Club owners need to ‘protect’ English game

Paraag Marathe (grey suit) is Leeds United’s vice-chairman and a co-owner as president of 49ers Enterprises

Leeds’ American vice-chairman says English football is so “special, unique and rare”, so club owners need to be respectful of that and “protect it”.

The Elland Road club are one of 10 in the Premier League to be owned or part-owned by Americans.

Gary Neville has called US investment in English football “a clear and present danger” to the game.

But Leeds vice-chairman Paraag Marathe said he was a big fan of English football “as it is”.

“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t proclaim to know all of the history and cultural things about what makes English football special and different and unique,” he told BBC sports editor Dan Roan on The Sports Desk podcast.

“However, I’m learning a lot about it and most importantly, I’m very respectful and appreciative of the current set-up as it is.

“The English football pyramid and with promotion and relegation and everything that exists with that, even to call fans ‘fans’ or even ‘supporters’, it’s almost a misnomer because these are clubs that are part of people’s families.

“These are clubs that are part of cities and communities the same way you would talk about a little brother, a little sister, a mum or a dad, you talk about your club. You can make fun of your club inside your home, but outside your home if someone talks bad about your club, you’re going to protect it at all costs.

“That is just different, and I’m so respectful of that and want to protect what that is.

“If something changes the sanctity of what that is, I’m not a fan of it. If it improves upon it, or if it clarifies it or if it makes it more transparent and makes it better, then I’m a fan of it and supportive of it.

“It’s a very special, unique thing that nobody else in the world has.”

Marathe is also president of 49ers Enterprises, the investment arm of NFL side the San Francisco 49ers, which now has a 44% stake in Leeds.

49ers Enterprises has the option to purchase a majority stake from Leeds principle owner and chairman – Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani – in 2024.

The heavy presence of Americans in the English game does not sit easy with many after the attempts to change football in recent years, with former England and Manchester United defender Nevilleexternal-link saying American owners “just don’t get it and think differently”.

His words came after Chelsea owner Todd Boehly suggested a US style ‘All-Star game’ in the Premier League – an idea that failed to impress many including Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

The attempted launch of the European Super League in 2021 saw three American Premier League club owners or co-owners – Manchester United’s Joel Glazer, Liverpool’s John W Henry and Arsenal’s Stan Kroenke – form part of the ill-fated organisation’s leadership group.

But Marathe says others should stop trying to “fix” football in England.

“Again I just go back to the history and the culture of English football, it is something that is very special and rare, and it works,” he said.

“And English football has its own version of different things. You have the FA Cup and different things like that that gives everybody a chance, a small club in a little known part of the country can win the FA Cup and the source of pride that comes from that, and there’s money that comes with that as well.

“If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. It works here, it’s special, it’s unique and it’s rare, and you don’t want to take away whatever that aura is that makes it rare.”

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