Marwan Koukash continues to make headlines at Salford Red Devils

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Salford Red Devils’ AJ Bell Stadium (Picture: Anthony Parkes/Wikipedia)

SINCE he first strode through the doors of the AJ Bell Stadium as new owner of the then-named Salford City Reds three years ago this month, Dr Marwan Koukash has rarely been out of the news in the world of rugby league.
This past week has proved no exception, with Koukash having to defend the club against allegations of salary cap impropriety – again – and then announcing on Twitter he had been hit with two fines and two tribunals from the RFL.
Which, combined with three years of Salford continuing to struggle in the bottom half of Super League despite some lavish spending, must make The Good Doctor wonder whether it is worth the time and effort – not to mention the money?
Koukash’s back-story is well-known: The Palestinian refugee who grew up in Kuwait, moved to England to continue his education and made a fortune from the corporate training company he set up.
His first sporting love was horse racing, but a chance meeting with RFL chief executive Nigel Wood on a flight to Dubai paved the way for him to invest his not inconsiderable millions into the ailing Salford.
To have a man with an estimated net worth of between $900million and $3billion involved in rugby league should have been a massive fillip to the sport, yet instead Koukash seems to have achieved a status somewhere in-between pantomime villain and Bond villain in the eyes of a large number of fans.
Many eyebrows were raised when Koukash splurged on signing no less than 14 – count them, 14! – new players for Super League XIX after Salford finished bottom of the standings in his first season as owner.
Of those, only Salford captain Tommy Lee, Junior Sa’u and Greg Johnson remain at the club, with the others having moved on or retired from playing.
Among those new faces for the 2014 were maverick half-back Rangi Chase and fiery second row Gareth Hock, both of whom departed under something of a cloud and have since rocked up at nearby Leigh Centurions.
Then there was the saga over Kevin Locke resigning from the club alleging he was due unpaid wages, while signing of Tony Puletua was questioned in a letter from Bradford Bulls chairman Marc Green to the RFL – as revealed in the past week’s League Express.
Head coaches have come and gone too, with Phil Veivers, Brian Noble and Ieystn Harris all having the axe swung on them – the latter being replaced by current director of rugby Tim Sheens towards the end of last season following an uncertain two-month period.
Koukash has become something of bête noire for the game’s administrators as well, which must leave Wood and the Red Hall brains trust wondering why he ever suggested the 57-year-old get involved in owning a Super League club in the first place.
It was Koukash who proved one of the main instigators behind the introduction of the marquee player rule, which allows for a signing outside of the salary cap, and has been vocal in his criticism of the recent Super League broadcasting contract with Sky Sports.
He has also become embroiled in something of a feud with Leeds Rhinos chief Gary Hetherington, while Leeds head coach Brian McDermott was scathing in his criticism of Koukash following their 70-6 win over Salford last season.
“To concede 70 points you usually ask questions of the players but, on this occasion, Marwan Koukash needs to stand up and apologise to everybody,” McDermott was quoted as saying in the Manchester Evening News.
“It embarrasses me to be involved in rugby league when there is an owner of a club conducting himself how he is – saying what he wants, when he wants and how he wants.
“He needs to realise that that is not how to lead a club.”
And what does he have to show for all of this? Consecutive finishes of 14th, 10th and 11th in Super League, and Salford being just over £6.8million in debt, according to their latest accounts filed with Companies House – not to mention a dispute with Salford City Council over an old loan.
Yet for all of the opprobrium he has attracted, it is worth pointing out some of Koukash’s outbursts chime with some of the concerns the average rugby league fan has – certainly with regards to the way the RFL administer the sport.
Perhaps most revealing is the interview he gave to Jamie Jones-Buchanan in the ‘JJB Meets…’ section of Rugby League World in July 2013.
“Now, I’m not a Rugby League expert, I’m a business man, but the way I look at it, with the rules and regulations that people impose in the game I would say that we are deliberately making the game a second class sport,” said Koukash.
“The game is beautiful, and there are thousands of Marwans out there who will come to the game and fall in love with it. But the RFL as owners need to believe that the sport is a sleeping giant.”
Whether Koukash’s gripes about the salary cap are for altruistic purposes or just because he wants to be able to out-spend Salford’s opponents is anyone’s guess, but few would argue he is desperate for rugby league to gain the higher profile it deserves.
This season is almost a reboot for the Red Devils too, with it seeing the start of a new three-year plan in which Koukash aims for the club to be at least competing in the semi-finals of the play-offs or Challenge Cup.
That would seem to re-affirm his commitment to Salford and rugby league. And if the past three years are anything to go by, one thing that can be guaranteed is the next three will certainly not be dull in that particular corner of Greater Manchester.

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