|A Tale of Two Clubs|
|Written by Wyn Grant|
|Wednesday, 05 September 2012 20:20|
Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield, but the financial strategies of both clubs have been called into question.
It's too early to talk of a crisis at Liverpool. The club is currently in the relegation zone, but that's after only three matches and they won't be there at the end of the season. However, doubts are increasingly being expressed about whether they can challenge for a Champions League place despite claims from chairman Tom Werner that they have the resources to compete with anyone in football.
Manager Brendan Rogers is certainly concerned and has called for a greater focus on strengthening the squad rather than balancing the books. 'There is no doubt the finances here had to be changed,' said the Liverpool manager. 'That was the reality. We lost nine players and brought in three so from the business side we have done well.'
'What we need to do next is look after the football side and help the players here to pull through. It's been a big learning curve for the owners as well. They have come in and invested over £100m in the club.'
'They have made a commitment to have me here for the long-term. The owners are very honest and up front with me. I have no problem with that. We have one or two things to iron out and I don't feel they have misled me in any way. We have had a couple of brief conversations about what might happen in January and we will reflect on that again next week.'
It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall at those conversations. Paying £6m rather than a reported (although disputed) £3m for Clint Dempsey might have been a good investment. After all, each Premier League place is worth an additional £750,000 in prize money.
However, Fenway Sports Group took the view that 29-year olds, even proven goal scorers, are not the future of the club. It might be worth pointing out that Robin van Persie is 29 and that wasn’t a bar to his recruitment at Manchester United.
Didier Drogba could become available, but there is the question of how much he would have to be paid. There is also talk of bringing in Michael Owen who would not cost a fee and would accept relatively low wages to get back to the Premier League.
Whether Liverpool should continue with their austerity measures or spend their way out of trouble reflects a wider debate in football, and indeed in the UK economy as a whole.
If Liverpool’s approach to signings is cautious, that of Arsenal is even more prudent. Arsenal has pursued a strategy of only paying what they can afford.
There is two ways in which their strategy could work. One is the oft repeated claim that 'the Premiership bubble will burst.' But we have been hearing these claims for year. If I had received a dollar for every time I have heard it, I could have a nice holiday in the Caribbean.
One way in which it could burst is that television revenues fall. But domestic revenues are likely to be stable at least in real terms, even given some setbacks in court cases over the use of decoders in pubs. Overseas revenues look to be increasingly buoyant. The Asian market still has plenty of growth left and that in Africa is just getting under way.
The other possibility is that the supply of rich men ready to invest in a football club is bound to dry up. But there's no sign of that yet and buying a top club is as big a prestige symbol as an ocean going yacht and arguably more fun. The only downside risk is a major conflict in the Middle East, where most of the big money comes from, and that is a real possibility.
In any case Arsenal's strategy was never based on the Premiership bubble bursting. Why should they want it to? It is the key source of their revenues and their shares are predominantly owned by foreign investors.
Rather Arsene Wenger has always relied on the enforcement of the financial fair play rules, reducing the opportunity for other top clubs to splash the cash and putting them on a level playing field with Arsenal.
But, as we have pointed out many times, this may not work out as hoped. Despite recent chest beating by Uefa, it is not going to want to exclude too many top clubs from the Champions League or they will kill the golden calf. Moreover, the whole concept, or at least its application in specific cases, is open to a legal challenge.
But Arsenal are not going to depart from their chosen path, certainly not while Wenger is in charge. Only time will tell whether their approach will be vindicated. In the short term it must mean disappointment for their fans.
Once again it was a last minute frenzy that spurred on spending in the transfer window after a sluggish start. At £490m the final outcome was marginally up on last year's figure of £485m, but failed to beat the record of £500m in 2008.
£300m was spent on foreign players. The 'trickle down' effect to the Football League was limited with just £50m spent at that level.
Deloitte Sports Business said £110m was spent on Friday's transfer deadline day, up from £100m last year. Five clubs - Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal - spent in excess of £30m each over the summer. Newly promoted Southampton spent just short of £30m.
Dan Jones, partner at Deloitte Sports Business Group, said: 'While the highest levels of spending continue to be at those clubs competing at the upper end of the Premier League and in European competition, we have also seen significant investment by the newly promoted teams looking to establish themselves in the Premier League.'
He said the key challenge for Premier League clubs remained how to manage costs - notably transfer expenditure and players' wages.
Deloitte said Premier League clubs would be even better off when new television deals kicked in next season.
Meanwhile, a UK accountancy firm said the continued big spending from Premier League clubs showed the league was isolated from any fears surrounding the euro currency, unlike many of its European counterparts.
'All of the domestic broadcast deals are done in pounds and they far outweigh the overseas deals, so that is a good buffer against any euro crash,' said Pete Hackleton, of the sports and entertainment team at firm Saffery Champness.
Overseas clubs did well out of the transfer window, according to figures produced by Deloitte Sports Business.
Transfer fees to overseas clubs were around £300m, almost 50% up on the level seen in 2011. This represented 61% of total transfer fees committed by Premier League clubs, as compared with 42% in 2011.
Compared to the top leagues in other countries, the Premier League generates significantly more revenue and continues to redistribute significant financial value to overseas clubs through the player transfer market. Clubs in Germany, France and Holland have particularly benefitted this summer.
Gross transfer spending trends across the top divisions of Europe are mixed as compared with last year, with top division clubs gross spending in France (around £190m) and Germany (around £210m) up versus last summer. While spending in Italy (around £310m) and Spain (around £110m) are at lower levels than the last summer window.
The lower figures for Italy and Spain could well reflect the impact of the eurozone crisis on those countries.
Wyn Grant is a regular contributor to Albion Road and also the publisher of footballeconomy.com, a website covering the business and economy of the game of football.