Neil Atkinson gives his thoughts on the latest surrounding the Premier League’s financial fair play/profit and sustainability regulations…
I have wanted to write about the PSR/FFP situation for ages, but two things have been holding me back.
The first is that what makes it difficult is Everton. I have been putting it off, waiting for the results of Everton’s appeal. But it is the conversation right now.
Because it is Everton, what makes it hard for me is that it will be seen as a bad-faith move, because football understands tribalism over all else. So let’s get it all out upfront. I don’t want Everton Football Club to win as much as a tombola, I hope they lose every game they play.
I support Liverpool, grew up in Liverpool, had Joe Parkinson happen to me in Liverpool in my formative years.
All that is true, but I have also long thought football needs more and tighter regulation around backroom questions to do with finance and ownership. I also think, and have long thought, that wealth in football should be better distributed down the pyramid.
I have, for instance, been the only person I have seen arguing that European TV income should be levied for redistribution down the pyramid, even though that would disadvantage Liverpool.
If you have been listening and reading for a while you will know all that.
This, though, does need to start with — and, in part, end with — Everton. I know why that is very annoying in the context of Manchester City and I know this annoys everyone, but a combination of the obfuscation of City, combined with the serious nature of any consequences which go beyond football, are such that it will take at least another year in all likelihood.
Anyway, let’s hang me by the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey:
The Monday after Farhad Moshiri took over Everton I went on Radio City Talk with Dave Downie and said that Evertonians should be cautious, that they should look into the circumstances around the takeover and they should wonder why someone like Moshiri wants to buy into Everton.
Red Shite. Unequivocally so.
The circumstances remain worthy of dwelling on. Alisher Usmanov gifted Farhad Moshiri shares in Arsenal (about 15 per cent) then bought them for 200m on a Friday and then I went on City Talk on the Monday.
The truth of it is and was that I think all football supporters should be suspicious of the motivations of their ownerships, unless given real reason not to be. The richer the club, the richer the owner, the more suspicion there should be. And if they can’t be, the people who write about football should be on their behalf.
I bring that up not to be mean to Phil, but to make the point of the level of analysis on this years after Roman Abramovich, Hicks and Gillett, The Glazers, Mike Ashley, and Manchester City’s buyout at the Premier League level before we dip into the myriad of messes in the leagues below.
Part of why the Everton situation has spiralled as it has is because many of the more established mainstream journalists aren’t equipped and/or are unwilling to ask the difficult questions. Clubs withdraw access for institutions to things like press conferences, the public aren’t that interested and don’t reward with clicks and many respond with tribalism.
When Farhad Moshiri was a billionaire who was going to outspend Liverpool and bounced around buying the Liver Building, the tribalism went up a notch or two. He didn’t actually buy the Liver Building; he had shares in a fund which bought it and have since tried to sell it, but that didn’t matter.
It was the era of the folktale, time for giving it the big one. That’s not blaming anyone — you can’t do my job and not understand tribalism and folktales — it is simply acknowledging that it gets harder again for questions that need to be asked… To be asked.
It’s my view that Farhad Moshiri shouldn’t have been allowed to buy into Everton. That having so recently owned a significant interest in Arsenal should have been a disqualifying factor. That, at the very least, he should have had to share an extensive business plan and explain his motivations in buying The Blues and “winning” isn’t enough.
It’s my view that Farhad Moshiri is another example as to why the Premier League cannot regulate itself, and why the proposals in The Crouch Review around recurring licensing of football club owners and directors through an independent regulator is a good thing.
That spools us on not quite to an ever-moving now — not yet — but to approximately three years ago, when it became crystal clear that Everton had some significant off-field problems if you were paying attention.
Usmanov had clearly been intimately involved in the club since about 2017, when his company bought the rights to Finch Farm, but with Carlo Ancelotti doing a good job it was difficult to get a groundswell of concern.
Still they weren’t being discussed much, because this stuff is dry as dust and doesn’t generate clicks, but increasingly actual Evertonians were growing more than legitimately concerned — though the Mayor Of Manchester hadn’t written any unofficial letters.
Again, this is understandable. This doesn’t reflect badly on Blues — most people want football to be an escape, Bill Kenwright loved Everton and a bright, shiny new stadium was being built at Bramley Moore, so how bad could things be?
It was hard to get people to be concerned about Hicks and Gillett in 2008. Liverpool were in trouble though and so, in 2020, were Everton.
However, what is noticeable is that getting coherence into the opposition to the ownership between 2020 and the end of 2022 was difficult. Supporters are never homogenous and tribalism makes it exceptionally difficult.
Reporters beginning to ask questions were pilloried, which begins to make some wonder why bother? The brutality of the clicks economy is that Everton don’t generate many. They don’t have the supporter base of Liverpool or Manchester United; they don’t draw the hate clicks of Liverpool and Manchester United.
My point here is that a club with the size and draw of Everton was not protected adequately by the fourth estate and the wider establishment, and was not protected adequately by its supporters.
The latter is, contextually, absolutely forgivable and understandable, but needs to be remembered. The former? The former sticks in the craw these last few weeks; when piece after piece; when panel after panel; when Mayor after Mayor has been privy to advocating for a wild west and tearing down any attempt to make football be rational in irrational times.
However, what should have been happening is that any club, even a club the size of Everton, should be protected from bad ownership and mismanagement by the structures and regulations of the league.
The size of Everton. The size of Manchester City. The size of Newcastle United. The size of Liverpool. The size of Manchester United.
Because what the period around 2010 — with Abu Dhabi, Mike Ashley, Hicks and Gillett, The Glazers — told us was that every club needs protection, needs regulation, needs everyone. But most of all those in charge of the league and those with access to microphones and media spaces needed to ask: “Why? How? Who? And with what and whose money really? And what will the consequences be?”
Bad ownership and mismanagement pockmark the report into Everton’s first breach of the PSR regulations. The report is available here and is actually quite readable by the standards of these things.
What clatters through the report — knowing what we know about Everton and their need for a company like 777 to come in and save the day — what should be unavoidable from reading the report, should be the following questions:
1. How much more trouble would Everton be in financially if PSR hadn’t existed?
2. How much would Everton’s financial woes be eased if PSR was tighter, more active, more current?
3. How are we letting Farhad Moshiri be responsible for running a civic institution? What has gone on there?
This, unfortunately, hasn’t been the takeaway in a number of different ways. In part because Everton don’t exist in a vacuum and in part because of tribalism. Because the points total had to be impacted, in part because somebody’s points total had to be first in the Premier League (but not, it is worth emphasising the football league).
It is infuriating, therefore, that it was Everton, and in part because football people — including people who write about football — don’t like what they deem outside interference. It is un-football. It gets up Alan Shearer’s nose.
Everton don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in a Premier League which has frankly absolutely adored money. Which is so very rich. It has loved overseas money, state money, borrowed money, inherited money, transfer money and, ultimately, television money.
The Premier League is the richest league in the world and, being fair, is internally very equitable about how it pays its television money out. Internally and to sides recently relegated, it could barely be sounder. To the rest of the football pyramid it could barely be harsher.
But 18 other clubs have stayed inside the PSR rules. Everton probably shouldn’t be punished twice, but therefore need to be punished soundly once.
The Premier League is the clubs. It is a collective. They are shareholders. The Premier League’s rules are decided by the clubs and it takes 14 clubs to make and change the Premier League’s votes. Not a “sly six”. A massive 14.
There are undoubted issues with this, as I have discussed before with people like Mark Gregory, but this is simply the way it is for now and for the foreseeable future.
The issue with the Premier League with all that money then is that a fine for an overspend even levied on an owner would cut no ice. It would, in fact, be an encouragement — become something to boast about.
The only possible sanction is sporting and either a transfer ban or a points deduction is the only thing that can act as a deterrent to stop sides disregarding the PSR, deciding it is simply a cost of doing business, and it needs to be a relatively significant ban or deduction too. It needs to have genuine impact.
Expect that notion to continue to be attacked across the next 12 months.
The Premier League doesn’t exist in a vacuum either. The Premier League sends sides to play in UEFA competition for which many are very well remunerated. UEFA have their own PSR/FFP rules, which are far less generous than the Premier Leagues, and are planning to tighten those across the next three seasons. It is UEFA’s rules that Manchester United are worried about.
In Everton’s business plan discussed in their submissions to the independent panel they were budgeting for sixth place. Which would have meant Europe. Which would have meant they’d transgress on UEFA’s rules. That is not a plan. That is mismanagement and the sound of the piss being taken.
Yesterday at the Select Committee, hearing it was interesting to hear Richard Masters discuss the possibility of changing the rule for the start of the 2025-26 season so that clubs in Europe had to have “football spend” (e.g. the spend the PSR calculation relies on now) be less than 70 per cent of turnover and clubs not in Europe could function at 85 per cent.
UEFA are moving to 70 per cent so the Premier League rule for European clubs will be that as a de-facto principle, regardless of what the Premier League do.
For years it was said that FFP/PSR was toothless, was a myth, would never happen. Now it is happening because we can see it through:
a) Everton and Nottingham Forest being charged
b) Transfer business crawling to a halt for this January
c) The rash of articles suddenly arguing against it. You know the ones. In what we used to call the broadsheets. Broadsides from the broadsheets.
Most clubs have adapted their business to stay within the rules and that means some hard choices which has led to b) and it is c) that most concerns me. It is a symptom of a culture which is about having it all as quickly as possible and damn the consequences. That’s a football culture and an overriding national elite political culture.
The consequences of PSR being ignored, liberalised or deprioritised are that clubs, even the size of Everton, are able to run themselves into oblivion on the one hand and that the market for transfer fees and wages jumps again on the other, leading to more clubs running themselves into oblivion in the attempt to keep up.
There is an excellent piece by Miguel Delaney yesterday on this which you can read here.
But that is what will be called for. Newcastle United are currently the flag-bearers for that, framed by Nottingham Forest and Everton being punished.
With Newcastle having overachieved and ran themselves into the ground last year, it is now deemed to be beyond the pale they may have to do what all football clubs have had to do since year dot and sell to buy — under the PSR’s very generous rules that allow transfers out to be booked in full and new players to have the cost spread across the course of the contract.
The broadsheet broadside argument now is that Newcastle are being held back from some wonderful sunny upland when the truth is that they are finding it hard precisely because of the intensity of last season’s overachievement and now just have to regroup for a little bit.
In the excellent Swiss Ramble examination of the Newcastle accounts here, Newcastle’s own employees and directors seem sanguine about it. This is the way the game has always worked.
In the press though, Newcastle’s cheerleaders have PSR depicted as something disgraceful, something poisonous, something alien, a sullying of what the game should be about and the wild west has never looked so good.
Yet on the whole those people, their grouping (with one or two exceptions like Oli Kay and Joe Thomas) never wrote a thing about Everton, about Moshiri, about Usmanov, hell, per Tony Evans yesterday, about Philip Green. The silence was deafening from day one.
There has been more from Simon Goodley in the business pages of The Guardian about The Blues than you have had from most.
You see, I have wanted to write about the PSR/FFP situation for ages, but two things have been holding me back. The first all the Everton, all there above. Being seen as being in bad faith because Red Shite.
The second, though, is the sheer mediocrity of the broadsheet broadsides which play on everyone’s worst thoughts, feelings and instincts and, frankly, tend to win in Britain with depressing regularity. Marla Daniels’ “you cannot lose if you do not play,” was a reason not to write, but here I am cruising for a bruising.
The argument is always rubbish, but this is Britain — where rubbish arguments win the day most days because they are written in the fucking Times and it is miserable.
How is the argument won? Well, because everyone loves money — again, this is Britain, after all — but also because it does all feel the Premier League (which loves money) lacks credibility in stopping this now when other things have been allowed before.
Because there isn’t enough redistribution. Because nobody in football saved Everton from Moshiri. Because one team has won three leagues on the spin, and the sides that have come up are probably going straight back, and the sides that went down are probably coming straight back.
Because the MPs at the Select Committee ask bloody stupid questions and the Premier League CEO gives pretty arrogant answers. Because the rules and regulations now are a stable door closing when the horse is at the elbow of the Grand National. Because the Premier League is a bit of a joke, even when it is trying.
This stuff really isn’t hard. It just needs brains to be engaged, people to think more than three sentences ahead and consequences to be anticipated.
That has just been in short supply all over the place on this and it makes it all seem far harder than it is.
"It maybe just means that Liverpool have got a clearer run at certain players."
"Liverpool have got themselves into a position where they have done the overhaul bit, now it's the tuning bit."
🗣️ The Anfield Wrap pic.twitter.com/QrgT5kYH5C
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) January 16, 2024