LIVING THE DREAM … or enduring the nightmare?

INFERIORITY complex. Procrastination. I faced these two situations when asked to write about Bob Holmes's book Living the Dream… or enduring the nightmare.

Trying to write a review of a book authored by someone who has written more books than some university professors gave me the shivers. Hence, the procrastination.

I have known Bob for my entire time working at theSun – and that is a mighty long time! Over the years, Bob has become more of a friend than a colleague so my fear was not doing justice to this excellent book.

The other dilemma was how to approach writing the review. The title is a dead giveaway as to what it is all about – foreign ownership of British football clubs.

The clubs it mentions are in alphabetical order – Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Manchester City, Nottingham Forest, Portsmouth and Queens Park Rangers, which makes for very easy reading.

The book attempts to understand the reasons behind the allure of owning British football clubs and reveals a fascinating amount of inside information which only years of research could have dug up.

"Well over half of the 44 clubs in the Premier league and Championship are now owned by non-UK citizens … and the theory that intelligent men leave their brains in the car park when it comes to football still has its believers," we are told right from kickoff.

"Football's new breed of owners invariably sail through to become either messiahs or pariahs – depending on their fancies, fan perception and the bounce of the ball. What is becoming increasingly apparent is the widening discontent between owners and fans, successes on the field and on the balance sheet are not always in tandem," Bob writes.

Any football fan who has followed the development of English football over the last 20 years would be able to relate to the book and while Bob does not try to shape and form our judgment on whether foreign owners have been "Caesars, saviours or suckers", he does, however, give the reader enough background on the clubs and their owners for us to form our own opinions.

Instead of writing a little about every club, I have highlighted only two – Blackburn and Manchester City, so as not to give too much away. Of the two, Blackburn is probably the club I would ask all of you to read first as it is a tragic comedy of epic proportions and had me in stitches.

From the old money of steel magnate "Uncle" Jack Walker – who bought the club he supported – to the Venkateshwara Hatcheries in Pune India, this part of the book will have you glued. Throw in manager Steve Kean and our very own Serbegeth Singh, who had the title of global advisor, you have a recipe for disaster.

The Venky's knew next to nothing about football. Why on earth did they decide to buy Blackburn Rovers is anybody's guess. The matriarch of the family that bought the club – Mrs Anuradha Desai – had never seen a football match!

Bob describes Anuradha as matronly as Angela Merkel, her brothers Balaji as "sporting a 1970's rocker look" and Venkatash "could pass for a ticket inspector on Indian railways".

Poor old Shebby gets a royal roasting here but to his credit did meet with Bob to give his take on his role in the demise of a club that is a founder member of the Football League.

Probably, the most damning quote is by Ian Battersby, a life-long Rovers' fan and prominent businessman.

"He may be a nice guy but in terms of his credentials for running a football club and being a global advisor, it's nonsense. If he was an attempt by the Venky's to be the link, he was an absolutely ludicrous choice.

"After what we said about the need for links to the community, the history, the ethos, to bring him from Malaysian TV to be the man to deal with it was self-serving nonsense from start to finish… the guy is a complete buffoon."

Poor Shebby but at least he got paid a reported £400,000 (around RM2m at that time) a year. Not bad for a former national footballer turned TV pundit turned global advisor.

On the Venky's, Bob writes: "They've demonstrated an uncanny knack of getting almost every major decision wrong, every manager wrong, and do not know what to do with the club. From naively believing it (buying the club) would boost their brand, they have become the biggest laughing stock in football."

If Blackburn are still lost in a black hole, the story of Manchester City mirrors one of a caterpillar metamorphosed into a butterfly. City may be one of the top clubs in the EPL today, owned by one of the richest men in the world, with training facilities that left even Lionel Messi drooling, but "back in the 90s, they haggled over loose change".

Bob paints a morbid picture of a City fan. He writes: "You could always tell City fans back then – they'd start chewing their fingernails and end up at A&E. Their blood pressure could be mistaken for the cricket scores and they wanted time added on in writing – even when 3-0 up.

"City did not just snatch defeat from victory's jaws, they were into purging. 'Typical City', and 'It could only happen to City' became time-honoured prefixes."

"For more than two decades, City performances plumbed the depths with a frequency that would make Jacques Cousteau jealous. Just when they thought they'd reached the bottom, they'd discover a new low."

He adds: "And it wasn't just that they lost – it was the ways they would lose. And sometimes even when they avoided defeat, they would lose. Fact often outstripped fiction where City were concerned."

Then came the false dawn of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the hiring of Sven-Goran Eriksson. Even "feng shui masters, magic crystals and porcelain elephants" could not get City going.

City's fortune changed with the hiring of a marketing wizard named Garry Cook. Bob's extensive conversations with Cook provide the backdrop of how City are where they are today.

From 'Cityitis' to Sven to Mark Hughes, Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini, Pep Guardiola and City winning their first League title, Bob's punctiliousness is at it's best when he describes the day City clinched the League title. It's a must read.

He sums it up best by writing, "There is luck, there is winning the jackpot and there's Manchester City's second foreign takeover. A clutch of trophies, a £200 million (RM1.1 billion) training campus, an enlarged stadium and Pep, it is easy to say this is what one and a half billion quid can buy.

"But what makes it seem like City have won the jackpot twice is that Sheikh Mansour's regime has delivered all this while largely respecting the traditions of the club and sensitivities of the fans."

LIVING THE DREAM ... or enduring the nighmare is a must read for all football fans. Because it is divided into sections on each club, it is effortless reading and the book will sure give readers a new insight into the euphoria and the mayhem of foreign ownership of British football club.

Bob Holmes will be signing copies of his book Living the Dream at Royal Selangor Club, Bukit Kiara, on Friday, Sept 8. The launch is at 4.30pm and members of the public are welcome.

There will also be a panel discussion on the hot topic of 'Money in Football – will the bubble burst?' Refreshments will be served.