Is The Premier League Getting Out of Control?

Foreign Policy Brief #173 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | February 27, 2023

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Policy Summary

The Premier League, England’s top division of professional football, is known for elite levels of competition (soccer); huge budgets for teams; massive player personalities, and more. But has the league gotten out of control? Over the past several years, we have seen the amount of money being spent on individual player transfers skyrocket, and the race to own teams in the Premier League has  been more than competitive. The most recent and controversial acquisitions being via Middle Eastern money spent to purchase teams like Manchester City, Newcastle United – and currently there is a Qatari bid to own Manchester United, one of the most influential teams in the world.

Global football has been under the influence of wealthy actors for a long time. However, the introduction of new Middle Eastern wealth to the sport has increased the amount of governmental influences on the “beautiful game”. In recent weeks the Manchester City Football Club has been heavily scrutinized following an investigation into their role in breaking over 100 financial fair play rules over a nine-year period.

Policy Analysis

The UK government has been debating the idea of having more oversight in regards to the finances of Premier League clubs. Over the past few years, the world has seen unprecedented amounts of money spent on individual player transfers, team acquisitions by actors within foreign governments like the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), talks of teams entering into new leagues across Europe at the exclusion of other teams, and so much more.

Reports coming out of many media outlets, and also the Premier League itself, have spelled out the arguments for increasing the oversight of the Premier League, and perhaps the entirety of English football by the UK government. The concerns surrounding the league are mostly financial. 

As stated earlier, Manchester City FC has been investigated by the Premier League for  violating Financial Fair Play rules over 100 times. Manchester City is owned by a Middle Eastern financial group, called the City Football Group; led by Sheikh Mansour, the club’s owner. Manchester City, for those non-football fans, is one of the most dominant and successful teams in the world – and one of the highest paying clubs in the world.

The transfer of Jack Grealish in  2021 from London’s Aston Villa, at the time was the most expensive transfer in Manchester City history, at a record £100m. As expensive as Jack Grealish’s transfer was, it has since been eclipsed by the spending of Chelsea FC, which from last summer until the most recent transfer window closing spent over £500m on new signings and transfers. Chelsea currently sits in 10th place out of 20 teams.

Many teams in English football cannot, simply, afford to compete with the wages that teams such as Manchester City. High wages for players has created a league that really only has a select number of teams competing for the title. Many face relegation to lower divisions in English football or  financial ruin.

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In 2021, the European Super League plan collapsed after widespread condemnation and sparked outrage among lawmakers, governing bodies, former players, fans, managers and pundits, with many concerned about the ramifications for the structure of domestic competitions.

Photo taken from: Chloe Knott – Danehouse, Getty Images Sport, Getty Images

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Another concern is the idea of the European “Super League”, which would be an exclusive league just for some of the richest teams in Europe to play against each other. A similar contest already exists with the UEFA Champions League; however, teams have to qualify for this yearly tournament based on their success in their domestic leagues. For example, the top four teams in England will compete in the Champions League against other leading European teams.

The idea of the Super League is to create a set list of teams that would play against each other all season long, without qualifications, at the exclusion of other teams. Most of the teams would be in the league on a permanent basis and a select handful of spots in the league would be via a qualification process. 

This issue is so contentious that some leagues have issued statements suggesting that teams that participate in the Super League be banned from domestic competitions like the Premier League or La Liga (Spain’s first division of football), or even that players could be banned from international competitions like the World Cup.

According to CNBC, the UK government would like to start monitoring the people that bid to take ownership of clubs within their country. Some have suggested that whoever takes over regulating the Premier League may want to take a closer examination of whether a country is buying a club or an individual; and examine the human rights records of the entities involved in the purchase of a club. 

Currently, Manchester United Football Club is looking at a change in ownership from the Glazer family, who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The current bids are from Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of INEOS, and from Sheikh Jassim bin Hammad Al Thani, who is with the Qatari bank QIB. The listing price of Manchester United starts around £4 billion. 

All of these reasons, and more, are reasons why the UK government is concerned about their Premier League. The financial risks involved, for many teams, are severe and concerning. Spending has gone out of control and clubs, like Manchester City, are starting to not follow Financial Fair Play rules.

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