One of the more intriguing features of Thaksin’s post-coup career has been his, now successful, bid for ownership of Manchester City football club. New Mandala is pleased to provide this detailed analysis of the bid, and its implications for the Manchester City club and football more generally, by political scientist and Manchester City supporter Thad Williamson: thad-williamson-2007.pdf

Here is an extract.

Why exactly is Thaksin buying this team, and what does he want to do with it? No one pretends that Thaksin is a lifelong City supporter, even if he has evidently done a little bit of research on the club’s history. Nor is it clear that Thaksin carries a lifelong passion for football itself.

This leads to the worry that Thaksin has an ulterior motive for buying the club at this time. The most likely such motive is not profit, as with the American owners of Manchester United and Liverpool. Rather, the most likely such motive is building up his personal prestige both in Thailand and throughout Asian. That a Thai could come to own a major sporting institution such as Manchester City will surely strike many Thais as a major point of pride, and a potentially invaluable propaganda boost for Thaksin.

The worry then is this: does Thaksin intend to use his association with City to help leverage a return, directly or indirectly, into Thai politics? Doing so would carry grave risks for the club: the club’s fortunes should not be held hostage to, or be intertwined with at all, ongoing controversies in internal Thai politics. (The government has indicated it will seek to extradite Thaksin to stand legal charges if he does not return to Thailand by the end of July, and is also investigating the funds Thaksin is using to acquire City. Some in the Thai media speculate Thaksin is buying City precisely to improve his chances of fighting extradition.)

Put simply, it’s one thing if on a whim Thaksin has decided to entertain himself and while away the hours running a Premiership club, quite another if City is going to be used as a pawn in a larger political agenda. If City fans were to make one demand of Thaksin as the moment, it should be not to buy back Shaun Wright-Phillips as soon as possible, but for him to state in no uncertain terms that he has retired from Thai politics, that he will refrain from any extensive involvement in future Thai politics, and that his attention will be fully on City.

That would be good for the club; and, once the junta gives way and new elections are staged, it might be good for Thai democracy as well. Taking Thaksin out of the long-term equation might once again free up space for the grassroots democratic forces that made so much progress in Thailand in the 1990s to re-assert themselves and set the country on a more democratic path than that foreseen by either Thaksin or the coup plotters. In that way, ironically, Manchester City might be doing Thais and Thai democracy a favor, precisely by taking Thaksin and his problematic vision of a corporate-managed society off their hands.