Why football needs more money urgently and why one day it must all fall apart

By Tony Attwood

“…But unless they’ve got an oligarch or state fund to pump money, it’s hard for clubs to keep up with the relentless rise of Premier League players’ wages and transfer fees.”

So says the Guardian newspaper in a recent article which ironically has the headline “Van Gaal warns Ten Hag against joining ‘commercial club’ Manchester United”, and the sub-heading “‘He must choose a football club,’ says Netherlands manager.”

Clubs get money in three ways.  One is through being run by a state, or the owner of a state, or the brother-in-law of the ruler of a state or …. well you get the idea.   Manchester City and Newcastle United are two obvious examples.

Another is by finding a person who is not actually the owner of a country but is still staggeringly wealthy.   Everton is a prime example of this, as the club can only exist through the wealth of Farhad Moshiri, rather like Chelsea under the now-disgraced Abramovich.

Abramovich after all took Chelsea from a history of one league title in 99 seasons to five in 17 seasons.  Quite an improvement.  Not quite as good as Arsenal in the 1930s, but not bad.

But money doesn’t always guarantee quick success as Everton’s plight reveals for Farhad Moshiri has not managed to deliver any success at all.  They last won the league in 1987 and are only avoiding relegation this season because Watford, Burnley and Norwich don’t have the cash to splurge.

Meanwhile, Everton managed to lose £120.9m in 2020/21 – a figure which includes the last part of pandemic induced losses, but also shows a record turnover.

Now if you have been holding onto the notion that there is some Premier League control over finances (which would be pretty laughable considering the Manchester City spending) you might wonder how Everton have exceeded the £105m threshold of “allowable losses” and yet sail on regardless.  Especially since all-told Moshiri has spent £500m trying to reach fourth place which is currently occupied by, well, if you really want to know, Arsenal.  Moshiri has put in almost £200m into the club in the last two years and now owns getting on for 95% of the club.   He must be wondering where it has all gone wrong.

And indeed he might also be wondering where Alisher Usmanov has gone – what with the ex-Arsenal shareholder being suspended for being too Russian – although it turned out that despite the treatment he got at Arsenal, Usmanov looks rather like one of the good Russians.

But once again Moshiri’s greater expenditure in the team has yielded neither profit nor success.  Worse they are seemingly finding it tough going to get their money back on players they have previously bought.

And there’s another thing.  While over time we have been able to learn quite a bit about Usmanov, it proves tougher to get a line on Farhad Moshiri, why he backs Everton, and why £500m hasn’t built a title-challenging team, but has built a relegation facing one.   The Guardian reckon that when the new stadium is completed Moshri will have spent £1bn on the club that he doesn’t watch.

But it does look like Abraomovich is going to get all his money back through the forced sale of Chelsea, and maybe that is the thought sustaining Moshiri.  Abramovich can’t make a profit out of Chelsea, but he can recover losses and still have quite a few friends.  Moshri could well be thinking that ultimately that “no profit” rule will go, and he’ll make his profit.  Providing football clubs keep going up in perceived value and Everton don’t drop into League Two.

In reality, however, Everton is symptomatic of another problem in football.  The perceived value of clubs has no relationship with their earnings even when sponsorships are considered, and even when a club is allowed to have an “official tractor sponsor” as Manchester City did.

So what is the attraction?   It could be the link to offshore (ie unrestricted) gambling and cryptocurrency (ie fantasy money).   Certainly, money has to come from somewhere and those sources seem unending at the moment.   Yet there must eventually be a limit to the number of will and whacky billionaires ready to pour in a ceaseless amount of money.

Or could it be that maybe there is always another billionaire around the corner who, rather like fans with their unending belief that if one only sacked the manager and brought in a new man, everything would be fine, think just another £100m ought to do it?

That, as we see throughout this and every other season is generally nonsense.  But what is true is the fact that just because you’ve picked up load of cash somewhere along the line, that doesn’t make you immune to believing nonsense.  In fact, it is quite possibly it makes you more likely to believe that football clubs can make money.

3 Replies to “Why football needs more money urgently and why one day it must all fall apart”

  1. Picking Everton to highlight how clubs can spend money with nothing to show for it is a cheeky one. A look at the trajectory of Newcastle after their January escapades can offer a simple counter argument. That’s putting aside the likes of City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Man U and Tottenham who are the perennial top spenders and unsurprisingly the perennial top teams.

    I don’t know how Untold will react now that Arsenal has joined the top spenders. And I believe Arsenal will be the perfect case study for Untold’s expenditure thesis. Will the team continue spending big and if they do or stop what will be the outcome? If Man-U and Tottenham also spend big, how will that affect Arsenal’s trajectory. How about Chelsea, to what extent will ownership changes affect their sporting model and with that their performance?

    This is what make PL interesting and appealing to many. There are 6 teams with big dreams and expectations strategizing on how to usurp one another. Even if City dominate the top, what happens below them offers even more exciting drama. And now Newcastle is about to join the fray. The future is bright.

    Money….as long as people are willing to be immersed into the drama, there will always be money.

  2. not every club get their money through the 3 way you mention i understand money is needed to operating a club but football owners also has the responsibility to run the club properly and stop interrupting the club football operation. what’s the point if the owner keeps meddling with the DOF job and allowing 3rd party interfering inside the club. Everton misfortune is because of the owner let himself being leeched off by agents who put their interest 1st before the club. i mean, what kind of club allowing manager begging for job on sky sports. maybe that’s why Arsenal part ways with Raul Sanlleh because that way of operating harms the club progression on the long run. lastly, if certain clubs made 350 to 400 millions on revenue per season which allowed them to spend 120 million every season, i don’t really see any harm done to the club. mind you, no matter how filthy rich you are (some epl owners) nobody in this world like to lose money. every owners in the epl is chasing profit

  3. @Jack,

    I think one of the points that are regularly being made, is that just throwing money at a title dream is not enough. A club needs some form of stability. It is part and parcel of success. Pool! have finally had stability over more then 3 years, have spent regularly and are on top. City do the same. Chelsea as well. United ? just look at their record since Ferguson has left… Spurs ? no comment… Arsenal ? well now they have stability as far as the manager is concerned, have spent regularly, and look, results are better.

    Now one subject that does not get mentionned is the organisation behind the manager. There as well, an organisation needs to be efficiently run, needs a youth program that works, needs a recruitment department that knows its trade, need all the staff to make things work as seamlessly as possible. In this regards a PL club is like any company : it needs owners, a management structure that is top level, a marketing department that knows how to find revenue, etc.

    So buying a club, and getting a manager and hiring players is far from the recipe for success…. very far from it. Having a top of the pyramid and not the bottom does not get you anywhere. Like in an army, having only generals is a way to lose a battle.

    The change in ownership with Chelsea ? For one, they won’t be able to earn as much money with their loanees as rules have changed, Which will necessitate other lines of revenue. Then, no one knows why the club is being bought (a big bet with hundreds of millions hoping for a resale in 10 years in the value of billions ? For bragging rights as in : I’m a PL club owner now… ? A sound business strategy with the club being part of a portfolio ?), so it is not possible to expect anything. If I were to make bets, I’d study the movements in management of the club…that will tell a lot.

    If you look at sports in the USA, you’ve got the same landscape, with some organisations being very efficient, others being the opposite, some going for superstars first and foremost, others counting on their youth recruitment, and the results often talk volumes. The thing is that over there, the ‘organisation’ is a very important element, mentionned in many stories, interviews, comments. Much more then in the PL where talk is just about the owners and the manager. Just look at Arsenal : does Edu get a lot of coverage (except criticism…) ? Does anybody know the names of the top managers of the club ? It just isnot much of a subject yet.

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