The issue with Leyton Orient begins and ends with the standards for ownership of a football club in England. The FA’s fit and proper test is supposed to ensure high standards for ownership. Leyton Orient, however, represents a massive hole in the test.
They have had Francesco Becchetti come in and buy 90 per cent of their football club, make unilateral decisions without rhyme or reason, and now they are facing relegation from League Two, legal issues and possible administration. The fans have even started a sizable fund to save the club. This is the exploitation of a lack of oversight and accountability in English football.
Since taking over the club in 2014, Becchetti has been largely uncommunicative, completely dropping off the map in December 2015. Disgustingly, there has been essentially no contact with the fans. Making untempered decisions is bad enough, but to not consider the opinion of the fanbase is so obtuse that it is basically abusive from Becchetti.
Noting that upper management at Leyton Orient have no parlay with the fanbase, they released a unilateral statement in January. In it, Chief Executive Alessandro Angelieri clearly alludes to the fans’ opinions, stating: “Mr Becchetti did not like the fan protests because at the beginning of the season everyone, supporters included, praised the club for their summer transfer business. Thereafter Mr Becchetti doesn’t play on Saturday.”
There are two things of note here: first, they clearly only consider positive fan opinion valid, seeing as they will relay it as they did here and throw a tantrum when it is not. Furthermore, Becchetti thinks he plays every Saturday, as this is the only explanation for why it would matter that he now “doesn’t play on Saturday.”
In fact, he does not. Every Saturday real footballers are running on the pitch and, every day since he took over Leyton Orient, Mr Becchetti has been running in a different manner. Running a football club into the ground.
It goes back to the FA’s standards of care. There needs to be an ongoing review of the eligibility of an individual to do right by the club they have stewardship over.
Mr Becchetti seems free to do as he pleases. He started a reality show for his (now shut down) Albanian television channel in which Italian boys competed for a Leyton Orient contract. This should have raised warning signs. He was banned for six matches due to violence after kicking his own assistant manager. This should also have raised incredible concerns. The Albanian government cracked down on him for charges of fraud and money laundering. This should have launched an investigation into Becchetti’s conduct with Leyton Orient at the very least.
Additionally, any club that burns through an absurd number of managers in such a short period of time, for example the 10 Leyton has been through since 2014, should be advised on better football business practices by the FA at a minimum.
How can the FA claim to create policies to protect the “reputation and image of the game”, yet ignore so many warning signs? This is an issue of oversight and accountability; furthermore it is a hole in FA policy. They must ensure that football clubs are controlled by individuals of a certain character so that they do not go up in flames, as Leyton Orient are currently.
This starts with manifesting accountability by at least requiring management-to-fan communication and actively monitoring the suitability of management. Leyton Orient should not be in the state it is and their fans should not have to so valiantly muster funds to save a 138-year-old hallmark of their community.
Image courtesy of Paul Wilkinson