There is a moment in Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel The Godfather when a young Don Corleone is at a sit down with a hot-headed gangland rival trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to a dispute that is threatening to get out of hand.
Don Corleone is already a very powerful and dangerous man, but at this meeting he attempts to smooth over the issues that exist between himself and his opposite number in a fair and practical way. His opponent mistakes this for weakness.
Finally, Corleone’s patience is exhausted. He throws his arms up in the air and says “Ahh, he will not listen to reason.” At that, he and his entourage get up and leave the room.
No threat has been made. No anger has been shown.
Don Corleone simply expresses his frustration that a compromise could not be reached, and he leaves it at that.
Yet the rival realises at once that he is in now in the gravest peril, and he turns pale.
A few days later he is shot to death.
There’s no further warning and no attempt at last minute talks to forestall or prevent that action.
Corleone made up his mind the minute he was on his feet, and the order was given without further preamble.
I thought of that scene yesterday when I read Dave King and the Sevco board’s sneering, arrogant, spiteful response to Mike Ashley and his demand for a General Meeting.
Just when you think you’ve seen everything.
As a former political activist, I’ve studied up on brinksmanship. It is a very effective tool in statecraft when it’s handled right, but the preponderance of books on great political and military thinkers and how their analysis can be used in business has made a lot of people think they’re smarter than they are, and caused them to make tremendous mistakes.
Von Clausewitz’s On War, for example, is often misread by businessmen who buy into the concept of “war as a continuation of politics by other means.” They seem to think the best strategy is always to crush your opponent, whatever it takes.
They don’t seem to understand that avoiding war is better altogether.
Somewhere along the line, they forgot the Nash Equilibrium, where in some circumstances co-operation between parties is what achieves the best possible results for all.
It’s hard not to conclude that going to Ashley with a reasonable, respectful, proposition which benefited everyone was the only move for the Sevco board to make here. It may even have borne fruit.
King has chosen not to bother. No-one in his camp is either interested in, or has studied, Nash and that’s fair enough.
But they are poking a bear with a stick.
These people aren’t even attempting to be reasonable at this point and they can’t even muster the intelligence to make it look as if they are for public consumption, which you’d think would be the ideal move if they wanted to fight a PR war.
Instead they are very publicly trying to pick a fight, and openly provoking a guy who has bottomless pockets from which to fund this conflict.
What in God’s name are they up to?
This is the summit of arrogance and the height of stupidity.
I had a look at the proposals last night and from where I am sitting they are mostly bluster, which makes it all the harder to understand.
King is playing high stakes poker with a weak hand showing, and only the hole card to bluff with.
It’s clear he’s got nothing because his threat to publicly disclose confidential information doesn’t stack up against the legal consequences of doing so, and he appears to know this. The giveaway is in the way some of the details have been leaked to his hand-fed press toadies today.
I would imagine Ashley will be looking into legal remedies as a result of that leak.
The “proposal” to remove Ashley’s voting rights, by folding Article 19 of the SFA Constitution into their Articles of Association, is equally ridiculous as doing so needs 75% shareholder approval and the mere threat of a long, destructive court case would dissuade enough of them from pursuing that course of action as to make the idea itself redundant.
Besides, as has been pointed out elsewhere, Ashley could simply transfer control of his shares to someone else and negate the move anyway. It is hot air, and nothing more, designed to make King and his board look tough and up for a fight.
But to what purpose? As I said, their refusal to even appear conciliatory would seem to rule out a PR war, but in some ways it looks as if that’s exactly what they are determined to wage.
And you know what? In the short term that’s a war they can certainly win, especially with a subservient media on their side, but in the end there’s no real victory to be had here.
When everything’s said and done this will result in a colossal defeat, whether that happens in the courts or outside them, in a settlement, or with Ashley simply changing tactics, after much waste.
This guy has the money, and now the motivation, to run this out for years if he has to.
With the leak today that his commercial contracts with the club are on a seven year rolling basis – an astonishing reveal – the costs of getting rid of him are going to be in the tens of millions easily.
I would not bet on him having made mistakes in the drawing up of those deals either.
The previous Sevco board was perfectly – legally – entitled to negotiate those contracts with him in exchange for loans and other funding. King and his people might not like it, and it might even be wholly unscrupulous, but it was certainly not in contravention of the law.
Besides, the notion that Ashley – who made every penny of his fortune legally – should accept lectures from a “glib and shameless liar” and tax cheat, who’s only allowed on the board in the first place because of weak football governance … well the idea is ridiculous.
I’ve already said, on this site, in the second to last article in fact, that Celtic had better be ready for a media onslaught in the coming months, something that will make the Murray years look tame.
King and his people are looking for battles to join, all the better to convince the supporters that they are “fighting for the club”, and it’s a matter of time before they start taking shots at us.
The more one examines their conduct, the more you have to conclude that this a truly reckless board of directors, one that might do anything. They’ve already picked, and lost, a fight with the SPFL over ticket prices for the playoffs, and cost themselves a right few quid.
They also decided to limit the number of away fans at games and now that too has backfired on them, and the wailing of their media pals on that subject has been amusing me for days now.
In short, these people stumble into combat zones without a clear idea of how to win battles.
Even if they had a rudimentary understanding of tactics, far less strategy, Mike Ashley is an enemy far above their capabilities.
It will take more than a little public relations and media manipulation to make this guy dance to the flutes.
This man could buy and sell them ten times over with what’s in the petty cash box.
He could raise a legal action a day, and for a club that’s very soon going to have to try and find outside sources of funding that is death itself.
Perhaps that’s what King wants; to build a case for liquidating the whole sorry mess and starting again, to use Ashley as his alibi and to try and sell the fans on how he never had a choice.
At this juncture it’s the only thing that makes any sense.
Be ready for that. When those drums start beating we need to be on top of it right away.
In another great moment from Puzo’s famous novel, Don Corleone tries to convince his youngest son Michael to continue his education and enter the legitimate world. One of the professions he asks his son to consider is the law.
“A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a thousand men with guns,” he says.
Something tells me Ashley employs a couple of very good legal minds.
Something tells me he’s going to keep them busy.
Dave King and the Sevco board clearly want a war.
They are doing everything they can to get one, and I think in Ashley they’ll find a man who won’t deprive them of that.
As a character in one of my own fictional pieces once said, “Everybody gets what they want, one way or another. Not everybody ends up wanting what they get.”
It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is headed.
King has said, repeatedly, that his ambition is to hear the Champions League anthem at Ibrox again. Well, unless they’re changing that to the tune of Chopin’s Funeral March he’s going to be waiting a wee while.
At another juncture in The Godfather, Don Corleone utters the famous words, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
So it’s ice cream and jelly then.
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