Transfers have been rationed at Burnley of late. Until, anyway, rather overshadowing the low-profile deals for Dale Stephens and Will Norris, it became apparent that Burnley could be transferred. The Egyptian businessman Mohamed El Kashashy is behind a potential £200 million takeover. With the American investment firm ALK Capital also interested, a continuity club – Sean Dyche is the third longest-serving manager in the Premier and Football Leagues and his squad has remained largely the same for years – could undergo major change.
So what does £200 million buy? History, in part, though whether that has much of a financial value is a moot point. One of the best-run clubs in the Premier League, with a net profit in the last three years, though it will be altogether harder to extend that sequence because of the impact of COVID-19. Plenty of good people, too; as those who know Burnley can testify, they have recruited well off the field and the club is run on the right principles. They are overachievers on the pitch, too, with two top-10 finishes in the last three seasons. In Sean Dyche, they get a manager who has enabled them to punch far above their economic weight, as his average annual net spend of £9 million indicates. Dyche’s methods may lack aesthetic appeal but they have tended to work and suggest this season’s slow start is just that.
And yet much of the value comes simply from one thing: Premier League status. Dyche promises permanence in the top flight but could also prove the equivalent of Martin O’Neill at Leicester and Alan Curbishley at Charlton; his eventual departure, whenever it may be, could be the prelude to demotion. His players understand Dycheball, but some may be less suited to another style of play. His ageing squad means a rebuild will be required and offers less of a chance to recoup funds than, say, Bournemouth’s when they went down. Beyond Nick Pope, James Tarkowski, Dwight McNeil and, to a lesser extent, Chris Wood, few would command major fees.
And then there is the issue of Burnley itself, a town of 88,000 people in one of the more deprived parts of the country. They have a loyal fanbase but, surrounded by rivals and relatively near super-clubs, not much chance to dramatically increase it; in a world where crowds were permitted, Burnley’s average attendance was almost a quarter of the town’s population and their annual matchday income around £6 million; Turf Moor, one of the least deluxe top-flight grounds, is not particularly lucrative.
So what does £200 million buy? The golden share, the place in the Premier League and its guarantee of at least £100 million in television revenue. Take that away, however, and even with parachute payments, much of the value goes. Shahid Khan paid between £150 million and £200 million for Fulham in 2013. They were promptly relegated and his asset diminished in value. It may have risen since then, but perhaps only temporarily. And Fulham, with their London location, has advantages Burnley lacks.
And with football in a state of flux, Premier League proposals threaten financial models. Should anyone manage to pull up the drawbridge, remove relegation and ringfence the division then Burnley’s value would mushroom. Yet that is not in the wider interests of the game, or the self-interest of the big six. Maybe a Premier League Two would add an element of insurance. But Project Big Picture’s ideas included reducing the revenue of the lower-ranking teams and reducing the division to 18 clubs; that would represent a ticking timebomb to Burnley and their ilk. Sooner or later, they would be imperilled.
And the price explains why some choose to speculate to accumulate, even if it is a policy that has cost some millions when their plans have backfired. One good season and one poor one in East Lancashire and perhaps Blackburn would be worth £200 million and Burnley £50 million, rather than vice versa. Neighbours both belong in the bracket of clubs who can get into the top flight and stay in it – Rovers’ last spell spanned 11 years – but who could spend years, even decades, outside it.
They have less potential than big-city clubs like Aston Villa, Leeds or Newcastle, all recent Championship clubs but who all promise a long-term sustainability in the Premier League. Andrea Radrizzani’s £45 million purchase of Leeds, even if it then required further investment, feels money well spent.
In contrast, getting Burnley at £200 million would be buying a club at the top of their value. It can only go in one direction. Much like Dyche’s feat in taking them to seventh in 2018, the only way thereafter is down. It is just a question of when and how and how much.
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