Latvian’s arrival is no Kon job for Seasiders

PUBLISHED: 12:28 26 January 2007 | UPDATED: 10:01 14 September 2010

THE arrival of wealthy owners from former Soviet Union republics has proved a twin-edged sword for football fans in Great Britain. Supporters at Chelsea and Hearts can perhaps point to the adage “Be careful what you wish for”, as financial salvation from Russia and Lithuania, respectively, has been followed by unprecedented success on the pitch, albeit at the price of compromising the team manager's independence.

THE arrival of wealthy owners from former Soviet Union republics has proved a twin-edged sword for football fans in Great Britain.

Supporters at Chelsea and Hearts can perhaps point to the adage “Be careful what you wish for”, as financial salvation from Russia and Lithuania, respectively, has been followed by unprecedented success on the pitch, albeit at the price of compromising the team manager's independence.

Fans at Blackpool have a happier story to tell in the eight months since businessman Valery Belokon arrived on the Seasiders' shore from Latvia with a reputed £5million to invest.

Belokon - who controls interests including banking and media, brewing and gold mining, from the modern headquarters in Riga he shares with the British Chamber of Commerce and the Japanese Embassy, among others - prefers to play down his influence at a currently buoyant Bloomfield Road.

“Almost all of the clubs owned, as you say, by “new overseas owners” seem to be doing well. However, I think the success does not depend on the owners themselves, but on the managers.”

The Blackpool president had every opportunity to remove Simon Grayson, the manager he inherited last summer, with the approval of many fans during a poor run of form to start the season.

His loyalty has been rewarded with a stunning string of results since the autumn, culminating in a Manager of the Month award in December for Grayson, the former Leicester City, Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers full-back.

Belokon said: “I am very pleased to work with Simon Grayson, I think that he is using chances provided to him to the full extent. There are a lot of difficulties in the manager's job, and it is important to improve personally, to provide the positive example for the team.

"If other clubs have tried to attract Simon I have no information about it. However, I would be pleased with this fact - that would prove he is a good manager.”

While club president and a director, Belokon has his own man stationed in Blackpool for the day-to-day business, though he has done his own research on Saturday's opponents.

“After the draw I have spent a lot of time on the internet and I have got to know a lot about Norwich City

“It will not be an easy game but I do not want to talk about it in advance; the future is very often unexpected and gives us a lot of surprises,” he said.

While Blackpool and the FA Cup will always evoke memories of the 1953 immortals who won the Matthews Final, Belokon is more keen to emulate the 1990 side, which reached the fifth round, losing to Queen's Park Rangers in a second replay - and to meet his boardroom opposite.

“I will be very pleased if Delia Smith comes to Blackpool. Completely honestly, without any hypocrisy or PR, I also, as many UK people, have her book at home and I know and like the dishes made by her recipes.

“If she is reading this, I would like to personally assure her that she will be welcome in the best traditions of Blackpool hospitality.”

They may well meet again next season, with both parties hoping it is in the Championship as Grayson's team looks to beat the owner's three-year plan for promotion.

Belokon said: “I would say that life will not stop if this does not happen. But it is important that we can think about this possibility and fight for it.

“As one of the supporters I also would like more money to be given, but as the person who is providing the money, I am interested in quality use of this money.”

An expected influx of Latvians - similar to the wave of Lithuanians signed by Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov - has not materialised though there are plans to bring teenage players over from the Baltic state to Lancashire, and the club's famous tangerine shirts have occasionally been swapped for Latvian national red.

Belokon is quick to remind that those matches were won but understands that tangerine is part of the unique branding of club and town, especially until Blackpool wins the race to host the country's first super-casino.

“In order to continue the effective development of tourism in the chosen direction, I think the casino could give its positive input,” conceded the owner, who is expected to exploit fully Bloomfield Road's potential for development.

In that sense, Belokon's intentions for his club more closely resemble those of the Russian-Israeli Gaydamak family at Portsmouth than the free-spending Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.

Abramovich's one-time mentor Boris Berezovsky - the Russian billionaire exiled in London - is a business acquaintance of the Latvian, but Belokon said: “Personally I do not know any of the overseas owners of football clubs.

“But I hope that I will get the chance to get acquainted with them. I think we will have some common and interesting topics for the discussion.”

Norwich fans will hope that talk does not place in the Stamford Bridge directors' box in the fifth round.

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