False glow in English transfer market

LONDON: Roman Abramovich’s riches at Chelsea and David Beckham’s big money move to Real Madrid have brought a false glow to the transfer market with most English Premier League clubs’ close-season spending limited to petty cash. 

Since Russian billionaire Abramovich bought Chelsea in early July the west London club’s outlay on new players has reached almost £75mil. 

That is more than the £60mil spent by the other 19 Premier League clubs together on their close season signings. 

With two weeks left until the transfer window closes, Chelsea’s shopping spree, which includes £17mil winger Damien Duff and £15mil apiece for Juan Sebastian Veron and Romanian striker Adrian Mutu, is not yet over. 

Most other top flight clubs, despite the income from their billion-pound TV rights windfall since 2001, are struggling to make ends meet and enter the new season after a frugal summer. 

Even Manchester United, formerly the richest club in the world and who broke English transfer records when they bought Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy for £19mil and then Veron for £28mil in 2001, have played a cautious hand. 

Their purchase of 18-year-old Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon for £12.2mil was by far the biggest buy of any club other than Chelsea and over twice what the champions paid for their other close-season signings. But the deal came only after they had earned £40mil from the sales of Beckham and Veron. 

Even Blackburn Rovers, who have benefited most from Chelsea’s millions after their sale of Duff, have remained conservative, their most expensive signing being Ireland midfielder Steven Reid for up to £2.5mil. 

Over-ambitious investment, whether in new stadiums or building a team in a bid for European glory, combined with soaring player wages has led to many clubs racking up crippling debts at a time when transfer income has plummeted. 

High amortisation costs – the write-down in the value of a player during the period of his contract – have become an added burden on the accounts. 

Of 11 clubs listed on the London Stock Exchange only three made any real profit in the first half of their financial year, the two Uniteds, Manchester and Newcastle – on the back of a strong European run – and carefully-managed Birmingham City. 

Leeds United, Aston Villa, pre-Abramovich Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and relegated Sunderland ran up increased losses. 

Arsenal, double winners in 2002, who are not listed on the main stock market, also made losses as their plans for a new £400mil stadium began to weigh heavily on their finances. 

Manager Arsene Wenger, his budget curbed, sends his side out for their latest title challenge after spending only £1.5mil on three new players, mostly of that going on German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. 

There are signs that clubs are beginning to put their houses in order, with many putting their foot down over wages and taking players on shorter contracts, but losses are likely to continue to rise in the short term. 

However, consultants Deloitte and Touche said in their review of football finances earlier this month that the sport is beginning to look healthier. 

“The 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons have been a watershed in some fundamental aspects of football finances and much long term good should come of that,” the consultants said. 

The Premier League’s new billion pound TV rights deal with BSkyB for the three years from next season will come as a relief to the top clubs. Some observers had predicted less money due to a lack of competition and slowdown in the economic environment. 

“It ought to bring calm and stability to the business, there’s a lot riding on TV deals,” said the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Scudamore last week. – Reuters 

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