The battle within football that will shape the Premier League’s future



Today’s Arsenal anniversary headline: 19 February, when a spectator is persuaded to play for Arsenal with awful consequences

By Tony Attwood

There are all sorts of rules within the Premier League that we hardly hear about, but which are there to try and keep the operation of the game fair and open – or at least as fair and open as it can be, given the wealth of the clubs and their owners.

One of these for example aims to stop a club with a very rich owner, signing a sponsorship deal with the owner at way over the market rate.   Allowing such a move would just open the gate to unlimited funding of a club by a sponsor.

Another rule aims to stop any organisation that owns more than one club from moving players from one club to another for inflated fees in order to benefit the finances of one of the clubs in the group. 

Rules such as these, and others, particularly came to the fore after Saudi Arabia took over Newcastle United in 2021.  However some of the clubs that benefit from being able to move sponsorships and players around within their group are claiming that this sort of restriction is illegal under English law.

Given that the group running Manchester City now own 13 clubs, including of course Girona, who look increasingly certain to quality for the Champions League next season where they could play Manchester City.  Girona are second in Spain, and Manchester C are third in England – hence there is some concern about all the ways in which clubs with the same owners can interact.

As a result a new set of rules has been adopted by the Premier League aimed at stopping interactions between clubs in the same group, and quite simply the League is now split between those clubs in groups and those not.

It is not clear which clubs voted against the new proposals, although Manchester City are obviously against the new rules.  It is also suggested that Aston Villa voted against along with all the other clubs that are in multi-club groups:  Newcastle United, Burnley, Chelsea, Everton, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

There was however no vote on the Premier League Profit and Sustainability Rules themselves which limit the amount a club can lose to £105m over a three year period – these are the rules that have tangled up Everton of late in a legal case and are threatening Chelsea as well.   (The Manchester City case appears to be different for there it is alleged that the club has artificially inflated the value of sponsorship deals from the start as a way of getting funding into the club.)

Uefa currently has a different system of regulation in which the spending of clubs on players is gradually moving to a limit of 70 per cent of their revenue, with losses up to £50m allowed over a three year period.  Spending on players at the moment is limited to 90 per cent of revenue this season and 80 per cent next season reducing to the 70 per cent in 2025-26.

This model could be introduced to the Premier League, but as things stand it would be fairly easy for Manchester City to circumvent such a rule by having another club in the City Group, which is in a country that has no such regulations, buying in a player at a high price, but then selling him on to Manchester City at a much lower price, allowing Manchester City to meet the requirements of the spending regulations and the Profit and Sustainability Rules.

In such a case the loss would be made by the intermediate club, and there is no chance of clubs throughout the world all abiding by the rules.

The big worry for clubs that are not associated with a group of other clubs around the world is that if one or two more Premier League clubs follow the model of multi-club ownership, then the multi-club model will be the norm, and nothing will be able to stop Premier League clubs buying and selling through their associated clubs – except Uefa.

What Uefa could do is bring in restrictions for its own competitions, thus effectively excluding clubs like Manchester City from Europe until it disassociated itself from its group ownership.    Such a disassociation would however seem unlikely since it is a prime source of the benefits that its ownership brings.

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