Al­most half the league is in for­eign hands

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

MANCH­ESTER UNITED, Liver­pool, Chelsea, As­ton Villa, Ful­ham, West Ham United, Manch­ester City, Portsmouth, Sun­der­land and about a quar­ter of Arse­nal: head­ing into the new sea­son al­most half the teams in the Premier League are in for­eign hands.

Should English foot­ball be wor­ried? Has it, as Tom Bower, the au­thor of Bro­ken Dreams: Van­ity, Greed and the Sour­ing of Bri­tish Foot­ball, put it, “sold the crown jew­els”?

Is wealth gen­er­ated by English clubs be­ing sucked away from English shores?

Given how of­ten the ques­tion is asked, the an­swer is both sur­pris­ing and sur­pris­ingly sim­ple: no, it isn’t, for the very sim­ple fact that English foot­ball clubs tend not to make a profit.

“At the mo­ment, the Premier League is ahead of any other league in the world, but its rev­enues still lag be­hind those of ma­jor United States se­ries such as the NFL or Ma­jor League Base­ball,” said Pro­fes­sor Ste­fan Szy­man­ski, a sports econ­o­mist at the Cass Busi­ness School, part of Lon­don’s City Uni­ver­sity.

“On the other hand, it’s grow­ing much faster and it has broader ap­peal. If it con­tin­ues to grow in Asia, es­pe­cially in China, then it could be­come the big­gest sport­ing se­ries in the world.

“Th­ese in­vestors think the glob­al­i­sa­tion of foot­ball will mean much big­ger op­por­tu­ni­ties to make money. Also, sev­eral (own­ers) al­ready run sport­ing fran­chises in the US, and think they can draw on that ex­pe­ri­ence to make Premier League clubs more prof­itable.”

But the Premier League is a dif­fer­ent beast to the pro­tected fran­chises of the US.

Foot­ball has proved re­mark­ably re­sis­tant to mak­ing a profit, and ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fig­ures, Premier League clubs owe a to­tal of £3.1-bil­lion.

The most re­cent fig­ures avail­able show that, of the sides in last sea­son’s Premier League, only Arse­nal, Black­burn Rovers, Ever­ton, Ful­ham, Tot­ten­ham and West Bromwich were prof­itable. Not a sin­gle one was not in debt.

This is the great trick that Premier League foot­ball has played: its sense of glam­our and style has pulled in for­eign in­vestors who can­not con­ceive how prof­its can­not be made, and has taken their cash in in­vest­ments that, in most cases, will never pay off.

But even leav­ing that aside, are for­eign own­ers such a bad thing?

When only 37 per cent of play­ers in the League are qual­i­fied to play for Eng­land, and three of the so-called Big Four, as well as the Eng­land na­tional team, are man­aged by for­eign­ers, why should for­eign­ers not get in­volved in other ar­eas of the game?

The Premier League is, af­ter all, the global league, al­though that may change given the fall in the pound and the new 50 per cent tax bracket that will come into ef­fect for those earn­ing more than £150,000 a year next April (by con­trast, for­eign play­ers in Spain pay just 23 per cent, if reg­is­tered as an ex­ec­u­tive).

The “fit-and-proper-per­sons” test is tooth­less, but then how could it be oth­er­wise?

Foot­ball is not above the law, and the law says that any­body who has not been con­victed of a crim­i­nal of­fence is en­ti­tled to buy any busi­ness.

But why, any­way, other than xeno­pho­bia, should it be as­sumed a for­eign owner’s in­ten­tions are less likely to be pure than those of a lo­cal owner?

Af­ter all, it’s not as though a club owner can, as a for­eign in­vestor in an­other in­dus­try could, sim­ply leave and re­lo­cate the busi­ness else­where.

Uefa pres­i­dent Michel Pla­tini has spo­ken of wish­ing to “pro­tect English clubs”, ask­ing what will hap­pen if the tele­vi­sion rev­enues – at the mo­ment worth £2.1 bil­lion over three years – dry up.

It is a fair ques­tion, given the chaos caused to Cham­pi­onship clubs when ON-Dig­i­tal, which owned their rights, col­lapsed, but it will af­fect Bri­tish own­ers just as much as for­eign ones.

There are prob­lems and in­equal­i­ties in the fi­nanc­ing of the game that ought to be ad­dressed, but it is hard to see any jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in mak­ing for­eign own­ers the scape­goat.

Just ask fans of New­cas­tle, Leeds, Sh­effield Wed­nes­day, Wrex­ham, York, Brighton, Derby, Ch­ester­field, Ox­ford or a host of oth­ers what they think of the Bri­tish own­ers who led them into dif­fi­culty. – Sapa-dpa

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