a battered laptop – Soriano looked happy (and not just because, in Tamariu, he can make work calls from his balcony and then pop down to join his two “Mancunian” infant daughters on the beach).

“When we agreed the price last year, it was in the second division. Now it’s in the first,” he said. On 29 October this year, with help from players loaned by Manchester City, the newly promoted team convincingly beat Real Madrid in their first meeting. The injection of CFG cash and know-how at Torque has had an even more dramatic effect. Last month it finished top of Uruguay’s second division, meaning it has already been promoted – just six months after it was bought.


Soriano is convinced that football will eventually become the biggest sport in almost every country in the world, “including the United States and India,” he says. So how far will CFG go? “We’re open. In Africa we have a relationship with an academy in Ghana. And we’ve been looking at opportunities in South Africa,” he said. CFG already has a close relationship with Atlético Venezuela in Caracas; Soriano also mentioned Malaysia and Vietnam. The limit, he suggested, was two or three clubs per continent. But the next major purchase may well be in China, where the group is “actively looking” to buy a club.

In October 2015, China’s football-loving president, Xi Jinping, visited City’s Etihad stadium; two months later, Chinese investors bought 13% of CFG for $400m (£265m), valuing the whole at $3bn. This was probably well over 30% more than Mansour had pumped into it (no exact figures are available). Soriano has been watching the dramatic, chaotic evolution of Chinese soccer – a pet project for Xi – ever since he arrived in Manchester. At first, Soriano was put off by rumours of chaos and corruption, and then by a price bubble. “The market is now more rational and the league is more structured,” he says.

Xi wants China to create 50,000 special “soccer schools” within 10 years – partly to get deskbound schoolchildren fit – and to make ready 140,000 pitches. Soriano sees an opportunity to teach millions of children soccer, which “might be bigger than the business of Manchester City”. It is a reminder that CFG – which recently put $16m into a joint venture to own and operate five-a-side urban pitches in the US – is interested in the entire sector, not just clubs.

Chinese
Chinese president Xi Jinping, Man City striker Sergio Aguero and then prime minister David Cameron at MCFC’s Etihad stadium in Manchester in 2015. Photograph: Sergio Aguero/AP

CFG is not the only owner of multiple clubs – and some other teams are experimenting with modest forms of integration – but the others are largely just investment portfolios. CFG is the only owner that has consciously established a single corporate culture around the world, which in some cases extends to wearing the same sky-blue shirts. Fernando Pons, a sports business partner at Deloitte in Spain, sees this as a prime example of what consultants have dubbed “glocalisation” – a concept that implies taking a global product, but adapting to local markets. “A Girona or New York City fan will almost certainly also become a City fan,” he said. It also means that the advertising for Nissan, SAP and Wix that is seen at the Etihad stadium in Manchester will be replicated in Melbourne or New York – and that players from the US or Australia will be able to travel off-season to the world’s most advanced training centre, built on 34 hectares of land beside the Etihad and equipped with sophisticated extras such as hyperbaric and hypoxic chambers that can simulate high altitude or boost blood oxygen levels.

What seems to excite Soriano most, however, is the vast pool of players and the range of clubs they can play in. CFG almost certainly already owns the contracts of more professional soccer players than anyone else in the world, and that number is only set to go higher. So while “entertainment” and running clubs is the group’s first business, he explained, “business number two is player development”. The inspiration is Barcelona’s famous and much-copied Masia youth academy, which, for about €2m each, produced legendary players such as Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Carles Puyol and Guardiola. At today’s prices, the same group would cost closer to €1bn. “We are globalising the Barça model,” Soriano said.

The logic behind this was made even more clear – in the same week we met in July – by the widespread amazement over the £198m fee that the Qatari owners of Paris Saint-Germain had agreed to pay Barcelona for the Brazilian star Neymar. Transfer records are smashed almost yearly, and Soriano now sees this inflation as an inevitable part of the game, now driven not by wealthy owners but demanding fans.

“Why is that? It’s very simple: the industry is growing,” he explained. “Ultimately, it goes back to the clients – these are the fans, who want to watch good football and are ready to pay. So clubs have more money to spend, but the number of highly skilled or top players generated each year does not change.”

“This is a typical ‘make-or-buy’ challenge. You can’t buy in the market, so you have to make,” Soriano said. “This means spending a lot of money – on academies, coaches, but also in transfers for young players. It’s like venture capital in that if you invest 10 million each in 10 players, you just need one to get to the top who is going to be worth 100 million.”

For Manchester City, the expanding web of CFG clubs solves a particularly English problem, which occurs when promising footballers hit 17 or 18. Soriano calls this “the development gap”, and it may explain why England’s national team performs so badly. “If the player is top quality, he needs to play competitive football to develop. It’s not only for the technical aspect of the game, but also for the pressure. The under-21 or under-19 competitions in England don’t provide this, because games aren’t in front of a lot of fans and there isn’t enough competitive tension,” he said. If Spain and Germany are much better at developing players, he says, it is because clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all have reserve teams that play in their countries’ second or third division against other professional clubs – not in a separate league, as English youth teams do. “If you manage a boy who has talent and is promising, who is 18 or 19, you can have him training with the first team, but playing in the second, where games are difficult, competitive and you play before crowds of 30,000.”

Manchester
MCFC players in training at the City Football Academy in Manchester. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty

Because Premier League clubs are not allowed to field second teams, the primary way to develop promising young players who are not quite ready is to loan them to another club, usually in a lower division; Manchester City, for example, currently has around 20 players out on loan. But once a player is loaned out, the parent club loses control over their development – as Chelsea can testify, having bought up so many young players that more than 30 are on loan at 24 different clubs. At worst, this leads to the warehousing of players and the ruining of promising careers. CFG’s integrated web of clubs, all (in theory) playing the same style of football, is meant to solve that. “In this system we control exactly what they do. The coaching is exactly the same. The playing style is exactly the same,” Soriano said.

If this vision works out, successful players will progress from, say, Torque to New York, and then to Girona, and then – eventually – to Manchester City. CFG will not “own” them, since they will belong to the individual clubs, who must compete against outside bidders and pay transfer fees where appropriate. But CFG clubs will have insider information on the players, who can, in turn, be confident of fitting in with the style at all the other CFG clubs – while transfer income will end up back in a single corporate pot. In May, club officials gave me the example of the Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy, who joined Melbourne City in 2014 and was the team’s player of the year in his first two seasons. CFG decided Mooy was good enough to play in England, and Melbourne sold him to Manchester City for £425,000 in June 2016. But Mooy did not play for the club – he was immediately loaned to Huddersfield Town, who were then a second-division team. After helping them win promotion to the Premier League, Mooy was then sold to Huddersfield – for £10m. The deal shows how CFG can leverage its insider knowledge of players to simply trade them, even if they never actually play in Manchester. The profit from this one transaction, incidentally, was some 40% more than it cost to buy the entire Melbourne club.


Hiring Pep Guardiola was always part of Soriano’s big plan – though enticing him to Manchester required time and patience. One of Soriano’s first City hires was Barcelona’s former director of football, the man responsible for buying new players and helping to choose coaches, Txiki Begiristain. “Immediately we went to talk to Pep, because Pep was the best coach in the world,” Soriano told me. Guardiola had just left Barcelona and was determined to enjoy a sabbatical year in New York. “So we said: ‘OK, come next year’,” Soriano recalled. “And [the next year] he said: ‘I’m sorry, I want to go to Bayern Munich’. So we said: ‘OK, come in three years.’ And he came.” This kind of patience is only available when your owner has no need to cash in and, in a fast-moving sport where fans demand instant results, knows how to play a waiting game.

Guardiola’s prime task is to meet Soriano’s definition of a “number one” club by winning at least one title per season. “That doesn’t mean you win every year, but that in five seasons you win five trophies. It means getting to April with possibilities of winning the Premier League and playing in the semi-finals of the Champions League,” he explained. City have only managed the latter once – in 2015/16, the season before Guardiola arrived – but the target implies winning the Champions League every four years.

Sheikh
Sheikh Mansour (front right) with chairman of Manchester City FC Khaldoon al-Mubarak (front left) and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (front centre) at a training camp in Abu Dhabi, 2017. Photograph: Victoria Haydn/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

But an implicit part of Guardiola’s job, away from the merry-go-round of matches and press conferences, is to help engineer something that may ultimately prove more valuable – a recognisable and entertaining playing style across all of CFG’s teams and players. Again, the model comes from Barcelona, where players moved seamlessly from junior teams to the Camp Nou because all had learned the same Cruyff-style soccer. In the CFG model, clubs and academies in a dozen countries should be doing the same – creating a frictionless supply line of players who automatically know how to play Pep-style and can slip in and out of the group’s teams. Soriano says that will allow “a more seamless movement of players”, with the best ending up at City.

This may prove more challenging than it sounds. On a warm August afternoon this year, as smoke rose from dozens of tailgate barbecues in gravel-covered parking lots, I joined fans wearing the sky-blue colour of NYCFC as they trooped into the New York Red Bulls stadium in Harrison, New Jersey. David Villa – the 35-year-old former Barcelona player – led them to a 1-1 draw in what has already become New York’s “classic” football derby. But this was relatively scrappy football – the kind played in the second or third divisions of England or Spain.

A few days earlier, I had watched coach Patrick Vieira – who moved here from managing City’s “elite development” under-23 team – train his squad on a pitch in leafy Westchester County, north of New York City. When I asked Vieira, a former Arsenal captain who finished his playing career in Manchester, if his team – whose salaries, under MLS rules, are capped well below Premier League level – always played “City football”, he admitted that it did not. “You can’t play the same football in New York as in Manchester, because of the players,” he said. “What we have in common is a philosophy to play what we call ‘beautiful football’ – the offensive game, to try to have possession, create chances, score goals and play attractive football. The level will be different, but the philosophy tries to be the same.”


As CFG grows and its impact is felt around the world, its rivals are beginning to fear its size, and hover, hawk-like, over its accounts. Javier Tebas, the outspoken lawyer who presides over Spain’s La Liga, clipped CFG’s wings when it appeared on his territory this summer, accusing Girona of misrepresenting the details of five players loaned by City. The club was forced to increase the accounting value of those players – a measure that, given Spain’s budget cap system, left Girona with 4% less money to spend on players’ wages. “We had to correct certain market values … so that loaning of players did not represent unfair competition,” explained Tebas. Girona are still trying to get that decision overturned.

At the Soccerex football business conference in September, Tebas took aim at Manchester again, accusing City of circumventing the rules by taking hidden state aid in the form of sponsorship contracts with public companies from Abu Dhabi. (He had similar complaints about Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari owners, who he claimed were “pissing in the swimming pool” of European football.) In Tebas’s view, what is provoking inflation in transfer fees and player wages is not fan demand, but Gulf cash and so-called “state clubs” – including “Manchester City and its oil”. City not only denied this, but threatened to sue him – and Uefa has ignored Tebas’s demands that it investigate the club’s finances. But the vocal hostility from the head of a league dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona is a sign that the latter two – whose not-for-profit, member-controlled structure prevents them taking the CFG route to global expansion – are starting to feel threatened.

Man
Man City star Kevin De Bruyne (centre) during their recent victory over Swansea City. Photograph: Thomas/JMP/REX/Shutterstock

But Tebas’s suggestion that CFG uses its muscle to push the regulatory boundaries is not without merit. In 2014, Uefa punished City with a €20m fine for breaking the financial fair play rules in previous seasons. The Australian league, meanwhile, introduced new rules last year after CFG circumvented the league’s ban on transfer fees between clubs with a ruse that one critic dubbed “farcical”. Manchester City bought a local player called Anthony Cáceres – “outbidding” Australian clubs by paying a transfer fee – before loaning him straight to Melbourne. The league responded by banning the practice for the first year after signing.

The same ownership whose deep pockets have enabled these global ambitions may also be a source of further difficulties – in part because the desire to protect Abu Dhabi’s image looms large at CFG. This has become more challenging as the emirate’s ambitious mega-projects, such as the collection of museums on Saadiyat Island, attract the attention of human rights organisations, who accuse the UAE of violating the rights of migrant construction workers. When emails from the Emirati embassy in Washington were leaked earlier this year, among them was a memo revealing that CFG’s directors had fretted about a proposal to build an NYCFC stadium on parkland in Queens – where there was already public opposition to such a project – out of fear that stadium critics would attack Abu Dhabi’s involvement, targeting its attitude to “gay [rights], women, wealth, Israel”. The project was abandoned, and NYCFC still does not have its own stadium.


There is a central paradox to the economics of football. While the global business has long expanded at annual rates of 10% or more, few clubs have ever made much profit, let alone paid owners an annual dividend. Even the mighty Premier League clubs have, jointly, posted pre-tax losses in three of the last five seasons. And yet the price of clubs keeps rising. Mansour, for example, was estimated to have paid around twice as much for City as the previous owner, the exiled former prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, had done just 15 months earlier.

Soriano says that sports franchises are exposed, week-in, week-out, to such relentless competition that they are driven to constantly reinvest profits – meaning that owners only really make money by selling. Others see football clubs as a “rarity” for ultra-rich collectors – with billionaires queueing to join the small, exclusive club of those who own famous clubs. These are also incredibly resilient assets: Manchester City, founded by vicar’s daughter Anna Connell to keep working men off booze and brawling in 1880, is one of many now in their second century. “How many companies that were on the New York stock exchange in 1917 still exist?” Soriano asks.

Ultimately, value comes from combining talent and emotion – meaning players and the fans who adore them. This is the “love” Soriano talks about, which CFG must turn into money if it is to become the successful multinational corporation that the owners want. If Guardiola ever sobs for City – something only likely if he wins another Champions League trophy, which Soriano hopes will happen this season – then fans of one of England’s most historic football clubs will happily give themselves up to adoration. Many more might follow them.

But CFG’s multinational corporate model somehow obliges us to take a more hard-nosed view of how much this “love” is really worth. Will CFG ever match a Coca-Cola, Disney or Google for size or value? Manchester City will have to win many more games, and many titles, before that happens – by which time, if the model works, other football multinationals might have appeared, all of them transforming love into money at a global scale. In the hard world of business, of course, there is only one way we will ever find out the “true” monetary value of CFG’s global juggernaut, on the day Mansour, or someone else, sells the company, and the market renders its own judgment – and puts a price on all that love.

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Continue reading

Cowboys conundrum: Handling Tyron Smith and his health – Blogging The Boys (blog)


Blogging The Boys (blog)

Cowboys conundrum: Handling Tyron Smith and his health
Blogging The Boys (blog)
While there are still two games to play (and for fans to sweat out), it is the time of year to start thinking about what the team needs to do to get better. This is especially true for teams that face a high probability of getting eliminated from the

Continue reading

Opposing player to watch: Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner – Blogging The Boys (blog)


Blogging The Boys (blog)

Opposing player to watch: Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner
Blogging The Boys (blog)
Ezekiel Elliott will be greeted back to the NFL by one of the best linebackers in the league on Sunday. By Joseph.Hatz@JosephHatzBTB Dec 23, 2017, 2:00pm CST. tweet · share · pin · Rec. Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports. A decade or two from now when

Continue reading

Forget Apple’s fight with the FBI – our privacy catastrophe has only just begun

The privacy crisis is a disaster of our own making and now the tech firms who gathered our data are trying to make money out of privacy

For privacy advocates, the Apple-FBI standoff over encryption is deja vu all over again.

In the early 1990s, they fought and won a pitched battle with the Clinton administration over the Clipper chip, a proposal to add mandatory backdoors to the encryption in telecommunications devices.

Soon after that battle was won, it moved overseas: in the UK, the Blair government brought in the Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Privacy advocates lost that fight: the bill passed in 2000, enabling the government to imprison people who refused to reveal their cryptographic keys.

The privacy fight never stopped. In the years since, a bewildering array of new fronts have opened up on the battlefield: social media, third-party cookies, NSA/GCHQ mass surveillance, corporate espionage, mass-scale breaches, the trade in zero-day vulnerabilities that governments weaponise to attack their adversaries, and Bullrun and Edgehill, the secret programmes of security sabotage revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Who really cares about surveillance?

The first line of defense for surveillance advocates whether private sector or governmental is to point out just how few people seem to care about privacy. What can it matter that the government is harvesting so much of our data through the backdoor, when so many of us are handing over all that and more through the front door, uploading it to Facebook and Google and Amazon and anyone who cares to set a third-party cookie on the pages we visit?

Painting the pro-privacy side as out-of-step loonies, tinfoil-hatted throwbacks in the post-privacy era was a cheap and effective tactic. It made the pro-surveillance argument into a *pro-progress* one: Society has moved on. Our data can do more good in big, aggregated piles than it can in atomized fragments on your device and mine. The private data we exhaust when we move through the digital world is a precious resource, not pollution.

Its a powerful argument. When companies that promise to monetize your surveillance beat companies that promise to protect your privacy, when people cant even be bothered to tick the box to block tracking cookies, let alone install full-disk encryption and GPG to protect their email, the pro-surveillance camp can always argue that theyre doing something that no one minds very much.

From the perennial fights over national ID cards to the fights over data retention orders, the lack of any commercial success for privacy tech was a great way to shorthand: Nothing to see here just mountains being made from molehills.

And then … companies started selling privacy

But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century: we disclosed more and more of our information, or it was taken from us.

As that data could be used in ever-greater frauds, the giant databases storing our personal details became irresistible targets. Pranksters, criminals and spies broke the databases wide open and dumped them: the IRS, the Office of Personnel Management, Target and, of course, Ashley Madison. Then the full impact of the Snowden revelations set in, and people started to feel funny when they texted something intimate to a lover or typed a potentially embarrassing query into a search box.

Companies started to sell the idea of privacy. Apple and Microsoft sought to differentiate themselves from Facebook and Google by touting the importance of not data-mining to their bottom lines. Google started warning users when it looked like governments were trying to hack into their emails. Facebook set up a hidden service on Tors darknet. Everybody jumped on the two-factor authentication bandwagon, then the SSL bandwagon, then the full-disk encryption bandwagon.

The social proof of privacys irrelevance vanished, just like that. If Apple the second most profitable company in the world thinks that customers will buy its products because no one, not even Apple, can break into the data stored on them, what does it say about the privacy zeitgeist?

The privacy catastrophe has only just begun

Seamlessly, the US Department of Justice switched tacks: Apples encryption is a marketing stunt. The company has an obligation to backdoor its products to assist law enforcement. Please, lets not dredge up the old argument about whether its OK to spy on everyone we settled that argument already, by pointing out the fact that no one was making any money by making privacy promises. Now that someone is making money from privacy tech, theyre clearly up to no good.

The smog of personal data is the carbon dioxide of privacy. Weve emitted far too much of it over the past decades, refusing to contemplate the consequences until the storms came. Now theyve arrived, and theyll only get worse, because the databases that havent breached yet are far bigger, and more sensitive than those that have.

Like climate change, the privacy catastrophes of the next two decades are already inevitable. The problem we face is preventing the much worse catastrophes of the following the decades.

And as computers are integrated into the buildings and vehicles and cities we inhabit, as they penetrate our bodies, the potential harms from breaches will become worse.

Continue reading

New York Muslims divided over calls for surveillance in wake of imam’s murder

Muslim community revisits controversial issue amid demands for increased police presence in mosques after a Queens imam and his friend were murdered

When he spoke at the funeral service of murdered imam Maulama Akonjee and his friend Thara Uddin, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio hoped to send a message to the community.

Since this horrible tragedy, the NYPD has been expending every resource and will continue to, he told the hundreds of people gathered in a Queens parking lot. You will see today, and in the days thereafter, extra NYPD presence protecting our mosques and protecting the people of our Muslim communities.

The comments elicited cheers from the mostly Bangladeshi crowd from the Queens neighborhood where the imam and his friend were killed. Throughout the week that followed, several family members and leaders in the community reiterated calls for increased surveillance at mosques.

They need to put cameras on every corner so the community can be safe, Momin Ahmed, Akonjees son-in-law, said a few days after the killings.

But the calls for increased police presence and security cameras in mosques has divided Muslims across New York City. The memory of a controversial surveillance program carried out by the NYPD still looms large, with many still wary of the police force; some would prefer the community police itself.

We have to respect this community, what theyre feeling, what theyre experiencing, Debbie Almontaser, president of the Muslim Community Network, said. Whether I agree or not with them, I respect their right.

At the same time, she added, My commitment is unwavering in regards to our community safeguarding itself from within.

Imam
Imam Maulama Akonjees son Saif Akonjee, second from right, speaks to media at the Queens criminal court last week. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Akonjee and his friend Uddin were both shot in the back of the head in broad daylight one week ago. Thirty-five-year-old Oscar Morel was arrested and charged with first-degree murder for the crime days later. While a motive has yet to be established, many in the Bangladeshi community believe it was an anti-Muslim hate crime and therefore want additional security for their mosques.

However, Almontaser and many groups in New York are hesitant to invite more police into the community after 2011 investigation by the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD was conducting an elaborate surveillance program of Muslim communities.

The demographics unit was established within the NYPD by a former CIA agent in the wake of 9/11. The unit sent officers to infiltrate student groups, mosques, religious bookstores, hookah bars and any predominantly Muslim areas to spy on people. It also worked on finding informants within the community, mirroring the actions of the CIA.

The revelations triggered protests, prompted a series of lawsuits, and ruptured the relationship between the Muslim community and police.

In the five years since, Almontaser said, things have improved, and the unit was disbanded by De Blasio.

I think we have far better police and community relations than we did with [former] commissioner [Ray] Kelly and [former mayor Mike] Bloomberg, Almontaser said.

Speaking to WNYC radio station, De Blasio said the communitys call for more policing indicated that relationships had improved.

But Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (Drum), said that the NYPDs surveillance program has continued under a different name, with different methods. Drum conducted a survey between 2011 and 2015 across New York Citys Muslim community and found that the surveillance was still happening.

More electronic surveillance, a lot more surveillance through social media over the last three years since this new administration has come in, he said. Those concerns around surveillance, around peoples privacy, around peoples civil rights, and around entrapment cases still remains from our perspective and our membership.

The Muslim Leadership Council held an emergency meeting last week in the wake of the killings of Akonjee and Uddin. The meeting, at a mosque in Jamaica, Queens, brought together Muslim leaders from across ethnic groups. Several imams indicated discontent at the prospect of inviting more police presence, particularly erecting cameras.

One who spoke of searching for alternatives was Ali Abdul Karim, head of security at the At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn. Karim is a martial arts expert, who began training in shuriken karate almost 50 years ago under the ninjitsu pioneer Ron Duncan. He is the head of his own security firm, and conducts security trainings for police and military.

On weekends, he teaches martial arts at the Brooklyn mosque. Sitting in a back room in the mosque, dressed in a black gi, he said the community was capable of policing itself.

NYPD
Police surveillance cameras, top, are placed on a lamppost overlooking the area of the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque at Bedford and Fulton Streets in Brooklyn. Photograph: Bebeto Matthews/AP

As a security professional and as a Muslim, what Im saying is we police our own, Karim said.

Karim cites the congregations ability to repel drug dealers from the neighborhood at the height of the crack epidemic of the 1980s as an example.

Inspired by the story of Noahs ark, the congregation conducted a 40-day campaign to purify the neighborhood; they surrounded the block and did not allow customers to purchase drugs near the mosque.

We dried up the demand. Once we dried up the sales, because they cant make money, then theres no operation.

The initiative inspired many others around the country, Karim said, and fostered a strong relationship with police, who partnered with the group after the plan was successful.

But that relationship was damaged after the 9/11 attacks caused police to be suspicious of Muslims in the city. After the surveillance program was publicized in 2011, the mosque moved to remove all security cameras from the area.

We dont want people monitoring the masjid unwarranted, said Karim, who himself was singled out by the demographics unit.

As head of security of the New York region in the Muslim Leadership Council, Karim will now offer security trainings to the boards of mosques on how best to safeguard the congregation without the help of police.

Ultimately, Drums Ahmed said the main way to ensure security is to build strong ties within and across the community in order to prevent things happening before they start.

From our perspective, the most effective form of safety is strong communities, Ahmed said. The strongest protection is if we strengthen our own communities, strengthen [the] relationship across our communities.

Continue reading

7 Stay-at-Home Moms Making Serious Cash from Home – Zing! Blog by Quicken Loans (blog)


Zing! Blog by Quicken Loans (blog)

7 Stay-at-Home Moms Making Serious Cash from Home
Zing! Blog by Quicken Loans (blog)
Jessi Fearon is a money coach, blogger and stay-at-home mom to three children ages 5 and younger. Jessi says, “I earn anywhere from $1,000 – $7,000 a month from my online business depending on my product and affiliate sales.” Fearon doesn't hire

Continue reading

Friday Squid Blogging: Gonatus Squid Eating a Dragonfish – Security Boulevard

Friday Squid Blogging: Gonatus Squid Eating a Dragonfish
Security Boulevard
Last July, Choy was on a ship off the shore of Monterey Bay, looking at the video footage transmitted by an ROV many feet below. A Gonatus squid was spotted sucking off the face of a “really huge dragonfish,” she says. “It took a little while to figure

Continue reading

South Park slams Facebook for selling fake news

“I make money from Facebook for my fake content in order to pay Facebook to promote my fake stories,” said Professor Chaos in one of the most brutal and succinct criticisms of the social network to date. The latest episode of South Park pulled no punches in its take-down of the Facebook fake news scandal. It poses Mark Zuckerberg as an indecipherable bully protecting fake news spreaders for profit and says kids can’t recognize lies on the app, while blaming everyone for allowing Facebook so deep into our lives.

Meanwhile, the episode pokes fun at Netflix for greenlighting low-quality original series, and riffs on the horrible abuse of women by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

South Park’s intense, episode-long focus on Facebook’s fake news problems underlines the severity of the mainstream backlash. The blunt characterization of Facebook and Zuckerberg, and the direct harm fake news has on the show’s protagonists, could force the company to see its actions and explanations through the lens of the public.

“Children lack the cognitive ability to determine what’s true”

Spoilers ahead. If you care, you should probably just watch the 22-minute episode, which was both funny and jaw-dropping in how aggressively it attacks Zuckerberg, in particular.

The plot is essentially that the school boys of South Park have formed a superhero team and are trying to sell to Netflix an original TV series based on their adventures. But their nemesis, Professor Chaos, ruins their reputation and Netflix deal by publishing fake news on Facebook saying the heroes do disgusting things, and then promotes those stories with Facebook ads.

“Look fellas, you have a right to be on Facebook, and I have a right to be on Facebook, and sometimes that’s gonna cause a little…chaos,” says the villain.

The line seems to reference, or at least align with, Zuckerberg’s statement about Donald Trump accusing Facebook of being “anti-Trump.” Zuckerberg responded that “Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”

Professor Chaos goes on to build a profitable fake news and ads farm. The parents of South Park start seeing the fake news, and believe the kids are performing unspeakable sex acts on innocent victims.

But one parent stands up and says [Warning: Graphic Language]: “We all know there’s been a lot of mixing of truth and fiction on Facebook lately, and children lack the cognitive ability to determine what’s true and what isn’t on Facebook. That’s now why we have kids dressing up in costumes, eating poop, and having sex with antelopes in our town.”

The kids are actually acting pretty normal and can spot the lies, but the parents are the ones unwittingly buying into it.

“You all brought Mark Zuckerberg into your lives”

The parents invite Zuckerberg to town for questioning. But when one says “Facebook has become a tool for some to disrupt our country and our community,” Zuckerberg laughs off the critique, saying, “You say these things as if they are my fault, and yet they are not.”

When another responds, “Well you did create a platform with a monetary incentive for people to spread misinformation,” Zuck tells the town it cannot block his fighting style, and waves his arms while making sound effects like an old kung fu movie villain. This seems to be a dig on both Facebook’s unrelenting expansion into every area of life, and Zuckerberg’s at-times opaque public speaking style.

The heroes confront Professor Chaos and Zuckerberg, and say to the CEO, “This kid is deliberately lying about us on your platform for no other reason than to cause harm. Why are you protecting him?” “Simple, he paid me $17.23,” Zuckerberg responds. It’s clear that many see Facebook’s policy of allowing fake news because of free speech as an excuse for greed.

In reality, Facebook’s execs have so much money they probably don’t care much about earning more. My seven years of reporting on and interviewing the company lead me to believe it earnestly believes in free speech despite the ugly side effects, and this scandal has been driven by its idealistic leadership’s naivety about the worst of humanity rather than greed.

Every South Park episode, while laced with profanity and absurdity, resolves with a moral turn. In this case, the townspeople demand police shoot Zuckerberg, or at least kick him out of town. But the police chief asks, “Who invited Mark Zuckerberg to town in the first place?,” and the public glumly admits “we did.” “You all should have thought harder about this before letting him into your lives,” the chief chides the town, and everyone watching South Park.

In the end, the kids gang-stomp Zuckerberg until he fights back, but catch just the second half of the fight on Facebook Live, in turn ruining his reputation despite his protests that it’s all untrue. With a touch of his smartphone, the defeated Zuckerberg neutralizes the fake news peddlers, with the show poking the real him for not using his power to more drastic action. The kids get their Netflix show, and Professor Chaos’ dad berates Vladimir Putin for setting a bad example.

The lessons are clear. South Park highlights how Facebook is profiting off fake news, which the company needs to avoid, even if it means making things harder for innocent advertisers. As for the public, we must accept some of the blame for Facebook’s influence, because we allowed ourselves to become so addicted to its content and to treat it like a verified news source.

Now the question is, did Zuck think it was funny?

Continue reading

Generation Z influencers challenge the snowflake label – Irish Examiner


Irish Examiner

Generation Z influencers challenge the snowflake label
Irish Examiner
Between spiralling rents, the crippling cost of third-level education and an ever-constricting jobs market, getting ahead is no joke for the rising generation, which has already lived through not one but two economic recessions, all in the full glare

Continue reading
1 2 3 4 5 6 11
Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy | Copyright Notice | Anti Spam Policy | Earnings Disclaimer | Health Disclaimers | Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy