Will debt end England's Euro 'golden era'?

With the Champions League group stages getting underway this week, FourFourTwo regular Richard Edwards ponders whether UEFA's tough new stance on club debt could end England's 'golden era' in Europe's elite competition

He may have a girl’s name but Michel Platini is taking a muscular approach to the thorny twin-problems of debt and foreign ownership.

With Spurs (yes Spurs) and Manchester United already having began their Champions League campaigns last night, and Arsenal and Chelsea kicking off this evening, there’s every sign that the Frenchman's big push against Europe’s most debt-ridden clubs could have a serious impact on the English clubs for whom the continent’s biggest competition has become a second home.

United and Chelsea fans will not need reminding that last season’s Champions League represented the first time in seven years that no English clubs had appeared in the last four of the tournament and one sage analyst believes that the days when at least one of the Premier League’s ‘big four’ could saunter into the latter stages of the competition, cigar and cocktail in hand, could be at an end.

Simon Chadwick is a professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University, and is a man whose words pack a punch when it comes to looking at the rather more serious aspects of the beautiful game - a sort of Arsene Wenger of the academic world.

As such his words of warning should reverberate around the corridors of power at the Premier League and the boardrooms of the English clubs consistently dining at Europe’s top table.

Under the new rules clubs will only be able to spend what they earn, which may represent a victory for common sense, but could signal defeat for those clubs who have built up hugely expensive squads and equally impressive debts.

The legislation would also prevent owners such as Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich pumping massive sums into clubs to buy players or fund exorbitant wages, although it wouldn’t preclude them from ploughing money into building stadiums or financing youth academies.

The new rules will come into effect in 2012 and will be phased in over a six-year period, by which time English clubs might find themselves playing a furious game of catch-up.


"People have repeatedly said that the Premier League is the best league in the world but as in any other industry, football is an industry of booms and busts," Chadwick tells FFT. 


"We have an incredibly affluent Premier League that’s unrecognisable from the old First Division of 20 years ago.

"I think there is going to be a period of austerity because the Premier League couldn’t just keep on getting bigger and stronger."

Despite goings-on at Manchester City, the recent activity, or lack of it, during the transfer windows appears to suggest that the clubs who operate in the real world are taking the same approach to economic management as George Osborne and his Tory and Lib Dem cronies, with deficit cutting far more of a priority than splashing the cash.

Mesut Ozil’s move to Real Madrid, instead of Manchester United this summer, once again indicated that La Liga is Europe’s top dog, while Germany’s Bundesliga is now held up as an example for the rest of Europe to follow.

"English and Spanish clubs are definitely more susceptible to falling foul of these new regulations and clearly the level of debt that any club is carrying is going to attract UEFA’s attention,î says Chadwick.


"Equally any clubs that have been taken over or might be taken over by rich business people who are prepared to spend a lot of money are also going to be open to scrutiny.


"English clubs are far more open to this kind of takeover than those on the continent."

Clearly the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and even the notoriously Champions League shy Real Madrid won’t be queuing up to take on the likes of United, Chelsea, Arsenal (and maybe even Spurs) this season but by the time Platini’s dream comes to fruition the Champions League could be a very different place.


So make the most of any progress made by English clubs this time around – because it might not last.

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