Finance Over Football – The Foreign Invasion
It’s the summer of 2003 and Roman Abramovich splashes millions of Russian roubles to take control of underachieving Chelsea Football Club. The Russian oligarch embarks on an ambitious programme of commercial development, with the club’s aim becoming a worldwide brand and brushing shoulders with Europe’s footballing elite. Abramovich transformed the footballing landscape, funding the most remarkable spending spree the English game had ever seen.
With experts now investigating prospective takeovers in the premier league, attention once again turns to the ownership of football clubs. Foreign investors threaten to change the very fabric of the English game forever. But the question is, do I really care as long as my team are winning?
Seven years on since the Abramovich regime took hold and over half of all premier league clubs are now in control of big money businessmen, each with varying degrees of success. Club’s are being run just as they would if they were corporate businesses. To some owners, the commercial aspect of the club is on a par or even more important than what’s going happening on the pitch.
“You don’t make money because 11 guys run around the pitch,” claims former owner of Portsmouth football club, Sulaiman Al-Fahim. “You make money because of all the other commercial aspects that go with a football club, particularly real estate and television rights” Of course, these the thoughts of a man who played his part in Pompey’s near-liquidation.
Could English teams take a leaf out of Barcelona’s book? The Catalan side are not a public limited company, it isn’t possible to buy shares in the club and so decisions are made by those who actually care, the fans. Football over finances – that‘s what we‘re after, right?
Lets not hold our breath. Anyway, money from overseas continues to influence the status and popularity of clubs all over the country and it would be foolish to argue against the positives of foreign investment. After all, the Premier League is now the most watched league in the world, furnished with the game‘s finest foreign talent.
Since the wave of foreign investors began in 2003, English clubs have dominated the most sought after prize in European football, the UEFA Champions League. In the last six years, last year excepted, each of the Premier League’s top four have participated (at last once) in the final. All of these clubs are owned by foreign investors. From 2006 – 2009, the semi finals of each competition included 3 English teams, domination personified.
As English teams continue to dazzle Europe’s elite, the national side regress. When expectations soar, England bow out in the quarter finals at both Euro 2004 and the World Cup in Germany . Under Steve McClaren, they fail to even qualify for the 2008 European Championships. Although foreign investors cannot be blamed directly for the demise of the national squad, young hopefuls’ chances of breaking through are deteriorating, with instant success the soup of the day. Anyways, I’m from Northern Ireland, why should I care how England fair?
Nevertheless, many worry that if the current crop of youngsters aren’t tried and tested on the top stage of club football, Team England will suffer.
In Manchester, there are contrasting opinions on foreign ownership. Manchester United is owned by Malcolm Glazer, an American businessman who was recently brought under scrutiny by Panorama. Fans fiercely opposed the takeover, as the Glazers have been running the club in huge debt, paying a reported £60million in interest each year for their debt.
Conversely, the blue half of Manchester are now finally able to compete with their city rivals financially. The arrival of the Abu Dhabi group provoked a flurry of high profile bids, paving the way for over £200million of talent, including Carlos Tevez and David Silva.
Manchester City is further evidence of the legacy that Abramovich will forever impose on the premier league, inadvertently setting the trend and in doing so, paving the way for astronomical transfer fees and higher salary. Whether this is healthy for the game is widely debated, but one things for certain, City fans will not disapprove.
As a Liverpool fan, I had been forced to listen to countless empty promises made by a (now former) custodianship who saddled the club in debt, all whilst the team underperformed on the pitch. But when the new owners announced deals for Luis Suarez (£22 million) and Andy Carroll (£35 million), I felt like a City fan – and enjoyed it. Not for one minute did I think, “Oh shit, now our up and coming young strikers are less likely to get a look in.”
In a modern game, littered with disenchanted fans and unaccountable owners, deliberation is only expected. Fans can debate for or against foreign ownership, but if their club are successful, are they really bothered? My opinion – as long as there’s success, the answer will be no.
Whether the future of club ownership lies in the ways of an idealistic democracy much like FC Barcelona’s remains to be seen. Foreign owners have left their stamp on the English game, for better or worse, and will continue to do so. With all it‘s riches, football is not just a sport, but now a business model.