What the media doesn’t tell you, part 6. There’s a financial problem…




By Tony Attwood

Football is a complex business.  It covers organisations that might have an honorary club President and Secretary, and a bunch of amateur players, through to the likes of Fifa, Uefa, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City etc – each of which has a different funding model.

And as far as any of us can tell, there is no end to the money.  Get a club powered by an oil or gas rich nation, or a multi-billionaire, and you are on the way.  Like Chelsea you can spend a quarter of a billion pounds in one transfer window, and then if that doesn’t work out you can sack the manager and then the new man can spend another quarter of a billion, and then…

Except it doesn’t quite work like that and although some clubs in the past have pulled themselves out of the mire (Rangers in Scotland for example) the level of debt is now so great that it is sometimes suggested that football itself is in debt to the wider world.

One report says AC Milan owe two-thirds of a billion euros, but are doing ok!  But Inter have almost three-quarters of a billion euros of debt and are considered by some commentators to be beyond hope.  The difference is, Inter don’t seem to have a way of getting the money to pay the debts.

And let’s not forget Tottenham.  They saw Arsenal build a new stadium and stay in the top four of the Premier League.  OK Arsenal didn’t win the league again, as they had previously done three times, but they kept winning the FA Cup, and for a record number of years for an English club, stayed in the Champions League which is where the real money came from.

But Tottenham still don’t have any naming rights, and while in the build-up to the move to the new ground Arsenal had eight consecutive years of coming first or second in the league with three league wins and four FA Cups, Tottenham don’t have that sort of pedigree. 

In fact for Tottenham, in the quarter century before moving they won the League Cup twice and had three years in the Champions League.  While Arsenal had one manager through the difficult early years in the new stadium, Tottenham have had four since the ground opened in 2019.

Then there is Juventus are 900 million euros in debt, a club being accused of false accounting in January this year, and could miss out on next season’s European football.  In January having been given a 15 point penalty.  And if clubs like that start to fall, others take a knock because they don’t get paid for players they have sold to Juve, which means they in turn can’t pay the clubs they owe money too.

In fact back in May last year Ace Football came up with this table of indebted clubs


Club League Debt
1 Barcelona La Liga €1.35B
2 Juventus Serie A €900M
3 Tottenham Premier League €826M
4 Inter Serie A €702M
5 AC Milan Serie A €666M
6 Real Madrid La Liga €662M
7 Arsenal Premier League €625M
8 Atletico Madrid La Liga €523M
9 Manchester United Premier League €450M
10 Liverpool Premier League €386M


There are three problems.  First, a lot of clubs are in debt, so if one club can’t pay the next instalment on transfer fees, then that can start the pack of cards falling down.

Second, a lot of money comes in from sources that can’t really measure the benefit they get from their investment.  Just how much is a shirt or stadium sponsorship really worth?  (The fact that Tottenham still can’t get a stadium sponsor, suggests that potential sponsors don’t really think it is worth that much).

Third profit is not guaranteed.  Fewer than one percent of professional clubs in Europe make a profit. Two seasons ago only Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle and Norwich in the Premier League made a profit.

So most clubs are swarming in debt but still spending ever more, and they get away with it because sports channels are bidding ever more amounts for TV rights.

But occasionally here and there something happens.   As when in 2021 hundreds of professional footballers threaten legal action over the use of data.  As the Guardian said in a report “The players argue leading companies are profiting from their personal data. 

“Last September, GSDT launched a lawsuit, which has now been joined by more than 1,400 professional footballers, over the use of their performance data by gaming and bookmaking companies, seeking an eyebrow-raising £500m in damages.” 

If the gambling firms pull back from financing football through advertising then  broacasters have less money to give pay for rights, and clubs receive less broadcast money and…

The fact is, football is primarily run on the basis that whatever was done last year can be done again only bigger – and that holds true even if it is all done on tick.

Until one day, the law changes and then….


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