As the preeminent footballing power, the Prem is the standard by which every professional league measures it.
Due to that, teams will spend whatever they can to latch onto the wealth promised by the TV contracts. However, as clubs are starting to realize, is any of this sustainable?
A recent article by The Athletic highlighted the precarious nature of both reaching and surviving the Prem. Outside a few clubs, just about every team struggles with their finances.
Clubs are willing to do whatever is possible to survive in the Prem, be it throwing money at players or managers with little curation. Chelsea’s new regime goes to show how much keeping up with the Joneses matters. A drop to the Championship or a year without European Football can dictate the finances of a team for years to come.
In the 90s and early 2000s, the Serie A was in the same position as the Prem—the undoubted kings of Europe, with an influx of cash and great players. However, the cash machine would eventually dry up, sending the league into chaos.
With the recent collapse of the Serie A due to financial mismanagement, the Prem would be wise to take it as a warning. TV contracts can only keep these teams alive for so long, but a new era may soon take over.
The Athletic’s excellent article details the issues boards have to deal with to both add talent and balance payroll. With the stakes at hand, it’s no surprise that so many teams are willing to put themselves in tough situations to try to achieve some sort of financial stability.
Another slip-up means potentially missing out on millions of dollars, so clubs are willing to push their boundaries. Take Fulham in past seasons, where they threw money at players that made no sense in a mad dash to stay up. When they were eventually relegated, the club had to take a loss on those players and start over with debt.
Even well-run clubs like Brighton are forced to rely on flipping players for much larger fees just to keep their operations going. Like Billy Beane and his Oakland A’s, they have to survive on finding undervalued players to develop and flip. Meaning there is no real possibility to see a smaller club develop their teams and try to compete.
Perhaps more precarious is the situation clubs in the Championship face in their climb to the top flight. There is so much money at stake in the Prem that teams are willing to go beyond their means to achieve promotion. Even if the chances of promotion for a certain side are small, the gamble seems worth it to too many sides.
This is where the real issue lies, a growing sense of financial instability in the lower leagues. For the most part, top-flight clubs will be fine, but clubs at the lower levels can be ruined. Some sort of regulation would be necessary to ensure that teams in the lower leagues don’t go over their skis.
At the end of the day, it’s not our many, and owners should be encouraged to spend. However, the issue is with maintaining the stability of the footballing structure.
Italy’s footballing rise in the 90s and 2000s, followed by its spectacular fall in the early 2010s, is a stark warning. It’s a collapse that Italian football is still dealing with today.
Like so many terrible issues in modern Italy, a lot of Serie A’s recent issues can be traced back to Silvio Berlusconi. The TV mogul’s acquisition of AC Milan would signal not only a new era of Italian football but also of European football. His regime would spell the beginning of a new type of ownership hellbent on creating a product rivaling the Showtime Lakers.
In his first few years, Berlusconi would take an aging Milan side and revive it through smart transfers and a great coaching philosophy. The transfer policy is more interesting to discuss here, as it is the start of large transfer fees for stars. Along with a resurgence in the Italian footballing economy, all Italian clubs began to conquer the continent.
Yes, Italian football would win just about every trophy that there is to be won, but the Serie A is still footing the bill. Only recently has the league begun to find success, but its financial state is still lagging behind the rest of Europe.
The end of Serie A’s dominance came with Italy’s issues following the crises that hit the global economy in the late 2000s. Most of the ownership groups of Serie A sides had to find ways out, leading to new owners across the board. Only Juventus, who were in a better situation, were able to take advantage of the collapse.
It’s unlikely that the Prem will see the sort of financial issues that the Serie A had, as it was a truly unique set of circumstances. Leagues across Europe should use this as an example of a need for some sort of regulation.
As the Prem begins to confront its future, there needs to be an honest conversation about how to reform the economy of the sport. This level of spending is not bringing any sort of stability, and every league may soon face what Italy is.
For close to a decade, the Prem has ruled Europe, and now they may be at the forefront of needed change.