- How the Premier League manages to have a feeling of continuity
- The solutions are there: why don’t the clubs take note of how to move forward?
By Tony Attwood
At the end of the last decade the Gulf blockade (in which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar), changed the world. But when the blockade ended Qatar got its trade and good name back, everything changed again.
Manchester City and PSG bought everyone they felt like buying, and then some while Barcelona suddenly found itself in dire financial straits and started borrowing money anyhow it could. La Liga meanwhile did a €2.7bn deal with private equity firm CVC in which CVC bought 10% of the league. The aim was to start the long game of catching up with the Premier League. In the near future Qatar, or a private equity company will make an offer for the Premier League. Or the FA. Or both. Serie A is moving the same way.
In short, the sovereign wealth funds are ready to buy not just clubs but entire leagues. Rivals to the Premier League in fact (unless they buy that too).
And why does that matter? Simply because in the UK alone, the audience for the average Premier League game is over 2 million, of whom only 60,000 are in the ground.
So while it seems today that watching the Saudi Arabian league today would hardly be of any interest in England, if the Saudi league contained clubs with all the top players in who are currently playing in the Premier League – lots of people would watch.
This proposed change is as dramatic as the move from everyone watching their local team in its own ground, to supporters following the big Premier League clubs on Sky and the now-deceased BT Sprout.
The idea really got going with a world cup in Qatar, and has been followed by clubs in Saudi Arabia (and other countries) buying up end-of-career stars for their league. And it will develop, just as in golf the dominant PGA Tour has now buckled down and agreed to merge with the Saudi Arabian financed LIV Golf.
It started with big companies sponsoring football clubs. Next we had billionaires buying up football clubs and then getting sponsors. Now the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (or for short, Saudi Arabia) has taken over four of the football clubs in the country as the start of developing its own Premier League. (You might recall they also own Newcastle United).
Gradually a small group of ever more highly financed clubs, owned by different states, or maybe even the same state, will fight out the Champions League, with matches being played everywhere from the United States to the middle east – and maybe just for old time’s sake occasionally in England. (We’ll probably be told this season that football started in Newcastle).
In effect only eight clubs will really compete for the Champions League and other competitions — but then come to think of it, that’s where we are already heading. Manchester City, PSG, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich (although Bayern’s financial model is utterly different, and I am not sure if they would be welcomed into the club since they can’t be bought). And soon add Newcastle United. Only a few more needed.
Of course there could be a fight back. The Premier League could cap spending, and Uefa could suddenly wake up to what is happening on its watch. But I doubt it.
And the independent regulator of football who we are promised for England might (in between investigating the horrors still being perpetrated on children by some clubs that we have often mentioned) take an interest. It’s why Manchester City are so relaxed about the 100+ legal actions against them. They don’t actually need the Premier League. Same for Barcelona (currently under investigation by the public prosecutor’s office): financial salvation is just over the horizon – in Saud Arabia where the club can’t be touched.
And just in case you missed it, Real Madrid and the government of Spain have started proceedings by filing a complaint against Barcelona and two of the club’s past presidents over payments of over 7.3 million euros to firms owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira.
And who is this Mr Negreira? Well, actually the vice-president of the refereeing committee of the Spanish Football Association from 1993 to 2018. And the allegation is that in return Mr Negreira got referees to favour Barcelona.
Of course that couldn’t happen in England because err, well, because, PGMO is so open and clear in its running of the world of referees. I mean it is not as if some Premier League referees are always known for giving home wins, while others are famous for amazingly high numbers of away wins, or anything like that.
But no, if that were really going on it would be all over the English newspapers wouldn’t it?
And anyway, that hardly matters if all the clubs are owned by oil rich states and nominally based in Qatar where different rules apply. (After all, how do you take legal action against a sovereign wealth fund?)
Of course, if it were competent and not in any way corrupt (and of course I have no evidence that it is corrupt) Uefa could stop the multi-club model now. And it could stop sovereign wealth funds buying football clubs. Aleksandr Ceferin unfortunately doesn’t seem to see it all like this. So onward the clubs march to Saudi.
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