Over the past decade, Premier League boardrooms have witnessed an influx of wealthy businessmen and individuals from all over the world, each seeking to invest in the global brand that our domestic top-flight has become.
To those that arguably have more money than sense, the ownership or control of a Premier League club seems to have become the ultimate fashion accessory and it is a development that has spread on to the continent. The recent takeovers at Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco suggest it is a trend that shows no signs of abating any time soon.
Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani in Paris and Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City have proven that splashing a significant amount of cash can buy success in the short term. On the other hand, Suleyman Kerimov’s withdrawal of funding at Anzhi Makhachkala and the malaise that the club currently finds itself in emphasises the eminent dangers of the ‘Sugar Daddy’ model of ownership.
With this recent trend, the question of whether a successful businessmen can successfully make the transition into football is an intriguing proposition.
Indeed, the potential for a crossover from the business world to football is perhaps more prevalent than ever. With Michel Platini and UEFA’s Financial Fair Play directive intended to curb the explosive power of ‘Sugar Daddies,’ the call for football clubs to operate within their means is stronger than ever.
Whether the authoritative bodies will actually be able to impose these economic restrictions upon free-spending clubs such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain remains to be seen. The dubious Etihad sponsorship deal of the City of Manchester Stadium epitomises the hollow nature of UEFA’s threats thus far.
Ultimately, however, an examination of the Premier League suggests that entrepreneurs have been unable to enjoy the same level of success in the football world. The business logic and principles which stood as the basis of their achievements simply do not translate across.
Roman Abramovich proves to be the exception rather than the rule in the findings of this investigation. Since purchasing Chelsea in 2003, the Russian oligarch’s juggling of managers and lavish acquisitions has brought a multitude of trophies to Stamford Bridge. The success of his methods has flown in the face of the maxim that stability is fundamental to achievement in football.
But then Abramovich is hardly representative of a typical businessmen. Forbes estimates his net worth as of March 2014 to stand at $9.1billion, making him far wealthier than almost all others that invest in the Premier League. With this incredible net worth, Abramovich is able to splash incredible sums of cash and buy success in the manner that only individuals such as the aforementioned Sheikhs can match.
In the business world, the transfer dealings that Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy conducted this summer would have been commended. Having overseen the sale of Gareth Bale for a world record fee, Levy then reinvested of the entirety of that transfer fee in to the acquisition of numerous other high-value players.
However, in footballing terms, Levy’s business-like actions have been exposed. The signing of so many players in such a short space of time has proven difficult to mould in to a successful side. A lot of change in quick succession has led to the club’s footballing performances to suffer as a result. Andre Villas-Boas was sacked for failing in the eyes of his chairman and Spurs are currently struggling to reach their season objective of earning Champions League qualification. The replacement of one asset with many made logical business sense, but has thus far failed to result in footballing success.
The manner in which Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley has turned Newcastle United in to a financially profitable club is nothing short of remarkable. In the Freddy Shepherd years, extravagant transfer fees and wages were no obstacle in the pursuit of silverware and the club’s debts spiralled out of control. In business terms, Ashley came in and steadied a sinking ship.
Despite this, the Newcastle owner is a much derided figure on Tyneside. Many of his decisions demonstrate a clear lack of an understanding of the sport. The sales of players such as Andy Carroll and Yohan Cabaye may have made perfect business sense but reflects a lack of ambition that has angered the fanbase. The decision to briefly rename the stadium as the Sports Direct Arena was intended to attract extra revenue into the club, but only alienated Ashley further from the fans.
Following his acquisition of Aston Villa in 2006, Randy Lerner was initially quite generous in the backing of his managers. With Martin O’Neill and Gerard Houllier at the helm, big fees were paid to attract the likes of Darren Bent and Ashley Young to a club that were regularly competing for a spot in European competition.
Fast forward to 2014 and how times have changed. With the club struggling to financially support itself, Lerner is now unwilling to continue injecting vast sums of his own money. Paul Lambert has been brought in with the clear directive of managing a team of cheap finds from the lower leagues as well as products of Villa’s own academy.
As a result, the club have slipped down the Premier League and seem to find themselves as perennial relegation candidates. The American owner clearly can no longer abide footing such financial losses in order for the club to challenge for the success that the Villa fanbase crave.
The reality of the matter is that sensible and successful business practices will never directly equate to success in football. A financially sustainable club is a business achievement but it will never be considered a success in the football world unless it is accompanied by trophies or a progression up the league standings.
And to achieve that in the modern game, more often than not it requires a level of spending that will never ever sit comfortably with successful businessmen.