Debt in English Football

In October 2008, UEFA general secretary David Taylor warned English football that unless the culture of debt amongst its clubs was addressed, Premier League clubs faced exclusion from future European tournaments. Taylor’s comment was prompted by reports that English football clubs were more than £3 billion in debt, with the most successful clubs in England amongst the worst offenders.

With the United Kingdom now threatened by a financial meltdown and companies around the world tightening their belts, English football faces additional risks such as sponsorship withdrawals, as well as lower gate revenue. The extra burden of debt could therefore easily contribute to the ruination of several long-established clubs – if the financial situation continues to deteriorate.
Here’s a look at some of the most vulnerable clubs:

Chelsea

Chelsea’s ascent, from Premier League mid-table no-hopers to one of the powers of English football didn’t come cheap. Rising to the top of the heap required the club to purchase some of the finest players in the world. Despite the backing of Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, the club has still managed to accumulate massive debts.

At present Chelsea is the second worst offender when it comes to debt in English football, owing its creditors a staggering £736 million, and is thus responsible for almost ¼ of all debt in the Premier League. Much of this money is owed to owner Abramovich, in the form of an interest free loan, which could be Chelsea’s saving grace if the economy stalls.

Manchester United

England’s most successful club is also the most indebted. Whilst Manchester United racked in millions by winning both the Champions League and the Premier League last year, the cost of maintaining a world-class squad of players has resulted in the club sliding ever further into debt.

According to accounts filed at Companies House, United owes its creditors around £764 million. The Glazers incurred most of this debt when they purchased the club with bank money. The situation has been further aggravated by the fact that United has been running at an operational loss for several years, in spite of being one of the most valuable clubs on the planet.

Liverpool

Despite boasting one of the biggest international followings in English football, as well as an impressive record in European football, both of which has helped them net billions of dollars in prize and television revenue, Liverpool’s accounts are deep in the red.

The club is over £350 million in debt, with the bulk of this owed to the shaky Royal Bank of Scotland. A large portion of the debt is tied to the construction costs of Liverpool’s new home ground, an expansive move that is likely to make investors nervous as the economy contracts.

Arsenal

Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, has earned widespread acclaim for his conservative approach to the transfer market by relying on spotting talented players, rather than paying millions for established players from big clubs. However, it’s a little known fact that Arsenal is often unable to compete in the transfer market due to the club’s substantial debts.

According to the US financial daily, Bloomberg, Arsenal is over £300 million in debt, and is focused on repaying the creditors who financed the new Emirates Stadium, rather than obtaining marquee signings. The result of this on the Gunners’ performances is self-evident, with the club slowly but surely falling behind the other big-spending clubs in the Premier League’s ‘Big Four’.
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