By Walter Broeckx
In England any football club can be owned by one person. Fit or not a person can buy a club and do with it what he likes. There once was a fit and proper person test but that was just a kind of joke as we have seen a few people with less than perfect reputations harming clubs over the years.
In Germany the situation is very different. They have had, since 2009, a kind of financial fair play regulation working. Each club in the Bundesliga has to apply to the German Football federation for a licence to be able to be in the Bundesliga the next season. The DFB has access to all the accounts of the clubs and watch if no club risks becoming insolvent. There is even a system of fines and point deductions for clubs who dare to live outside the rules. Clubs who make a loss can be allowed to only buy a player when they first sell a player for at least the same amount.
And then we have of course the rule that no individual is allowed to own more than 49 % of any club in the Bundesliga. The only exceptions are a few clubs like VFL Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen. The reason for this exception is that they originally were founded as factory teams. So the factory is still allowed to own them.
Now VFL Wolfsburg is being rather successful at the moment and they are owned by Volkswagen (from the cars with the same name). Second in the Bundesliga behind the untouchable Bayern Munich. Bayern Munich by the way who is owned for 9,1% by Audi another company from the Volkswagen Group. So one could say that the Volkswagen Group has a rather big impact on the Bundesliga and their current top two teams.
But compared to England the teams in the Bundesliga cannot be owned by a person like Abramovitch, El-Mansour or …. Kroenke.
What is the danger of being owned by one person compared to being owned by the own members of the club? Well we have a few good examples to show what can happen.
There is the case of Monaco who we met this season in the CL. Monaco is owned by Russian billionaire Dimitri Rybolowlew. At first he was pumping money in the team like mad when they had gone down to the Ligue 2 in France. And it paid off as they won promotion to the top league and since then qualify for the CL each season after coming back. But as fast as the money was spend it also dried up for a big part. Because Mrs. Rybolowlew was a bit tired of her husband and they divorced. As a result she ran off with half of his money. For the nice sum of 3,5 billion Euro. Losing that much money was enough to be a bit more prudent with the spending but there was more.
But then Prince Albert II refused him citizenship of Monaco also and then he threatened to withdraw all his money from the club. If he really does this it would mean that Monaco would have to sell almost all their players and a downfall could be inevitable.
Now this scenario is very unlikely to happen in Germany as no individual person has so much power in one club. If Kroenke would leave Arsenal it would be of no matter really as he doesn’t inject money in to the club like the owners of Chelsea or Man City do. We are self sustaining and we make our own money. The difference would be that we would just see another owner at the AGM.
Now if for some reason Abramovitch left Chelsea it would mean trouble for them. The same would be the case for Manchester City. They are completely dependant on the goodwill of one person.
Now apart from the two clubs mentioned who are owned by companies the other clubs are in the hands of their fans (more or less of course). And now the situation of Wolfsburg is suddenly changing a bit. From being completely supported by Volkswagen they now also face a bit of a financial trouble. Because being owned by a company is also not the safest thing to happen to a club.
In this scenario the club is not be dependant on the mood of the owner. Or his wife. But being owned by a factory could mean that the factory has to cut down their expenses and the club would feel the difference. Wolfsburg get some 80M a year it seems from Volkswagen but just imagine that VW suddenly lost a lot of money and they are looking for ways to cut the spending of the money. I think it would be easier to stop paying the club a lot of money than fire a few thousand people.
Or just imagine that the CEO of Wolfsburg didn’t like football at all? Far fetched you say? Well this is what is happening in the current Volkswagen company. There is a big battle between two top people. One wanting to continue the big financial support of Volkswagen to VFL Wolfsburg. The other one is not interested in football at all and he would consider stopping paying so much money to Wolfsburg or even just cut it out completely.
So that would mean the end of Wolfsburg buying players like De Bruyne and Schurle. Both bought from Chelsea by the way. If the scenario of the non-football lover became real this could mean, just like with Monaco, the end of Wolfsburg as the top club they are. They also could then face a nightmare scenario going from the top to the bottom as they did in the past.
Of course money also rules in the Bundesliga and it is no wonder that the historically richest club of them all wins so many titles. But at least they don’t depend on the mood of one person that could ruin the hobby of thousands if not millions of people.
In a way the 50+1 rule from the Bundesliga wants to make sure that football remains as much as possible the sport of the common Hans and Heidi in German. And not the favourite play thing of Mr. Billionaire who uses this club for his own pleasure and according to his own mood and the swing in mood of his wife / partner / friend / whoever. Make sure that it is not the Football manager game in real time and life for the billionaires that is what it should do. All over the world ordinary people suffer when there club suffers, are happy when their club wins. Lets make sure that those ordinary people don’t have to see their club hitting rock bottom and go bankrupt. Let us not lose the soul of football, one could say. May I say a jolly good idea.
Now in Germany the fact that Volkswagen owns Wolfsburg is a concern for people who mean good with football in general. As I said if one of the two candidates to run Volkswagen gets elected it might bring bad news to VFL Wolfsburg and they could face a big drop of income. Meaning they have to sell their top earners and players and thus could get in to trouble. It will never happen…. I think that is what they said in Glasgow amongst Rangers supporters for a long while before it happened.
Now Volkswagen would probably never completely withdraw from Wolfsburg but imagine the Volkswagen board saying they would cut half of the money in order to save money…it would mean big trouble for their league position.
And that is why the Arsenal model of being self sustainable is oh so important for us fans in the long run. It probably is fun to see your club going from virtually bankrupt to win all these titles. But nothing lasts for ever in this world. And when that day comes the fall from the top can be a long one. And reaching the bottom of the pit can be painful then.
But despite the rumour of some Nigerian billionaire wanting to buy Arsenal and put the club on its head I don’t think it will happen any time soon. And thank god for that. I would dread the day if our club turned into the play thing of one person who will put all what we stand for upside down.
So I thank whoever made it possible to have this situation of calm and silent leadership in our club. Let the people who know their job, do their job. Let Wenger and his staff do their job. Let Gazidis and his staff do their job and let both of them bring slow and steady grow to our club. Let our clubs never fall in the hands of one individual who only sees things in short terms.
The German model makes this nightmare scenario very unlikely. But as Arsenal is not in Germany we have to be wary of what can happen if the wrong person gets their hands on our club.
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7 May 1883: Joe Shaw was born. He became one of the most important men in the history of Arsenal spending virtually all his working life with Arsenal. He is mainly known for being the man who took over from Herbert Chapman as manager who Chapman died, and led Arsenal to its second successive championship.
7 May 2003. Arsenal 6 Southampton 1. With hat tricks from Pennant and Pires the 49 match unbeaten run began. The most wonderful anniversary in the history of Arsenal.