How football has become a house of cards that is very likely to fall at any moment




By Tony Attwood

Arsenal’s current approach of building a young versatile squad by promoting their own youth players and buying in others at high expense, with a club owner previously renowned for not investing millions into the clubs he owns, is interesting and indeed unexpected.   And it comes at a time when football is in a state of unprecedented upheaval.

Now I know that for the media upheaval means Sky having a new Saturday afternoon presenter.   But genuine upheaval there is, because there are three major developments happening and they are all related.

First, the Manchester City case.  If the club is not guilty, that will suggest any club can spend anything and the FFP is dead.  If guilty, Manchester City will appeal, and that could mean we could see a final outcome something like six years after the case started.  Either way the rest of the League looks inept.

Second there Saudi Arabia which has bought two Liverpool players at massively over-the-odds prices; players who have long since been paid for.   That gives Liverpool masses of headroom in terms of FFP for buying many new players, and is a process open to abuse.  For if a club is at the edge of FFP it could perhaps persuade the Saudi league to take some players at huge prices and maybe one or two youngsters, just to balance the club’s FFP books.

And third the financial collapse of both Real Madrid and Barcelona following a Uefa decision not to allow their particular brand of accounting to be acceptable as a way of passing FFP tests.  What will that mean for the rest of Europe if, as now seems highly likely, both clubs will be unable to pay their debts in the coming year?

Each of these cases cuts to the very heart of the football system, and each has hidden attributes.  Manchester City are now borrowing money to finance the ongoing development of their group of clubs, which is odd when they have access to as much money as they could ever need.  It looks like a way to change their financial structure so that if found guilty they have a new weapon available: the non-payment of their debts.  

And what if they were to be found innocent in a case brought against them by 19 other Premier League clubs?  Where does that leave the credibility of the rest of the PL?  Would clubs want to play for a league so unable to handle its own affairs, or would they once more be tempted into a European Super League?

Indeed if Manchester C are found innocent, that would leave the rest of the league looking very inept and stupid since it was the whole league that took on the case.  How could the League recover any credibility from that position?  It would be hard for them to be taken seriously.

As for Barcelona and Real Madrid, both of these clubs have been selling future income in return for money now, and adjusting their books in a way that Uefa has said is unacceptable.  This means both are breaking FFP rules and have no leeway in funding their debts.  They don’t have the money, and they can’t borrow it.  So what now?

What I think this is looking like is a “house of cards” situation – in which one builds a house of playing cards which can get quite high, but pull one card out and everything falls down. All the clubs except Manchester City are in debt, and now Manchester City is deliberately putting itself in debt when it doesn’t need to.  While Saudi Arabia is sitting there saying, “we’ll get you out of debt by overpaying for your players.”

And is that why Manchester City are now deliberately borrowing money they don’t need, so that if they are found guilty by the Premier League, as seems very likely, they can just stop paying on their debts, and the house of cards does come tumbling down.

If Machester City win their case against the Premier League the club will have carte blanche to spend anything they like; the League won’t dare take them on again.  If the Saudi league continues, they will be inflating the price of older players for years to come and clubs will start to rely on that income to get around FFP rules – more power for Saudi Arabia.  And all the while there are Barcelona and Real Madrid simply not paying clubs to whom they owe money because they themselves don’t have the money, and can’t borrow it from anywhere.  Perhaps a middle eastern country would like to help them out…

Indeed there are probably around 15 clubs in the PL that would be quite happy to be bought by the Saudis…

3 Replies to “How football has become a house of cards that is very likely to fall at any moment”

  1. Arsenal are now buying the Right type of young player that will improve the team from a tactical option point of view. They are also now holding firm with regards to selling players at the right price rather than selling them too cheaply. For instance: Arsenal wont sell Balogan for less than £60 million, which for a young international who has scored more than 20 goals is a bargain at £60 million. Thats just £10 million more than southampton want for the no goals Lavia who they astonishingly value at £50 million that all you journalist seem to think is reasonable! Arsenal have already turned down two bids of £55 million for Balogan as they would rather keep him if less than £60 million is the bid.

  2. Hi Tony . I like the effort you put into your articles.
    Despite the 2008 financial crisis the money at the top end of football has continued to increase exponentially with no shortage of billionaires from Asia America and Europe willing to invest heavily in football. And the oil countries keep on keeping on. And despite Covid and empty stadiums for two seasons a decent DM like Declan Rice is bought for 100mill and not by an oil club. Right now as we both agree Saudi Arabia can bail out big clubs by buying all their “cant sell” players. So Real Madrid and Barca just need to let a saudi family pay off all their debts. A theory going around for a decade or so is that the oil countries will eventually become bored with with club ownership. Saudi recently buying Newcastle and Man U would appear to challenge that. As you said clubs can turn “debt’ into credit with creative accounting. UEFA trying to police FFP as you say is near impossible as Football is so mired in Billionaire ownership and players are so used to their multi million dollar contracts how is EUEFA ever going to turn back the tide. My one question is has football the game actually improved these past 25 years? Well the average score line in football remains at 2-1 so perhaps “the more things change the more they stay the same applies? Keep up the good work

  3. Sevilla, Vasco da Gama, Standard Liège, Genoa, Red Star FC, Melbourne Victory, Hertha BSC.

    777 Partners have stakes in all of these clubs.

    The ECA have been less than enthusiastic about answering questions related to MCO issues.

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