Now that the season is over and proceedings have wound down, we can all look back on a year of football which has once again resulted in a top four finish of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. Below these power houses of European football, Everton, Villa and the rest trail off into a predictable final ladder.
Since the beginning of the Premier League we have, year by year, become accustomed to seeing the same thing come May and only Blackburn have won the league from outside the 'big 4’, back in the 94/95 season. During the past five years Everton managed the unthinkable and breached this exclusive club, but this has, to this day, been a one off and an exception to the rule that seems annoyingly hard to break.
In June 2003, Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea. The Russian billionaire applied his wealth to the transfer market, paying huge amounts of money for players which helped, or some might say ensured, Chelsea a position at the top, or very close to it, of the English game. In 2005 Chelsea declared record losses of £140 million and were not expected to post profits until at least 2010, yet they were crowned Premier League and League Cup champions.
Around the same time, Malcolm Glazer started buying Manchester United in a deal valued at $1.47 billion. The purchase was opposed by supporters groups mostly because of the astronomical debt, over $850 million, which was saddled with the club, and now requires approximately $60 million per year just to pay off the interest.
Liverpool, acquired by George Gillett and Tom Hicks in February 2007, were at the time in debt to the tune of £218.9 million and Arsenal were listed with a debt of approximately £66 million by Forbes in a recent list of football team valuations, yet all these teams enjoy regular success, they all boast world class names amongst their ranks and they all regularly pay exorbitant fees to recruit the finest players from across the globe.
Manchester City and Portsmouth can now also be added to this mega rich list and City in particular will be expected to smash new records in the transfer market this summer.
Aston Villa were purchased by Randy Lerner, himself a wealthy billionaire at the time, in August 2006 for a price of £62.6 million, but with Lerner came a somewhat slower and more conservative approach. Since his arrival our most expensive signing has increased with the purchase of James Milner for £12 million, but in comparison with the top 4 this remained ‘small time’ as did the amount of wages paid out per week, but is this necessarily a bad thing?
From a business point of view, Lerner has transformed the club into an asset reportedly worth nearly £150 million with debts of only 10% of that and whilst proceeding with sound financial common sense, he’s turned a club which not so long ago battled with relegation, into a top six side.
I have my own opinions as to what is the right way forward for us as a club as I’m sure everyone else has, but would you be happy for us to ‘sell out’, lose our tradition and history, for overnight success? If Randy invested £200 million tomorrow and got us Messi and Kaka and said he’d happily pay them £150k per week would it make you happy? Or are you happy being the best of the rest, whilst keeping the clubs envied integrity in tact?