The English Premier League (EPL), the world’s richest football league, is discovering its billions do not necessarily bring international victories.
Arsenal, knocked out by Monaco last week, and Manchester City, failing to overcome a 2-1 deficit to Barcelona on Wednesday, were the last chances for England in the Champions League. Liverpool was eliminated from the European elite club tournament in the group stages and Chelsea were knocked out of the final 16 by Paris Saint-Germain this month.
There is no English team in the last eight of Europe’s most lucrative and prestigious continental competition for the second time in three tournaments. With another poor showing next year, the EPL may be at risk of losing one of its four automatic spots to Italy under a complicated formula drawn up by Uefa, football’s regional governing body.
“Money doesn’t buy success,” says the former Atletico Madrid and Brighton & Hove Albion player Maheta Molango. “Premier League players are surrounded by luxury, maybe they think they have arrived and lose their appetite” for winning.
Last month, Sky and BT agreed to pay £5.14 billion (Dh27.69bn) for the UK live broadcast rights to the top English division, an increase of about 70 per cent from the previous three-year deal. The EPL is shown in 212 territories worldwide to an audience of 4.7 billion, making it the most-watched football league. Sky paid £1.39bn a year for the rights, while BT spent £320 million.
A lack of English clubs in the Champions League may hurt sponsors and broadcasters, according to the London-based branding consultant Jonathan Gabay. UniCredit, MasterCard, Gazprom, PS4, Nissan, Heineken, adidas and HTC are the main marketing backers of the tournament.
“Local supporters want to watch home teams,” says Mr Gabay, the author of books including Brand Psychology.
“Continuing lack of success of English Premier League clubs in the Champions League potentially means lower UK television ratings. Low ratings equates to fewer would-be brand buyers.”
While fans of struggling English football teams may dream of the riches a Middle East investor could bestow, sometimes it can prove less than positive. Take the English Championship side Leeds United. Leeds were once a giant of European football, winning the old European Cup Winners Cup in 1973 and making the final of the Uefa European Cup in 1974.
The club also made the last four in the Uefa Champions League in 2001, before sliding out of the EPL. They now languish mid-table in the Championship. In 2012, Bahrain’s Gulf Finance House announced it had taken over the club for £52m but, less than two years later, it offloaded 75 per cent of Leeds United to Eleonora Sport, owned by the Italian businessman Massimo Cellino. He was subsequently disqualified from running Leeds or owning more than 30 per cent of the club’s shares in December when the English Football League (EFL) ruled a first-grade conviction for tax evasion on a yacht in Sardinia was a “dishonest offence” and that he was therefore in breach of the EFL’s owners’ and directors’ test. Mr Cellino’s ban was due to end next month but has since been extended for the whole season, until May 3.
Meanwhile, the Swiss team Servette Geneva and Austria’s Admira Wacker Mödling came to grief after the involvement of the Iranian businessman Majid Pishyar, who later owned a controlling stake of the Portuguese second-tier side Beira Mar.
Mr Pishyar saved Admira from financial collapse in 2004 but departed at the end of 2007 citing difficulties with the Austrian football authorities and the club filed for bankruptcy.
He later took over as the chairman of Servette and in 2011 also took a reported 85 per cent stake in Beira Mar.
In March 2012, he stepped down at Servette, citing lack of support from the fans, and the club filed for bankruptcy. The Canadian businessman Hugh Quennec paid him one Swiss franc ($1.10) for the 17-time Swiss champions. And, at the end of 2013, Mr Pishyar sold his stake in Beira Mar to the Italian industrial group Pieralisi. They are now mid-table in the Portuguese second division.
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