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For Every Chelsea a Portsmouth: Foreign Money, Dodgy Businessmen and the Sports Car Mentality

The start of the “Thinking Piece” weekly series, Mark Apostolou takes a look at how foreign money has both helped and hindered the Premier League.

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Football - Aston Villa v Chelsea Barclays Premier League

When Manchester City were taken over by Sheikh Mansour on the 1st of September 2008 the initial reaction of a great many long suffering fans must have been a mixture of relief and unbridled joy but even then there were pockets of support who had their reservations and only time will tell who’s emotions were most thought out.

The recent influx of foreign millionaires, and in some case billionaires, has had its up and downs with some clubs managing to strike a balance between wild expenditure and on field success and others experiencing nothing less than a series of worrying events that could be termed as examples of downright mismanagement.

The Premier League is an unwieldy beast. Its a creator of huge sums of money but at the same time its grandeur and perceived scope is more than matched by the obscene expenditure that goes with it. The long and short of it is simple. There is loads of money to be made from the English top tier but the vast majority of clubs who get to play at the top table end up with massive amounts of debt. As of last season every team in the division was in debt, some with manageable levels of debt and others consumed by it.

Let me start by saying that clearly debt levels and the idea of football clubs not making money is not a new thing and is not a phenomenon that can be blamed as being a result of foreign investment and to suggest so would be remiss.

Football clubs should of course be treated as businesses if they are to survive. Unfortunately of late some businessmen have decided that a move in the footballing market would be wise. The likes of the Glazers at Man United and Tom Hicks and George Gillett are both an excellent case in point.

Both club’s owners have a history of sporting ventures stateside. These ventures have been a mixture of success and abject failure. For some reason these people decided that the Premier League was ripe for the picking, they had little or no interest, and if we’re being honest, knowledge of the game. Loans were taken by these fairly unscrupulous people in order to take over two of the most historically rich clubs in world football. Both now have alarming levels of debt, debt that could take decades to resolve.

To the Glazers, Hicks and Gilletts of this world a move into the ‘Beautiful Game’ was nothing more than a calculated risk by people who have made a living out of making calculated risks. I have no doubt whatsoever that in the space of one year or two neither group will be involved in either club. They attempted to get rich from a sport that was on the downturn and they are smart enough to get out when they can, but of course where does that leave the club’s in question. You see this is part of the problem. A football club isn’t just a business, its a way of life and whilst this is clearly a horrendous cliche, its also true.

Imagine these American owners had a company and treated it in a similar manner and that said company then went bust. Well all the employees would probably draw redundancy and move on to other posts and the company would no longer exist. No one would weep. No real sense of loss would be felt. People would get on with their lives. A football club, or indeed any sports club, is more than that. It means more than that.

The key then it seems is to get yourself an owner who has limitless resources and who treats the game as a means of entertainment with no real intention of making money. Look at Chelsea for instance. Many outside of Stamford Bridge, and indeed some Blues fans, would have had their misgivings when Roman Abramovich first arrived on the scene in April 2003. However when you see him in the stands you can see he lives and breaths the game. There is a man who cares but equally doesn’t mind too much when he posts a loss.

Its early days but it could be that Manchester City have similar owners. Owners who see a football club much like a vintage sports car. Something they can take pride in, enjoy and impress others with. A needless expense that makes life sweeter. The danger of course is if the billionaire in question suffers a significant downturn in fortunes and has to sell that sports car. He then looks to sell that sports car as fast as possible in order to retrieve some funds, as is the case at Portsmouth, who are in many ways a sports car that has been rapidly dropping in value after being passed through various owners who can not afford the upkeep.

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