|The hounded former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.|
Having only really been following Rangers for a short time, and being an American, I find it especially interesting what passes for “news” to the British sports media. To wit: So far this summer, Q.P.R. has been positively, absolutely linked to more than a dozen potential acquisitions, obviously none of which was anything more than a badly imagined rumor.So this is especially fun: Robbie Morris of the British gambling house Ladbrokes cites anonymous Rangers sources in reporting that a Russian billionaire, “believed to be worth more than Roman Abramovich,” was making a play for Q.P.R. The fun part is that no one else on the whole, crazy, tin-foil-on-your-forehead Inter-Webs is saying so; though, to be fair to Morris, he allows that “like many of the transfer rumors we’ve heard this morning, a potential buy-out could just be hearsay.” The article’s headline grabbed on the rather mundane observation that Manager Neil Warnock might not survive the transaction, but most of the text was about how tricky it is to value a Premier League club. (Which is amusingly true, with teams like Manchester United being valued at more than $1 billion not long after Mike Ashley failed to find anyone green enough to pay $150 million for Newcastle.) Mostly, Morris’s point seems to be that the owners Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone and Lakshmi Mittal would sell for the right price. (Wouldn’t anyone?) But Morris’s uninspiring effort also provides a welcome opportunity to review the potential oligarch suitors. If you value the Chelsea owner Abramovich’s fortune at $13.4 billion, which some people do, that leaves seven or eight candidates for a possible Q.P.R.-craving former Commie: Vladimir Lisin of Novolipetsk Steel ($24 billion), Alexei Mordashov of the mining giant Severstal ($18.5 billion), my boy Mikhail Prokhorov of the N.B.A.’s Nets among other things ($18 billion), Vladimir Potanin of conglomerate Interros ($17.8 billion), Alisher Usmanov of the mining company Metalloinvest ($17.7 billion), the investor Oleg Deripaska ($16.8 billion), Mikhail Fridman of the conglomerate Alfa Group ($15.1 billion), and, possibly, Vagit Alekperov of LUKoil ($13.9 billion). Only a few of these fellas have been linked to soccer teams in the past. Most interestingly, Deripaska, who already owns a Russian team, and Fridman were included in a dubious list of “20 Billionaires you want buying your football club,” compiled by Oliver Fowler of Soccer Lens in 2008. (At No. 1 on the list is the American Warren Buffett, who, it says here, would never, ever buy a big sports team). Potanin tried to buy Arsenal (which is already partly owned by Usmanov) a few years ago and was pals with Prokhorov, who has numerous sports interests, until perhaps 2009, when he sued Prokhorov over a property dispute. On the face of it, though, Q.P.R. does not seem like a good investment. Its only real assets are its London location and the dysfunction of its three mostly estranged, money-grubbing, slightly-swollen owners. Rangers’ stadium is the smallest in the Premier League, by a long measure (bleachers and bleachers full of fat Americans, let’s say), and any new owner would have only a short time to make the improvements to the roster necessary to keep Rangers from going back whence they came. Of course, that is only hearsay.