Wealthy owners no guarantee of safety for Premier League clubs

02 November 2018 Consultancy.uk 6 min. read
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For a brief window of time, being purchased by a billionaire was seen by aspirational football fans as a ticket to the top. Now though, the picture is far less clear-cut, with owners commanding a substantially smaller net worth seeing their teams significantly outperform those of their wealthier counterparts; perhaps best illustrated by the contrasting fortunes of Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United, and Maxim Demin’s Bournemouth.

It might not quite prove to be a justification of the phrase “more money, more problems”, but the current Premier League standings provide an interesting insight into the impact, or lack thereof, of a billionaire owner on a team in the top flight. While of course a myriad of variables mean that any correlations between ownership and performance must be taken with a pinch of salt, at both ends of the table, clubs can be seen exceeding the expectations of their fans in the absence of a lucrative business magnate, and floundering in spite of – or occasionally because of – one being present.

The chief example among those excelling in the Premier League at time of writing seems to be Bournemouth. The south coast team was placed into administration as recently as 2008, and until 2015, the Cherries had never ventured into the top tier of English football. Three years later, the team sits in sixth place in the Premier League with 20 points, in spite of the fact that the club’s majority shareholder, Maxim Howe, boasts the second lowest net worth in the league. Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, have a similar points tally, and are also not billionaires, while Burnley, who similarly enjoyed an impressive campaign in 2017/18 and qualified for European football, are the club with the owners worth the outright least. While 2018/19 has proven something of a comedown so far, the Clarets find themselves at 8 points – a tally which a host of teams with more moneyed owners beneath them would happily take.

Wealthy owners are no guarantee of success in the English Premier League

Among the names in that group, the most notable underachievers are undoubtedly Newcastle United. To say the Toon Army have enjoyed a turbulent relationship with billionaire owner and Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley would be an understatement. While Ashley is worth £2.6 billion, he has been infamously tight-fisted when it comes to investing in a club he has made no secret of his intent to sell on at the first sign of a buyer willing to match his hefty price-tag. The Magpies players were forced for a second successive season to take industrial action in order to secure bonus payments for their performances, while the club turned a profit in the transfer window to the dismay of manager Rafa Benitez, something which the Spaniard warned would see the club sucked down the table. With the joint lowest points tally in the league, despite boasting its 10th richest owner, that prophecy has come sickeningly true for Newcastle fans.

Ashley’s antics on Tyneside strike a stark contrast to the commitments displayed elsewhere in the league by an owner making headlines for far sadder reasons. The late owner of Leicester City, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who was among those killed in a tragic helicopter accident in October, embodied the undisputable antithesis of the Mike Ashleys of the footballing world. The Thai business magnate, who made his fortune in duty free retail investments, was the Premier League’s seventh most wealthy owner at his time of passing. During his tenure as owner of the club, he invested significantly in Leicester’s footballing infrastructure, and oversaw the Foxes rise from the Championship to being crowned Premier League champions in just five seasons. He was also known as a committed philanthropist, and put funds toward community causes in the wider city.

Top of the pile

Elsewhere, the wealthiest owner in the Premier League, Roman Abramovich, sees his club sit third in the league. While it would be difficult to describe Chelsea’s transformation under his ownership as rags to riches, having enjoyed a relatively successful decade before his arrival, Abramovich has invested heavily in the club to take it to the next level. The Blues are now considered one of the major powers of both English and European football, and have won the Premier League, Champions League and Europa League among a glut of other titles during the Abramovich era. At the same time, however, the Stamford Bridge faithful enjoyed a troubled 2017/18 season, in which the club finished fifth in the league. While the current campaign sees the club performing markedly better, on 24 points, Chelsea – along with Stan Kroenke’s Arsenal – are still lagging behind two teams whose owners are worth substantially less.

While obviously £3.76 billion is not a figure to be sniffed at, the net worth of Sheik Mansour, the owner of Manchester City, is less than half that of oligarch Abramovich. Despite this, the owner has pumped resources into the club’s infrastructure, as well as its short-term recruitment drives, and the Citizens have set about establishing themselves as the team to beat once again, coming off the back of a near-faultless title-winning 2017/18 season. At the same time, John W. Henry, the owner of the historic footballing institution of Liverpool, is worth £1.99 billion (again, less than Mike Ashley), and the Reds still boast the same points tally as Manchester City.

Once again, it is important to point out that with only 10 games of a total 38 played, these figures should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. The Premier League season is a marathon, not a sprint, and teams at the bottom of the league as late as Christmas have been known to enjoy a near-resurrection in the second half of the season, while initial title contenders can fade into mid-table obscurity in spectacular fashion by Spring. Bearing this in mind, though, one thing that can be taken away from this is that it takes more than money to know how to run a successful football team, especially in arguably the foremost league of the beautiful game.