Foreign Owners – The Abramovich Effect

Image

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
Image courtesy of Mark Freeman
http://www.flickr.com/photos/46357488@N00/398878345/

When Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, no one could have predicted the influence it would have over the next 10 years. The Blues spent big in the very next transfer window, spending an unprecedented £121 million, and won the Premier League for the first time in their history the next season before winning it again a year later.

After the success of Abramovich’s investment, many other businessmen started to buy, or bought more, shares of clubs. Some of the more high-profile takeovers included Malcolm Glazer buying Manchester UnitedTom Hicks and George Gillett buying Liverpool (who sold to John W. Henry, founder of Fenway Sports Group, just three years later in another well-publicised move), and Randy Lerner buying Aston Villa.

As it stands, 11 clubs in England’s top flight are majority owned by foreign investors, with another 15 clubs in the Football League also being having foreign owners. 13 of these are in The Championship and five of those have been in the Premier League under their current owners.

Whilst not all of these moves have brought success to the clubs, it definitely increased the already huge profile of the Premier League exponentially. It also contributed to making English sides more competitive in European competition, with a minimum of one Premier League side making it to the Champions League semi-finals eight times in nine years. Three of those sides went on to win the tournament and five were losing finalists. Not all of these sides had foreign owners, but the influx of them in the Premier League meant other teams had to adapt, usually by changing their playing style to make it more effective against bigger clubs.

At the time, Chelsea were accused of “buying the title” and spending excessive amounts. It could be argued that this lead to the introduction of Financial Fair Play (FFP), which UEFA introduced to regulate spending, but to squarely put the blame on Abramovich wouldn’t be fair on him, nor on other foreign owners who bought Premier League clubs soon after.

The criticism doesn’t stop there. In 2008, much-maligned FIFA president Sepp Blatter claimed that the “economic power of football is immense” and that the investment in the sport is out of control. Richard Bevan, head of the League Managers’ Association (LMA), said in March 2012 that Chelsea had become an “embarrassment” to the Premier League after Abramovich sacked manager Andre Villas-Boas just 257 days after he took charge of the club.

In a survey by Global Sports Forum published around the same time as Bevan’s comments, it was found that similar sentiments were echoed by fans. 52% of the 3,500 fans polled said that overseas owners do not have the best interests of a club at heart, whilst 63% said they don’t want foreign owners in their domestic league.

Hull City fans would likely agree with these stories after their Egyptian owner Assem Allam said that some fans can “die as soon as they want” after they opposed his idea to rename the club Hull Tigers from Hull City. At recent home matches, fans have been holding banners saying “We are Hull City” and chanting “City till we die” in response to the proposed name change, causing Allam to make those comments. The African has already rebranded the club Hull City Tigers for trading purposes, much to the disdain of the KC Stadium faithful. He also said he would be happy to put the club up for sale if the fans wanted him out, an offer that may be taken up in the near future.

In a somewhat less controversial move, Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov, who owns 30% of the club, recently said that foreign owners are good for English football. The Russian continued by saying that investors pumping money into the British economy can only be a good thing, and that if a team is successful, then there should be no issue with foreign owners.

This may be true for clubs like Arsenal with a long history and richer investors, but with smaller clubs like Birmingham City (majority owned by Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung) and Queens Park Rangers (majority owned by Malaysian Tony Fernandes) who have suffered relegations since being bought.

To view a timeline of when Premier League sides were bought by foreign owners, click on this link.

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One Response to Foreign Owners – The Abramovich Effect

  1. Pingback: Just where has all the money in football come from? | Blogging along

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