Last week Getafe C.F of Spain, a mid-table club that has never won a Championship in its history, announced that it had been purchased by the Dubai-based company The Royal Emirates group for a total of 70-90 million Euros (basically for the same price that Real Madrid bought Cristiano Ronaldo, just to put it into perspective). This story is an interesting one not only because I believe this club is going to now reap the rewards of having an open budget to be able to purchase players in the same manner Manchester City have done over the past couple of seasons since they were bought by the Abu Dhabi Group; but I consider this move to be another example that demonstrates the current state in which football finds itself.
Clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona, Juventus, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich have always had a commercial appeal for Billionaires as they have always been part of an elite group of European Clubs with fantastic histories behind them and were lucky enough to be in that state prior to the influx of money in the game. Their successes on the field led to their successes off the field. This pattern attracted television companies to splash big cash on obtaining the rights to broadcast these clubs’ games live. Nowadays however, investors from around the world are taking it a step further by looking to acquire full ownership of these mighty giants of European football. The money that has been invested in the game has allowed these giants to become even bigger but, more significantly, has also allowed the gap between these “big” clubs and the other “smaller” clubs to grow. The rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten, relatively, poorer.
When money comes the way of fairly “smaller” clubs, it is an opportunity that will be grabbed and you cannot blame them for doing so. We look at Chelsea (pre-Abramovich they had only won the league once in 98 years) and how they’ve grown into a major European force with fans from all corners of the globe with the team challenging for all major honors on the pitch thanks to the billions of Mr. Abramovich. The business plan worked. As we’ve seen particularly in the English Premier League, Millionaires or Billionaires (depending on the club’s luck) from foreign countries are purchasing all sorts of football clubs, regardless of their commercial attraction or their current status, in order to turn them into more competitive teams on the pitch as well as off it. It becomes a project. Sometimes this foreign ownership pays off and sometimes it doesn’t.
On some level, I believe it’s only fair for the “smaller” clubs to be given the chance to have money invested in them so they can compete fairly with the “bigger” clubs in the various European leagues. But there exists a real danger when “smaller” clubs are dealing with big investors. Bearing in mind that those clubs do not have the historical background or the following that other major clubs do have, there is always a potential risk that the owners could let the whole “project” drop if it begins floundering. They might decide it is not worth the trouble and that it is no longer a commercially attractive proposition if results don’t come their way as soon as possible. New owners would be difficult to find in such a scenario. The case of Porstmouth FC in 2009 comes to mind; the club was debt-ridden and taken over by Ali Al Faraj, a Saudi business man, and within a short period of time due to his financial meddling of the club and his suspicious business ways, the club was put into administration (for a definition of what this means – click here). This eventually led to Portsmouth getting points deducted from their total tally and getting relegated from the Premier League that very same year.
In my opinion the principle problem with foreign owners is the fact that these men simply do not understand the game. They’ve never played it, followed it or loved it. For them, it is just another business which they intend on benefiting from. It is an investment therefore it is supposed to gather in some profit within a certain time frame. Why else would they invest? They have no ties to any of the clubs. They do not realize that there are only 11 men on the pitch and that the Manager of those 11 men is the key element to making it work. They believe it’s a simple case of “more money pumped into the club, more money made from the club”; but Football isn’t like any other business. It’s much more delicate and much more competitive. Stability, time, patience, support and adequate investments in the right places are required to breed success. Immediate success is very difficult to achieve in Football. It’s a team game and to build a team, especially a successful one, time is needed.
With the current trend of Billionaires owning football clubs, I believe that unless the Football governing bodies agree on putting a cap on the amounts spent by clubs on players and salaries (which seems unlikely), then it is only fair for the “small” clubs to become a part of this ownership battleground that has been taking over Football. I don't agree with the way the game is going, but that's how it has become. If a club wants to compete at the highest level it has to have the finances to do so, because being good on the pitch is no longer enough. Getafe C.F, luckily enough, have got no debts under their belt and this could be their one chance to mix it up with the big boys on the field as long as the owners invest properly and I hope they do. They now join Racing Santander and FC Malaga in becoming the Spanish clubs that are owned by Arab Billionaires. The only difference in this case, and this is the saddest part, is that The Royal Emirates Group have requested one thing – that the words “Team Dubai” are engraved on the club’s crest, and it has been approved.