The State of Premier League Ownership
(Photo courtesy of bleacherreport.com)
Being an English Premier League team has many benefits; you have the chance to get worldwide recognition, earn millions of dollars through television deals, and you get a chance to play in a league with arguably the most talented footballers in the world. These are all huge reasons why teams all over Europe would love to have a chance at playing in this division, and why wouldn’t they? Each of these factors can give any club the potential for superstardom. Unfortunately (or fortunately), wealthy businesspeople and even royalty have seen the league as a fantastic chance to make their marks on the world and give themselves a shot at glory.
So what’s the problem here? Well, while some business ventures have proven to be fruitful, some have either become full-blown disasters, or are on the verge of one. Chelsea and Manchester City are proper examples of how successful a club can become if the right owner takes over, with a good business plan, and with enough wise investments. There are some clubs, however, that have not been lucky enough to have been blessed by intelligent, football-wise owners because let’s face it – a football club should revolve around football. It’s as simple as that.
Here are three top-flight English clubs that could probably use either new ownership, or a change in business models (NOTE: these are not the only poorly run clubs in the Premier League, these three have just stood out in recent years).
What is a storied, wealthy, stable club such as Arsenal doing on a list like this, you may ask? They’ve had the same manager for 20+ years, they’re a top six side, they’re in European competition each season, how can they be on this list?
Well, yes, Arsenal are all of those things. They are historically great, they are wealthy, and they are pretty stable in comparison to the other two entries on this list, but they may not be for very much longer. With the club not qualifying for the UEFA Champions League last season for the first time under manager Arsene Wenger’s reign, Arsenal has seen a bit of a change in feeling around the club. Fans have become restless, uneasy, and even worried about games at times. The club’s on-field quality has dropped significantly over the last five years and there are many people behind the decline. Sure, fans will point fingers at Arsene Wenger’s tactics, man-management, and transfers in and out, but is he really to be blamed for this?
In short, yes and no. Yes, Arsene Wenger decides who comes and goes from the club, yes, he decides tactics and which players play and when, and yes, it’s his job to motivate his team to glory on the field. But is it his fault that he still has a job (and such a big one at that) now, and for the last few years when the club has been faltering? No.
Arsenal’s ownership has made the decision to keep Wenger at the club for as long as he’s been, and they have decided to ignore the ever-growing on-field issues and fan unrest. The majority shareholder of Arsenal is American sports mogul, Stan Kroenke, so he will have the final say on big decisions that the club makes behind the scenes. Kroenke has been running the club as a business since their relocation to the Emirates Stadium from Highbury, and he along with the other members of administration and Arsene Wenger have been able to recoup their financial outlay on the stadium within a decade. While this is impressive, the teams have been forgotten about throughout this endeavour, and the on-field decline has been steady and noticeable. From a team that used to be a serial Champions League competitor to now a top six side that is getting cut adrift from the pack, Arsenal’s owners need to start making some big decisions regarding the manager and squad in order to avoid falling by the wayside. Fans have already stopped attending games, and this problem could be a big one if something isn’t done about it soon.
Where do I start here?
Newcastle United used to be a top club in the Premier League in the 1990s boasting great talents such as Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, Gary Speed, and more. They were managed by former two-time Ballon D’Or winner Kevin Keegan, and were a force to be reckoned with. They were a formidable side that teams coming to St. James’ Park set up to defend against, and often left battered, bruised, and without points. Newcastle did many good things in those days, and into the early 2000s, their quality dropped off a little bit, but they were still a good side that provided fantastic games for their fans and upset many English giants. Well, this is a story about how a bad owner really can plunge a good club into oblivion.
Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley became the majority shareholder of the club in 2007, and immediately began to destroy the club’s prestige. He has destroyed any hope of stability within the club by announcing on three separate occasions that the club was up for sale, gave then-manager Alan Pardew a staggering 8-year contract extension only to fire him the following season, and has overseen two separate relegations from the Premier League in 2009 and 2016 respectively. Oh, and Ashley also changed Newcastle’s famous ground’s name from ‘St. James’ Park’ to ‘The Sports Direct Arena’, which he immediately changed back the following season after understandable fan outrage.
Under Mike Ashley, Newcastle United’s fans have endured some of the worst football they’ve ever had to see their team play, as a merry-go-round of managers has made the club unstable and has seen it lose sight of their identity. The club has gone from producing some of England’s greatest talents and recruiting some of the most famous foreign players, to a solely-African phase, a solely-French phase, to now spending what little money Ashley will allow whichever manager is around to spend. Premier League status is something that English clubs cannot afford to take for granted, and it seems like Mike Ashley couldn’t care less about the cause and will go out of his way to make sure he loses as little money as possible during his time as owner.
West Ham United
You saw this coming.
While West Ham has never been a world-beating team by any means, nor have they had much success in the league, or in European competition, West Ham is still an historic club with a great fan base. They once boasted such English greats like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, and Martin Peters, each of whom contributed massively to England’s World Cup win in 1966. Overall, they are a respectable group with good home-grown players and a good club ethos. Or at least, they used to be.
The takeover of pornographers-turned-businessmen David Gold and David Sullivan has been turbulent and unsuccessful. While they are by no means mean-spirited like the aforementioned Mike Ashley, or solely in it to make a pretty penny like Stan Kroenke, Davids Gold and Sullivan are two businessmen whom are just in way over their heads. Acquired in 2010, Gold and Sullivan made it their mission to make West Ham a better club than ever before, and in their minds, that meant better players, better managers, and a better stadium. Genius.
Since Gold and Sullivan have taken over, the have overseen four managerial changes in eight years, and have gotten transfer after transfer wrong. Further, they oversaw the name change of West Ham’s historic ground from ‘Upton Park’ to ‘The Boleyn Ground’, and then decided to move the club away from that ground entirely and into the new Olympic Stadium in London in order to increase fan seating to ultimately increase finances. With so much change occurring in such a little amount of time, this is a period in history that has surely been difficult for West Ham fans everywhere.
Now, let’s talk about their transfers. Christened ‘The Dildo Brothers’ by Sporting CP’s director of communications, Nuno Saraiva, for their handling of a failed bid for Sporting CP midfielder, William Carvalho, Gold and Sullivan haven’t had a good time in the transfer market either. They’ve consistently aimed to buy players whom are way above the club’s level and failed, and have paid big transfer fees and wages on old has-been players whom are in decline and won’t have any resale value (see their purchases of Javier Hernandez and Pablo Zabaleta, as well as their loan move for Joe Hart). They’ve even gone as far as to announce the signings of players on their own personal Twitter accounts when the deals haven’t been done yet, and have botched their own dealings time and time again.
From a failed reign in charge of Birmingham City (whom are also in total disarray at the moment), to now failing at West Ham, maybe the Davids should take each other out for dinner and a porn film and talk about why they probably shouldn’t own football clubs anymore.