In his first Exclusive Column for caughtoffside, Jon Smith, one of football’s first-ever agents and a man who was an integral figure in the forming of the Premier League, discusses all things football, including the prospect of a European Super League, the surging valuations of clubs and much more.
I was talking to a couple of the potential inbound Chelsea bidders recently and the price discussions are now around the £3bn mark, which is by far the biggest sale of a football club, anywhere, in the world.
The values of Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool a year and a half ago (damaged slightly by the pandemic) were a billion and a half to £2bn. In fact, I believe Spurs turned down an offer of £1.8bn because they wanted the club’s valuation to begin with a number two.
So, let’s assume Chelsea sells for £3bn – at that level, Spurs’ value gets dragged north of £2bn heading towards £2.5bn. Arsenal must be in that bracket. Liverpool must be in that bracket. Two years ago, just as the pandemic was starting, West Ham valued themselves at around £600m and I haven’t even mentioned Newcastle United and Manchester City’s values. But that has got to drag West Ham, at this moment in time, to around £750m.
Then there is a real dichotomy because you start going down the table and you have teams like Brentford, who is a very, very well run club, in London – if they can retain their Premier League status, which I am sure they will, the management is superb, the owner is a great guy – they have it all going for them, but is anybody going to more than £200m for Brentford? – I may be wildly wrong, but I don’t think so.
Then you have the likes of Norwich City and Watford, both of whom are likely to go down this year, and then you’re definitely looking at south of the numbers involved in Brentford and the like. When you look at which clubs could come up, you have Luton Town, who was sizeably unfashionable some years ago. But at the start of this season, you could have probably picked up Luton Town for £30m, you might get £40m or £50m for them now because they may make the Premier League, but then what if they get promoted? – Are they going to be worth £200m? – Not unless they’re there for a fair few years.
Now if you paddle across the pond and look at the NFL where these big franchises are all worth billions but you don’t get the Raiders or the Green Bay Packers winning everything. It is normally a different winner each year but in the Premier League, you can normally pick two potential winners from six or seven every single year and in Spain, it’s between even fewer sides.
So what happens next? – Well, UEFA did this land grab of expanding the Champions League and they actually upset a few of the senior teams around Europe, hence the evolution of the Super League, which as we all know, was very poorly put together but that sentiment still exists.
Every team who signed that document got £300m and three or four of those teams have not given that money back yet. So what happens next is maybe, just maybe, UEFA will use what is going on in Russia and Ukraine and say ‘we should help protect these Eastern European states, we need to embrace them further and we need to expand the Champions League again’.
Sitting above that is FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, who potentially has sizeable funds available to expand club world football into new territories and new competitions and that is going to square off against UEFA and everyone else – so those are the problem areas.
But the good thing is that football and its finances are in great shape and at senior level, this conversation is going to dominate sport for the next decade. So football in the minds of the public is secured, which has to be a good a thing. The negative part of this is that at lower levels there remain sizeable financial issues and those supporters need to have assistance for the clubs that they love and care for.
However, the voice the supporters have in all of these discussions is, on one hand, relatively small, because some of these decisions are made at a very senior boardroom level at some of the world’s biggest clubs, but when an ESL comes along and they all stand up, it is one hell of a loud voice.
That was showcased best of all by Chelsea and Manchester United fans who furiously took to the streets in protests. Manchester United fans actually invaded Old Trafford after learning about the Glazer family’s role in the proposed ESL and with the club performing so poorly on the pitch, it is easy to understand why the fanbase is so frustrated.
When it comes to the Red Devils’ problems, both on and off the field – obviously they’re on the lookout for a new manager at the moment and everyone seems to be talking about Erik ten Hag, but I don’t think it is nailed on yet.
Whoever comes in, they’ve probably got to strip it. This is a three or four year build-back. This is Newcastle United in a different shape or form.
It is unfortunate but that is the way it is. There are certain players who aren’t good enough, not Cristiano Ronaldo by the way – I think Ronaldo is a born winner and has been absolutely phenomenal for them. But it’s a total rebuild – they’re Newcastle United in a different overcoat.