By Tony Attwood
Fulham is one of those teams that I rarely have animosity for. They don’t seem to play long ball stuff, and they don’t try to kick us to death. (Of course having written that a few hours before the match, they might well try to do that today, but my recollection is that generally they don’t).
And they must be feeling on top of the world – at least until yesterday (Saturday) when suddenly they would have started to hear the news that has been circulating in the financial markets for a couple of weeks. Mohammed Al Fayed is selling up.
He’s already sold Harrods for what is reported to be £1.5bn and the word is he is looking for a buyer for Fulham.
My view (which is of course just my view) is that he has been a really good owner under the benefactor approach – by which I mean he has ploughed a fortune into the club each year, and taken nothing back.
But his departure shows the great weakness of the benefactor system. He will sell and move on to the rest of his life – but that raises three possibilities
a) He sells to another benefactor like himself, so nothing changes. (Indeed he might even sell to someone who would put even more money in).
b) He sells to people who want to do a Hicks or a Glazer and rape the club.
c) He finds a buyer who aims to make the club balance the books – even if this means a trip back to the Third Division. People with money don’t always do sensible things – look at QPR.
Option two and three will change Fulham FC hugely and result in the club having far less money to use – which would be a real bugger for the club having just reached its highest triumph. And the uncertainty of option one, or the horrors of two and three could result in the current management team packing up and playing somewhere else. So the club is ripped to shreds.
I would make two points out of this. One is that this scenario is what can happen in any case where a benefactor pumps money into the club. We could bring in Mr Usmanov, and options a) b) or c) are all possible. Worse, we could run up huge debts so that our only solution would be option a) b) or c) rather than the present “with profits” option.
The second point relates to the EPL. The EPL is fighting the current proposals of Uefa on entry into the Champs and Europa Leagues. Uefa want all entrants to be making a profit generally – which means the odd year of loss is ok, as long as the pattern is generally positive.
The EPL says fine, but you must allow benefactor payments within your calculations.
So, to take Fulham, the club has made a loss of a significant amount in nine of the last 10 years. On that basis Uefa would kick them out. But they have been sustained by the benefactor, and so can be seen to be financially stable. The EPL, in their negotiations with Uefa, call this “sustainable football management.”
But the sudden sale of Fulham (if that is what happens) would reveal very starkly that “sustainable football management” is nothing of the kind, because the owner can just switch off the cash and walk away.
That would not matter for Fulham most of the time, but it is highlighted by this week’s match against Athletico Madrid in the Europa final. If they have pretentions to be in that cup, they don’t want a regulation that forbids it.
And that’s the story – except for one thing. The EPL has recently started to go public on the “sustainable football” issue, and if you read between the lines there is something rather nasty lurking in there. It is quite possible to read the story to say this:
Chelsea and Man City are clearly sustainable, because they have owners who have all the wealth needed and they can keep it going. Man U is sustainable because the bond is in place and they generate enough cash to pay the interest – at least for now. Fulham is sustained under Mr Al Fayed because he has shown himself to be willing to stump up the money, and he is a billionaire.
That means judging each club individually, and there are signs that the EPL is willing to say, “Liverpool are clearly not sustainable over time, so we agree they should lose their licence to play in Europe. And if Mr Al Fayed goes, then we would feel the same about Fulham until proven otherwise.”
This is of course nonsense because Portsmouth was ripped to shreds under the noses of the EPL despite everyone saying they had enough money to make the club work.
Anyway, the debate goes on, and there is quite a bit more info on the Liverpool side of events. I must get the Bentley out of the drive, and saunter through the by ways of Northamptonshire and down the A1 to the Ems. Walter has already texted me to say he’s there. And I’m hoping we’ll be joined by Kevin from AISA, and Ian and his young son Oliver. A jolly meeting at the Toppled Bollard, followed by a fun match I hope.
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