The memo landed on a Sunday in November. It was 2007, and securities backed by subprime mortgages were roiling markets and imperiling banks. Merrill Lynch Chief Executive Officer Stan ONeal had just resigned under pressure, and Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince was rumored to be on his way out.
So the Nov. 4 memo to employees in Citigroups markets division seems bold in hindsight. While other banks were looking to unload the toxic securities and Citigroup was taking an $11 billion writedown on its holdings, then-trading chief Jamie Forese and fixed-income head Paco Ybarra had other plans. They announced theyd turn the banks souring mortgage debt over to a new team and chart a course for the future. It was, they said, a great opportunity.
The man they would soon ask to oversee that strategy was Mark Tsesarsky, a refugee from Ukraine with intense blue eyes and a cool demeanor. At the time, T-Man, as he was known around the bank, was head of special situations for securitizations, which meant he made bets on Citigroups behalf with bonds backed by mortgages and other assets. Now his bosses were asking him to help limit losses on someone elses portfolio of collateralized debt obligationsinstruments with names such as Bonifacius and Jupiter that were threatening to destroy the bankand find a way to profit from the turmoil.
Over the next eight years, Tsesarsky and his team did just that. They rebuilt their bank into Wall Streets biggest for CDOs, not by issuing securities but by buying billions of dollars of debt, holding it as values rose, and trading with customers. In the three years ended in December 2015, the handful of traders notched almost $2 billion in revenue, more than any other desk at the bank, according to people familiar with the companys operations. Their performance was made possible by an unprecedented rescue of the financial system, including a bailout of Citigroup, and a flood of central bank money that lifted asset prices.
Tsesarsky, 54, declined to comment. He hasnt given an interview since 1999, when he told the Jewish Week that his experience being discriminated against as a Jew in the former Soviet Union makes me stronger and different. The banks senior executives declined to comment as well. But the story of how he did it, pieced together from conversations with more than a dozen current and former executives, shows that even on a safer and sounder Wall Street and at a bank that says it wants to be more boring, a trader can wager billions of dollars in often opaque debt markets.
On a sunny day this spring, construction workers in hard hats mingle outside two buildings in Lower Manhattan that have long housed Citigroups investment bank and that this year became the companys headquarters. Michael Corbat, who became CEO in 2012, has been restructuring Citigroup, selling unwanted assets, shrinking its global footprint, boosting capital, and trimming staff. The scaffolding shrouding the bottom of one building is a sign of the changes.
But on the trading floor where Tsesarsky has a desk, at the top of the other building, little has changed. A wiry man who favors designer suits and ties, Tsesarsky runs the asset-backed bond-trading business behind a veil of secrecy. CDOs are only a small part of an empire that includes securities linked to auto or credit card loans, mortgages, and consumer-installment debt. For two decades, Tsesarsky shared leadership with Jeffrey Perlowitz, who announced his retirement in March. The louder of the two, Perlowitz was the id to Tsesarskys superego, says one person whos known both men for years.
Theres a serene balance that he has, James Zelter, a former Citigroup colleague and now head of investments at Apollo Global Managements credit unit, says about Tsesarsky.
To understand how Tsesarsky turned toxic assets into gold, its worth going back to the markets beginnings. In the 1970s, less than 10 years before Tsesarsky joined Salomon Brothers in 1986, a trader there created the first private mortgage bond by pooling home loans and divvying up the cash flows into different securities. The innovation spread risk across thousands of loans, making them easier to trade and attracting investors unwilling to buy single mortgages. It catapulted Salomon to the top of Wall Street.
By the turn of the century, the ideas success led bankers to a little-used instrument with an esoteric name, the collateralized debt obligation. Working much like a mortgage bond, a CDO packaged existing securities into new debt. It was a second-generation magic trick that enabled even subprime mortgages to be transformed into triple A-rated paper. The market took off, increasing to $521 billion in 2006 from $68 billion in 2000, according to Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association data. Citigroup, which had swallowed Salomon in 1998, became the biggest issuer of CDOs.
As home prices crested in 2006, investors found themselves too far from borrowers to judge the securities risk and rushed for the exits. Banks had trouble unloading their inventory. The busiest arrangersCitigroup, Merrill Lynch, and UBS, among themsuffered billions of dollars in losses as the debt plunged in value. By the time of trading chief Foreses November 2007 memo, it wasnt clear thered be much left but rubble for Tsesarsky to manage. In December analysts at Barclays predicted the safest portions of the securities could lose as much as 80 percent of their value. Many considered the instrument broken, and much of Wall Street left the market for dead.
Citigroup, however, wasnt ready to give up. Executives, including Forese, viewed their experience in the business as the key to growth. Add to that Tsesarskys more than two decades in the mortgage markets, and Citigroups leadership thought it could make money and avoid another near-death experience, according to an executive privy to the discussions. In short, the bank decided to go long.
Ten months later, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, plunging the world into a crisis that threatened the financial system. Citigroup needed a government transfusion of more than $500 billion, including emergency loans and asset guarantees at least $14 billion for risky mortgages in Tsesarskys portfolioand the U.S. Department of the Treasury took a 27 percent stake in the bank.
Even so, Tsesarskys team enjoyed more freedom than others, says a former colleague. In at least one instance, Tsesarsky helped persuade management to give more resources to the business, beating Bank of America and other rivals that didnt want to commit the additional capital.
Citigroup was ready when the Federal Reserve Bank of New York auctioned a portfolio of CDOs in 2012. The team canvassed customers and collected orders, making pitch after pitch about its deep knowledge of the securities and their cheap prices, according to a person with knowledge of the strategy. In cases where the bank saw something too good to pass up but couldnt persuade investors to bid, it used its own money to buy the debt, the person says. Of the more than $45 billion sold by the central bank, Citigroup won $6.3 billion, paying an average of 38 on the dollar.
Over the next few years, the bank reaped the rewards, becoming the go-to source for the more than 500 mutual funds, hedge funds, and other institutions still trading CDOs, according to one person familiar with Citigroups operations. And because there was less competition in an illiquid market, the difference between what Citigroup paid for the bonds and what it sold them for was greater than in less opaque parts of the debt markets, the person says.
The bank also stocked up on inventory and profited when those positions rose in value. In the first years after the crisis, bargains were plentiful: Much of the CDO market traded at deep discounts. As home prices rebounded, borrowers refinanced loans or started making payments, and the securities recovered.
In some cases, Citigroup took steps to force gains by amassing senior positions in CDOs and unwinding the structure, getting access to the mortgage-backed securities inside that traded at higher prices, says a person with knowledge of the banks strategy. The trade has typically been a hedge fund strategy because banks face capital constraints, according to Grant Buerstetta, a partner at Blank Rome who specializes in the deals. To get a deal unwound is a home run, he says.
While it isnt clear how much Citigroup made from marking up inventory, one thing is certain: By 2015 the bank had full control of the CDO market. It traded about $6 billion of the securities with roughly 150 customers that year, according to a person with knowledge of the operation. That amounted to about $700 million of revenue, or 80 percent of the market, says another person. The tally, more than 6 percent of the banks total from bond trading last year, was large enough to save the unit from reporting its worst performance since before the financial crisis. The team booked $700 million in 2013 and $500 million in 2014, that person says. The gains helped the larger securitized-markets operation run by Tsesarsky and Perlowitz tie for No.1 on Wall Street, according to Coalition, a London-based research firm.
The success of the unit and its unusual mandate stuns Ronald Colombo, a law professor at Hofstra University and former counsel to Morgan Stanley. The theatrics are horrible, he says. Its impossible to imagine. Youre being bailed out with one hand, and youre pouring money into the very same assets that precipitated the bailout with the other.
The performance of Tsesarskys team is notable not only for its size but also because of new rules that sought to limit the risks that banks could take. Deep in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, Section 619 forbids banks from engaging in proprietary trading, the practice of making bets with their own money. Known as the Volcker Rule for the former Federal Reserve chairman who championed it, the law sought to curb Wall Streets speculative ways. It can be difficult to determine if a trade is for a client or the banks own account, so lawmakers zeroed in on banks inventory and the length of time securities are held. As a result, the rule stipulates that firms are exempt if they can prove that trades dont exceed the reasonably expected near-term demands of clients, customers, or counterparties.
With illiquid positions such as those in the CDO market, that can be a blurry line, and companies have more opportunity to interpret the rule in their favor, according to Charles Whitehead, a Cornell University law professor. While Citigroup says the inventory buildup meets client demand, other banks may have shied away for fear of violating the letter or spirit of the rule, Whitehead says.
All of our activities comply with every applicable regulation, including the Volcker Rule, says Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a spokeswoman. Citi has been successful in our securitized-markets and structured-credit businesses because we have stood with clients in all market environments.
For Tsesarsky, it was just the latest winning trade. As a teenager in Ukraine, he escaped with his mother, grandmother, and sister to the U.S. with $90, according to a 1999 profile in the Jewish Week, which interviewed him after he won the Young Leadership Award from the Wall Street division of the UJA-Federation of New York. Growing up Jewish in the former Soviet Union, he risked arrest to read Leon Uriss novel Exodus, about the founding of Israel. He became a Zionist in hiding, he said.
That upbringing informed his career on Wall Street, where Tsesarsky is known for his skill analyzing complicated trades, says David Finkelstein, a former colleague and a senior executive at real estate investment trust Annaly Capital Management. He came here with nothing, Finkelstein says. You have very little room for error when you have nothing.
During high school in Colorado and college at the Colorado School of Mines, Tsesarsky delivered pizzas, ushered at a movie theater, and worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken. After earning an MBA from the University of California at Los Angeles, he headed east.
It was 1986exciting times on Wall Street. Salomon, where Tsesarsky had won a spot in the training class, was pioneering new ways to package home loans into bonds. A year earlier, CEO John Gutfreund was crowned the King of Wall Street. In 1989, Michael Lewiss Liars Poker would be published, further cementing the companys reputation as a home for swashbuckling bond traders. After surviving the arduous program, Tsesarsky earned an assignment trading mortgage bonds.
It was the first time hed prove adept at navigating the politics of Wall Street. While the typical mortgage trader was loud and obnoxiouseating marathons were common, Lewis wroteTsesarsky stood out for keeping kosher. In other ways, he fit right in. He was disciplined, fearless, and always looking for an edge, says Steven Beck, a former Salomon colleague. Before the widespread use of modeling software, Tsesarsky kept a manually updated list of hundreds of bond prices from the prior nights close, Beck says. Competitors avoided big trades until Tsesarsky was on vacation, although he followed the market closely even when traveling. Tsesarsky once called a junior trader from the top of a Colorado ski slope to place a trade, according to Beck. Mark was obsessed, he says. He wanted to win badly, he had a knack for winning, and he was determined to be the best trader on the Street.
In 1991, Tsesarsky received a promotion to head the team that trades government-backed mortgage bonds after a trader got in trouble for rigging bids in Treasury auctions, Beck says. It was at about this time that Tsesarsky first worked with Corbat, then an Atlanta-based bond salesman.
When Sandy Weills Travelers Group bought Salomon in 1997, Tsesarsky was tapped to run mortgage trading for the combined company. Hed share the role with Perlowitz, beginning one of the longest-running partnerships on Wall Street. Named to lead the special situations securitization business in 2007, Tsesarsky oversaw Citigroups push into film financing, traveling from Colombia to South Korea to evaluate potential investments, says a former colleague.
During those years, Tsesarsky kept the Salomon culture alive for a generation of mortgage traders. That meant being tough on colleagues when they made mistakes and rebuilding their confidence once the lesson was learned, says Finkelstein, one of at least a dozen traders who learned from him and went on to leadership positions in the industry.
Tsesarsky also has a protective side, former colleagues say. According to Finkelstein, nothing was more terrifying than committing Citigroups capital as a junior trader under Tsesarsky. When you make a mistake, you know it, he says. You are in the hot seat. However harrowing the experience, Tsesarsky was always the mentor. He makes sure you learn from it, Finkelstein says. He doesnt let people fail.
And even when they lose money, Tsesarsky stands up for them. Former colleagues say he championed Anna Raytcheva, a Bulgarian-born trader who lost billions of dollars during the financial crisis and an additional $50 million in 2011 on bad mortgage bets. (A team run by Raytcheva that used the banks money to make bets on government-backed bonds was disbanded in May.)
Tsesarsky and Perlowitz made their own blunders, too. They lost money on a 2004 German mortgage deal and in February 2007 provided a cash infusion to the struggling parent of Ameriquest Mortgage, once the largest U.S. subprime lender. By August, Citigroup had agreed to buy parts of the business.
Ameriquest ran late-night television ads that attracted lower-quality borrowers, and the acquisition was doomed from the start, says Richard Couch, an executive at the time in Citigroups corporate mergers-and-acquisitions group. Some executives opposed the plan, code-named Project Adventure, but lacked the power to stop them, according to Couch, who refused to bless the deals financials before sending Tsesarsky and Perlowitz to the board. We wanted nothing to do with this thing, he says.
Six months later, incoming CEO Vikram Pandit dismantled much of the Ameriquest operation. By then, Tsesarsky was overseeing the CDO business.
Tsesarsky’s success in the CDO jobthe $2 billion score Corbat, Forese, and other top executives dont want to talk aboutpoints to Citigroups continuing appetite for risk. The bank has more than doubled its derivatives holdings over the past decade, according to regulatory filings, and beefed up commodities trading.
Romero-Apsilos, the Citigroup spokeswoman, says the bank employs prudent risk-management practices in its asset-backed securities business. But the secrecy shrouding Tsesarskys unit and the history of complicated, structured products on Wall Street raise questions about Corbats commitment to making the company safer and more boring.
No one really has any idea of the risks these banks are taking and therefore the threat they pose to the financial system at any point in time, says Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a nonprofit that advocates for tougher financial regulations.
Those risks may be diminishing, at least for the CDO business, as new deals remain scarce and older ones unwind or pay off. For Tsesarsky, that means plenty of time to contemplate whats next on the 4-mile walk he often takes between his office and the home on Central Park West he shares with his wife, whos a rabbi, and their four children. Theres plenty to keep him busy: He sits on the board of an Upper West Side synagogue that calls itself the oldest Jewish congregation in the U.S., and he contributes to pro-Israel and Jewish causes. He once bought plane tickets for 250 Russians immigrating to Israel and joined them on the trip. People on Wall Street become jaded and think that money is all thats important in life, he told the Jewish Week in 1999. The indifference really bothers me.
Yet Tsesarsky is always searching for the next profitable trade. He has this ability to see the long game, and he has this feeling for the market and where its going, Finkelstein says. When he sees opportunity, he jumps on it.
Campbell and Griffin cover banking and finance in New York and London, respectively.
This story appears in the July/August issue of Bloomberg Markets. Subscribe now.Continue reading
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The presidential candidate and the former Yankees star may seem like an unlikely MLB ownership team, but theirs is a very American story
If the Miami Marlins were a politician, they would be Jeb Bush. Both were expected to be a powerhouse from their inception, but after some early success the Florida Marlins two World Series titles and Jeb twice being elected to run Florida they failed to generate much of a following and eventually became a punchline. Both call Florida home, both are synonymous with losing and few seem to care that either exists. And what was the exclamation point thrown into Jeb! 2016s logo but the desperate campaign equivalent of the home run sculpture at Marlins Park. If there wasnt already a Marlins Man, Jeb! would rightfully be given the title. Please clap.
So it seems a perfect fit that Bush led the ownership group that has reportedly reached an agreement to purchase the Marlins from current owner Jeffrey Loria for $1.3 billion. The deal must still be approved by Major League Baseball and there are plenty of details to be ironed out, but if everything proceeds as expected, Jeb Bush will be the Marlins new majority owner and he will be joined in the ownership group by Yankees legend Derek Jeter. Yes, Jeb and Jeets. Jeets and Jeb. Together. The oddest couple in sports since Cleveland got a championship trophy.
Outside of the fact that Bush and Jeter both live in Florida, are wealthy and have long-time ties to baseball Jebs father played baseball at Yale and his older brother was an owner of the Texas Rangers before he became president the pair seems to have very little in common. Jeter is one of the most successful players in the history of a baseball dynasty; Jeb is the presidential failure from one of Americas political dynasties. Jeter was considered baseballs coolest player during his career; Jeb is considered to be a sweater vest in human form. Jeter was linked to dozens of models and actresses for two decades; Jebs favorite woman has always been his mother. Jeter reportedly presented his one-night stands with post-coital gift bags; Jebs campaign store gave you a guacamole bowl in exchange for $75. Jeter was breathlessly lauded by the New York media every time he moved the runner over on a ground ball out; Jebs one viral campaign moment was begging a crowd to please clap.
Even politically Jeb and Jeets arent likely all that similar beyond the fact that they both dont care much for Donald Trump or his properties.
Jebs brother was replaced in office by Barack Obama and Jeb spent his campaign run speaking out against Obama-era policies, whereas the Yankees shortstop was quite chummy with the 44th President on and off the golf course. Even down at the policy level, theres the fact that Bush cut off state funding to Planned Parenthood while governor of Florida and said during his presidential campaign that the organization is not doing womens health issues. Jeter, based on those many relationships throughout his career, has to be a fairly staunch supporter of access to birth control, wouldnt you agree?
Speaking of bedding, there is the well-known saying that politics makes strange bedfellows. That surely is true. Bush himself, mocked by the current president for his low energy, was backed by Hollywood action producer Jerry Bruckheimer during the campaign. But while political alliances can bridge divides, opportunities to make money can do the job even more efficiently. Loria purchased the Marlins for $158.5m in 2002 and is set to sell them now for $1.3bn. Thats more than an 800% return on investment in just 15 years. Who wouldnt hang out with Jeb Bush from time to time for the chance of getting that kind of payout? For that much money, some people might even be willing to look at Ted Cruz for seconds at a time.
Jeter won his last World Series in 2009 playing everyday alongside Johnny Damon, a former rival on the Boston Red Sox. If he can do that for a ring, he can surely handle some Jeb for the rare opportunity to own a sports team. Other sports legends, from Ted Williams to Wayne Gretzky, have tried and failed at coaching and Jeter says he has no interest in following in their footsteps. But ownership lets him into an exclusive club that includes Mario Lemieux, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Gretzky. Ownership allows him to go from rich to wealthy.
And thinking that Jeter and Jeb are so different may just be evidence that weve all been successfully programmed by the Jeter brand. While Jeter was great on the diamond, what has he ever said or done off the field that was even interesting, let alone exciting? Removed from the mouth of Jeets, much of Jeters words sound very Jeb! He followed the Jordan model of athlete-as-brand and made it his own. Despite living in the New York media spotlight and playing for his sports marquee franchise for 20 years, 162 games and interviews a year, we somehow never knew much about him beyond the fact that he played baseball, was a leader, wore No2 and enjoyed products made by Gatorade and Nike. Theres not a politician alive who wouldnt RE2PECT that kind of disciplined messaging. His entire career was designed for him to be able to accept the kind of opportunity he has now, to easily jump in a deal with a politician from the right or the left, and make a ton of money. Maybe Jeter has strong opinions on womens rights or immigration or Canadian lumber. Who knows. But hed never put his brand on the line to let anyone know. Most people wouldnt for the chance to make a few hundred million.
Jeb and Jeter probably arent that much of an odd couple at all. They are just two rich guys agreeing to become even richer together. It is the modern American story. Please clap.Continue reading
(CNN)Happy Monday. We hope you took some time this weekend to relax and decompress. Now, back to it. Here’s what you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door.
In one sense, Tammy Cho is a typical Silicon Valley entrepreneur: She’s a college dropout.
When the now 22-year-old was just a sophomore business major at Georgetown University in 2013, she quit school to work on her software business full time after it got funding. Cho was, of course, following in the footsteps of iconic founders Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who all famously ditched university life.
The gambit paid off. Last year Cho’s company was acquired by a large tech firm called Meltwater, where she now works as a product design lead in San Francisco.
Almost a year after settling into the job, Cho read an essay that went off like a bomb in the tech world. Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, detailed the mistreatment and harassment she experienced at the ride-hailing company ― and how her complaints went ignored.
Everyone read it, including Cho and her colleague at Meltwater, Grace Choi. They saw themselves in that post. They started talking, opening up about their very personal experiences with discrimination, harassment and racism in the work world. “There were stories we hadn’t shared with anyone else,” Cho said.
In very typical Silicon Valley fashion, the conversation made them wonder, “Why don’t good solutions to sexual harassment already exist?” Choi writes in a post on Medium. They set out to find one, or at least figure out a way to help with the problem.
And finally, this week Cho, Choi and Annie Shin, a software engineer who had been friends with Cho since high school, launched Betterbrave.com, a comprehensive guide for anyone who’s experienced sexual harassment at work and doesn’t know what to do next.
The three women devoted hours of their free time over the past several months to put together the site, reaching out to hundreds of people to talk about sexual harassment, including employment lawyers, human resources professionals, and women in their network who spoke about confronting tricky workplace situations.
“It felt like our duty to figure out a way to address this issue,” said Cho.
The website features information on what constitutes harassment ― including unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate touching, jokes and gestures, as well as guidance on what to do if it’s happening to you.
It felt like our duty to figure out a way to address this issue. Tammy Cho, co-founder of Betterbrave.com
In clear, straightforward language, the site offers guidance for those wondering how to handle mistreatment at work. There’s also a form you can fill out to be connected with an experienced attorney who can offer guidance. Many will offer a free consultation for those who’ve been targets of sexual harassment.
In a section called My Options, the site says victims should let harassers know their behavior made them feel uncomfortable. “Be firm, specific, and suggest a behavior that is more appropriate,” the site advises. “Never apologize. It might look something like this — ‘Hey Josh, your remarks about my outfits on a daily basis make me uncomfortable. I’d prefer if you would stop making these comments.’”
A section called My Rights is firm: “There are laws against sexual harassment,” reads the site. “Repeat that back to us. There are laws against sexual harassment. Moreover, there are laws against retaliating for reporting sexual harassment.”
Cho and the site emphasize that if you believe you’ve been sexually harassed you should contact a lawyer. Though targets certainly can talk to their employers’ human resources department, that’s not always helpful. “We heard a lot of stories where HR mishandled the case,” Cho said. In Fowler’s case, Uber’s HR department sided with her harasser.
A California employment lawyer, Devin Coyle, helped fact-check the site. Another lawyer with expertise in sexual harassment told HuffPost that the site looked pretty good but also emphasized the importance for victims of harassment to consult with a lawyer to best understand their options.
Cho and her co-founders aren’t making any money off Betterbrave.com for now. Lawyers who get new clients through the website could potentially make money from new cases, of course.
Cho’s not ruling out profits down the line. “We’ll see how things go,” she said, explaining they want to do a lot more research before committing to a for-profit model. “We want to ensure that whichever model we choose aligns with our mission.”
Next up for the site is a guide for “allies,” people who know, or want to help, targets of harassment.
Not enough people understand that this problem even exists, so one clear goal is education, Cho said. And the issue for her and her co-founders feels personal. A lot of the time, young women who are new to the workforce are even more vulnerable to unwelcome sexual advances, she noted.
“You’re young and you have your entire career ahead of you. It’s terrifying,” she said. Still, she adds, this happens to women (and men) at every age. “It’s just kind of everywhere.”
Cho said the site’s been getting a steady flow of traffic since it launched. On Tuesday, Betterbrave got a thumbs-up from the woman who inspired the whole endeavor. A tweet from Susan Fowler read, “This is AMAZING!”
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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.Continue reading
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