Premier League's new $ign of the times

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

In the mad, mad world of the English Premier League, change is the only thing that stays the same.

Salaries, transfer fees and club valuations escalate at a rate that long ago fled the realms of reality. And then you wake up one morning to discover mere billions are no longer enough.

Suddenly, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich finds that his 11-digit bank balance can't spare him from a metaphorical smackdown in the Premier League playground.

Suddenly, Manchester City – that's right, Manchester City – is the hottest story in world soccer after plucking Brazilian superstar Robinho from the clutches of Chelsea, the first of what promises to be many multimillion-dollar signings.

The EPL is a sporting behemoth, with its corridors of power populated by the heavyweights of the business world. There are Russians, Americans, Egyptians, oil men, financiers and magnates drawn in by the promise of a slice of global television revenues and even greater riches.

To turn such an organization on its head in the space of 72 hours takes brass and imagination and sums of cash that are, even by the standards of these experienced investors, astronomical.

The driving force behind Abu Dhabi United, the consortium that bought out City, is Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He is one of the sovereign rulers of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and, with his brothers, controls a wealth fund valued at just less than one trillion dollars, making Abramovich's $24 billion fortune look like pocket change.

With that sort of money, City can blow anyone out of the water in the transfer market, and that is exactly what it plans to do.

Signing Real Madrid's Robinho, the most sought-after commodity in the marketplace, was about more than simply signing a talented player. It was a signal of intent.

Chelsea was so confident Robinho would be arriving that shirts bearing his name already were on sale in the Stamford Bridge club shop. Now the west London side and Abramovich are left embarrassed and robbed of their status as the league's most financially muscular club.

Another signal of intent was the claim made by consortium spokesman Dr. Sulaiman Al-Fahim that soccer stars Kaka, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Dimitar Berbatov and Cristiano Ronaldo also are serious targets at whatever the price.

The message, to the biggest clubs in England and in Europe, is clear: We're coming to get your players, and we're coming to get you.

The status quo has been altered. And when Abu Dhabi United starts talking about a new era of Galacticos, it is hard to doubt them.

The Big Four of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool now must be seen as a Big Five. If the Sheikh has his way, within a few years it will be a Big One.

Of course, money alone cannot guarantee success. Abramovich's spending could not prevent United from winning the league title the past two years, and it couldn't stop John Terry from slipping as he took the penalty kick that could have won the Champions League.

But what about twice as much money as Chelsea spent? What about five or 10 or 20 times as much?

Think it couldn't happen? Think again.

The money doesn't exist on paper, or as loans or in commodities. It is real, it is there and a big chunk of it is going to be spent.

Predictably, City fans are in a euphoric state. Less than 10 years ago the club was in the third tier of English soccer and only escaped thanks to two late goals in the playoff final against Gillingham. After decades of living in the shadow of rivals Man United, now the blue half of Manchester has everyone running scared.

That, for now, is enough for the supporters. This could be the rarest of situations when the demands and expectations of the owners outstrip even those of the most diehard fan.

Manager Mark Hughes remains in charge after the takeover, yet he may need to secure a top-three finish and a spot in next season's Champions League to hold on to his post.

It has been a remarkable roller coaster for Hughes, who just weeks ago was downhearted and deflated when it appeared he would have no money to spend as former owner Thaksin Shinawatra's assets in his native Thailand were frozen. Now, Hughes has more talent than he could have dreamed of landing on his doorstep, with more to follow.

Money talks in the Premier League, and sums such as these have rattled the eardrums of the big boys, who now are looking over their shoulders with concern. United's Carlos Tevez and Liverpool's Jamie Carragher both admitted this week that City must be considered genuine contenders.

Carragher is right to worry, as Liverpool looks to be the club most vulnerable to losing its place among the elite. Manager Rafa Benitez always has been able to conjure better performances out of his players against European opposition, yet that hasn't mattered too much as the team normally has gotten into the Champions League places without too many dramas. Now it faces genuine competition.

United, Chelsea and Arsenal have settled squads and should be safe from City, this year at least. But what about after more spending by City in the January transfer window and a glut of it next summer when the team likely will be unrecognizable from what is it now?

The wind of change that blew into the English game this week was rapid. But for City, its rivals, the league and the global transfer market, the repercussions will be lasting.

The mad world of English soccer just got a little madder.

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