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Maybe the money model in football is flawed after all.

The club that changed football

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So far, suggestions that something is not quite right with the English Premier League have been carefully managed and kept away from the gaze of the media.  Our work here last season (which can be seen in summary in our review) and the amazing analysis going on within Referee Decisions, shows that there is reason to believe something is not right.

Corruption in the boardroom, questions about the FA, questions about Fifa… and the billionaire sponsorship of two clubs that seems to be a deliberate challenge to Uefa’s financial rules – such matters get the occasional mention, but basically no one is alienated.  The billionaires are making their money talk – Man City and Chelsea both obviously winning stuff last season.

But, I think there are a few reasons to think that maybe all is not quite as it seems.

Matters, for example, are a little different elsewhere.  Zenit in Russia changed themselves around in December 2009, and announced they were going to win the League and the Cup and proceed at the least to the group stages of the Champs League.  They did win the league, but this season they are currently 8th in the league after 10 games and are bottom of their Champions League group.   There are murmurs.

Paris St Germain, by far the richest club in France, and effectively able to outbid any other club for anyone they fancy are currently third in the French League and equal second in their Champs League group with three points – not bad, but not quite the domination they expected.   But still the crowds turn up, and money is pouring into French football from investors in the middle east.  The TV deal is certainly pouring money in.

Italy is however different again – and it is possible to argue they are one step ahead.  Average attendances have been falling in Serie A in recent years, perhaps due to the economic problems, perhaps due to ref-fixing, match fixing and general corruption.

This has come to the fore in the last week or so because instead of the Milan derby being sold out instantly, it wasn’t – and with AC Milan in real financial problems and sitting 11th in the league, it looks like their supporters have had enough.  Silvio Berlusconi who has bank rolled the club for years looks like he can’t do it, or can’t be bothered to do it, any more.

I don’t know what the crowd for today’s Milan match will be, but the story is that the ground is not going to be full.  The captain of AC Milan, Massimo Ambrosini, has even done a TV advert, promoting the game.

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What links all this together is that Milan sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris St-Germain in the summer.   There was no way they couldn’t sell – the players wanted the money and the lure of the new French mega club, AC need the cash – the sales were inevitable once PSG entered the market.

The trouble is that AC Milan don’t have a way out of the mess.  While Arsenal have faced the same problem, Arsenal have a battery of options to help them ease through.  One is called Mr Wenger, another is the youth policy, another is the way the finances have been arranged so that new money will arrive soon from the sponsorship and marketing deals (as the old deals come to an end) and the developments of industrial property continue to bring in money.

So while Milan sink, with crowds of under 30,000 Arsenal is still full, can look forward to a big time marketing boost internally, and as Tom Fox told us at the recent AISA meeting, there is going to be a huge expansion into the Far East, China and the USA.

Meanwhile, it is true to say that all of the clubs in Italy are suffering from a lack of funding.  And it is true to say that the experiences of some of the billionaire clubs around Europe shows that although money can buy trophies in England, it doesn’t always happen.

But let me just end with another twist: Malaga who are third in the Spanish league.   They shot up the league after the Qatar royal family (which effectively means Qatar) bought them.  They got into the Champs League for the first time, but then the money stopped, and they moved from biggest spenders to a team that bought no one in the summer, and instead sold.

Of course, we were one of the beneficiaries  getting Cazorla for a bargain price.  Salomon Rondon and Joris Mathijsen also left.  Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cazorla threatened legal action over unpaid wages last season.  The league imposed a transfer ban after Malaga failed to make a stage payment to Osasuna.

But they have recovered with what the BBC web site called an “AFC Wimbledon-style ownership model,” and they have not sunk as many (including me) suggested might happen.

Money can buy success, but doesn’t always.  And maybe that gives hope for us all.

19 comments to Maybe the money model in football is flawed after all.

  • Stuart

    Thanks for keeping us up to date on this. I wonder who is next?

  • nicky

    We are all guilty of yearning for the materialistic forms of existence.
    Cars, yachts, high value housing, expensive holidays are all part of displaying the success we crave.
    As my old Gran (who cleans at the Emirates) often says “It’s not money but the love of it that is the root of all evil”.
    The standard of living throughout much of the world since (say) the end of WW2 has improved, in many respects, beyond measure. The problem, though, is that the COST of this living has also “improved” (although we call it “risen”). So we have money chasing cost chasing money.
    In professional football, particularly since the advent of TV, satellite broadcasting and pressure advertising ( a licence to print money) the cost of the sport has rocketed over the past decade or so.
    Wages of players (with tax dodges), transfers, bungs and a miriad of shady deals involving Boards, staff, referees and even the very associations who are meant to be whiter than white, are all involved in the love of that alleged evil..MONEY.
    Doom and gloom merchants are forecasting the end of the world on the 12th or 21st of December this year and if either date is correct it would sort out all the money problems in one fell swoop.
    Otherwise, we will all soldier on in the never ending search for more money to improve our lot. The best we can do is to support those who fight corruption at all levels, particularly in sport, where it should have no place.

  • bjtgooner


    Well said.

  • gunner4ever

    Do you seriously believe Chelsea/MU/Barca/RM could have won trophies without spending billions ?If Arsenal want to be seriously taken as a major football power,there is no other way.The days when Wolves/Burnly/Av can win the title or fight for the epl are consigned to dustbins of history.
    This is the reality facing football today.Of course UEFa can insist teams must feature 50% of local talent. But clubs are ingenius these tahnks to conniving lawyers to overcome this.
    Btw one red faced has spent trillions to win epl. He had hoped to dominate in Europe but he forgot the refs there are not on his side.Some hate him for his arrogance .

  • That explains why Chelsea are top of the league.
    Money spent the right way,will give you success.

  • nicky

    But what IS the right way? Owned by a dodgy billionaire, paying fees and wages way over the odds to get who he wants. That surely cannot be the right way.

  • insideright

    One of the reasons why Chelsea and Man City have spent so much is that they have regularly spent badly and had to go back into the market to cover up for their mistakes.
    Almost total reliance on the market to generate success is a highly inefficient way of achieving it and if it comes anyway it’s mainly because your rivals are even more inefficient than you are.

  • Super Singh

    Let me tell you a storey, back in the good old days when I was at school we used to have playground kick about. Now all the best players, big kids used side up and leave all the not so good players and smaller kids on the other side.
    Hense we would get walloped 23- 2, after a while it got boring and common sense prevailed and the squads would even out, unfortunately it got better but the other team still had all the best players and now we would lose 25- 10 goals.

    The point I’m trying to make is that all the money teams can try and buy all the best players, eventually it will get boring and won’t take long before people start turning away? Slippery slope? I hope it happen’s to them.

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    Super Singh,
    If the little clubs were brave enough/strong enough to do without the big clubs, it might work. That sort of thing exists in Scotland and Spain. The problem is:
    People only turn up for the big matches at little clubs – Rangers in the third tier means a halved number of highly profitable home matches for the other SPL clubs;
    TV companies only pay for the rights to show the big matches – kicking the big clubs out of the league slashes the payments from the TV companies;
    Smaller clubs can survive by selling their best players to the big clubs (I’ve said in the past this is a reason why Arsenal isn’t very popular, our transfer fees don’t tend to go to smaller English clubs, thus taking EPL TV money out of the league rather than letting it trickle down.)

  • Ong Bing

    OOT: Arsenal U21 now playing against Reading U21, Terry put big guns tonight, Sagna, Santos, Jack, Frimpong, Coq, all starts.

    I hope we can win big, after 2 defeats.

    We can follow them on Twitter.

  • Bennydevito

    Arsenal are a financially well run club? That has got to be the funniest thing I have ever heard! Buying Park for £10m and then writing him off in the finances for £5m without even playing him? Yes, very well financially run club! And as for the commercial deals – who are going to sponsor a club who continually asset strip its best players and captains year on year? A club who haven’t won anything for 7 years and counting? Corporate boxes not being sold which account for 40% of ticket sales and are now being broken up into regular seats? Property sales that have now come to an end and a club that is running at a loss without selling its best players? A commercial team that costs £15m a year in wages yet has only raised revenue in the 3 years it’s been assembled from £48m to £52m? The only sponsorship we will get is from cost cutter and the bloody pound shop!

    And as for your lord Wenger – What’s he doing buying a player from his friends and not even playing him then writing him off?? Sounds like a bung to me at worst and absolute financial ineptitude at best, just like his tactical ineptitude

  • WalterBroeckx

    Are there still oiks left

  • goonerDNA

    Corruption is paying the highest ticket prices in the world too see your club sell its stars every year and then use the stadium as an excuse when it was built to generate more cash in the first place.

    The rest of this comment has been cut as it contains comments which if unprovable in a court of law would be libel, and the editors and owners of this site would then be liable for prosecution.

    Even the statement at the start is false – and we have had this debate before. Indeed one writer rather amusingly sent in a piece seemingly proving that Arsenal had the highest prices in the UK, only to find that in the middle of it the writer actually admitted this was not true. It is fair enough to present an argument that the stadium is used as an “excuse” but to make that point there needs to be evidence and argument. The writers who write for this site are constantly presenting well argued detailed pieces which refute this sort of argument (aside from the humorous and predictive pieces) and it seems very little to ask that those who reply also use the same approach to evidence and logic as the writers use.

  • Bennydevito

    What’s the oik for? The main article?

  • Ash79

    oiks?? why is Benny an oik? are you fucking blind?

    These are cold facts!

    -We don’t make any money unless we sell players
    -Hence we make fuck all from commercial revenue

    At this point the rest of this email has been edited out. The writer makes a series of serious allegations which without proof are libel, and the libel would rebound on the owners and editors of Untold. Sorry but I am not risking my house for a person I don’t know.

    The fact is that the allegations made here after this point have no factual basis and no logical argument behind them to prove their point. Even in the two lines above there is no logical framework to the argument. The “hence” is totally false, since it fails to take into account the way in which the payment for the stadium was made.

    Untold will publish arguments counter to those of its founders and editors, but like the arguments put forward by Untold writers, there needs to be some sort of logical framework and connectivity in the points.

  • KenyaGun

    Apart from playing sweet football, Arsenal fc are known the world over as a financially well ran club. It does not matter that some of the best playing assets are sold year in year out. We always achieve our primary target, which is to qualify for Champions League. Obviously, for one step up to the next level, one must be flash with stupid money ala £helsea, Man £ity or corrupt the system ala Manure. Abit of topic, I have read elsewhere that Spuds did not get a single home penalty last season. And that both Man clubs got 9 each. Methinks this asenal-spurs rivalry is a distraction in great scheme of things.

  • asd

    October 8, 2012 at 9:15 am
    But what IS the right way? Owned by a dodgy billionaire, paying fees and wages way over the odds to get who he wants. That surely cannot be the right way.
    Well selling your best player every year to generate a profit is not also the right way.
    Besides the only difference between Chelsea and Arsenal is while the chavs spent seriously on proven talent, we spent on youth(until last season.)Theo cost the same as Podolski, AOC almost the same as Cazorla.

  • nicky
    October 8, 2012 at 9:15 am
    But what IS the right way? Owned by a dodgy billionaire, paying fees and wages way over the odds to get who he wants. That surely cannot be the right way.
    Well it seems having a silent billionaire as the owner who specialises in raising money through ticket hikes and player sales and rewards the CEO for doing exactly that is the right way

  • AfroGunner

    It is strange we make all sort of strange analysis. The fact is there is a grand scheme to maintain the statusquo
    Manu U has to win
    Big Spenders are hailed.
    Media Get their share
    2004 – Arsenal is very foriegn
    2005 – Arsneal has no ambition selling Viera
    2006 – Arsenal are softies
    2008 – Arsenal cannot win anything with beautiful soccer
    2009 – Arsenal cannot win with youth
    2010 – Arsenal sells its top stars
    2011 – Arsenal are over reliant on Van Persie / Wilshere
    2012 – Arsenal is not ……
    Now because Gazidis in the FA we now find in the media he is over paid cos Manu cannot get all the influence.
    Wenger’s record
    Opon Weah, Viera, Adebayor, Henry ,Kos, Song , Barca reject Fabregas who have all been turned into players who impacted at global stage playing beautiful football not like cantona, rooney , young who do well only in EPL and not even Europa.
    You can buy fame but cant buy respect.