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By Tony Attwood
It has taken a little while for the implication of the new Saudi Arabian football league to catch the media’s fullest attention, but slowly, very slowly realisation is appearing that something undesirable might be happening, as an article in the Telegraph shows.
As you’ll know a new league is being set up in Saudi Arabia funded by state money (of which there is quite a lot) and which is starting with clubs in England being offered very large sums of money for some of their older players. It is of course a way of attracting positive coverage of what Nations Online calls an “absolute monarchy and an Islamic theocracy. There are no political parties or national elections…. The King performs legislative, executive and judicial functions, he is chief of state and head of government.”
The point now being made is that as the Telegraph puts it, selling a player to Saudi Arabia is a “get out of FFP jail free card,” suggesting that many clubs are looking to use such a sale to reduce their FFP losses. The Telegraph reports that Chelsea alone have been presented “with a proposal for five players amounting to more than £100 million.”
As a result clubs not only get a chance to offload fading stars on big salaries but also reduce their transfer losses and FFP problems. Many names are being mentioned as examples, but we might particularly notice Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as being in the list. Elsewhere, Wolverhampton have sold Ruben Neves to Al Hilal for £47m.
We expect to see Saudi-owned clubs like Newcastle popping up all over Europe with clubs based in Saudi then buying old-timers from Newcastle United etc at ludicrously high fees thus driving the proverbial coach, horses armoured weaponry through the regulations. And as we know, football’s official bodies move at very slow speeds (when not actually moving backwards).
Now as we also know, while Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have in the past been hostile to each other they are now the best of buddies, which with Arsenal’s close links with the Emirates makes this a matter of interest to Arsenal as well. Although to be fair, the deals we are currently seeing are for older players and Arsenal, having the second-youngest squad in the league last season, don’t have many of those.
Of course, denials are everywhere. Chelsea for example have denied that the PIF (the investment fund run by Saudi Arabia which is buying into football) has any engagement with Chelsea at all, and that the club’s popularity in the middle-east is just something that has “happened”. But the Telegraph reports that Clearlake “which owns about 60 per cent of Chelsea, has prior minority investment from PIF” as do Todd Boehly and Jonathan Goldstein, two leading figures in Chelsea’s ownership.
Both men are also on the board of the estate agency Cain International, which itself set up a $900million project with the Saudi Public Investment Fund recently. Given that Chelsea spent £600m in two consecutive transfer windows and lost £274 million over the past two years, these possible connections between Chelsea and the Saudi PIF seem worthy of examination.
Indeed if the Premier League agrees there might be something amiss here, they should investigate. And actually, maybe they are already investigating, although Chelsea fully deny any wrongdoing. But it is undeniable that the removal of some expensive older players that have been purchased by Chelsea as part of their desperate moves to rise from 12th place last season, is very much welcomed by the club, not least because they have more than 25 players aged over 21 on their books.
So on the one hand we have Saudi Arabia (reported to have set aside £400 million annually to run its new football league), suggestions that this might be a way around FFP regulations, and an investigation into 110 accounting allegations against Manchester City
Meanwhile, as the Mirror reports, Barcelona FC have been charged with corruption. It is said they have been paying Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, a former vice-president of Spain’s referees’ committee a total of £7.4m. “Negreira had been indicted for ‘corruption, ‘breach of trust’ and ‘false accounting’,” says the Mirror.
And maybe in passing we should note that Qatar fancies buying Manchester United, dsespite the fact that it already owns PSG, so we could be getting close to two Champions League clubs being owned by the same organization, while undoubtedly claiming that there is nothing wrong with such a situation as the two clubs are quite separate.
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