Recently, many top teams have been hit by financial difficulties. The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Inter Milan have struggled with spending far more than they earn for a while, but the lack of stadium revenue during pandemic furthered this problem.
With growing debt, many clubs are looking to sell more players to get rid of wages and earn a transfer fee. The owners of the clubs also may be looking to sell (see: Newcastle), or these clubs could end up sliding down leagues (see: Schalke). But who are some clubs that could be forced to do some of these things?
Inter Milan have very recently struggled with finances. In fact, the club has had rumors of liquidation (ceasing to exist), but this is unlikely and has been denied by numerous sources. However, it’s not totally out of the question with the club struggling for funds. There’s also reasoning that suggests that it will happen: the same thing happened to Jiangsu Suning, a team owned by the same owner Steven Zhang.
Whilst Inter Milan are undoubtedly a much bigger club, the similarities are startling. Same owners? Check. Defending league champions? Check. Big names in the squad? Check. Jiangsu even had an Italian manager, Fabio Capello.
Inter are likely to stick around, but they might start to slide down the league. Star quality has already started to leave, with Achraf Hakimi, Joao Mario, Ashley Young, and Antonio Candreva already exiting. Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku are rumored to be among the next departures.
Newcastle United’s fall from glory has been well-documented, going from being one of England’s top teams to one of England’s worst. This is in no small part due to unpopular owner Mike Ashley, who has made many controversial moves and ruined the finances of the club.
Newcastle have one of the highest debts in the Premier League despite languishing in the bottom half of the table for much of the club’s recent history. This has not be helped by the amount of largely unsuccessful, high-cost signings made by the club: Joelinton, Florian Thauvin, and Yoshinori Muto among others.
Mike Ashley has made many failed attempts to sell the club, too: a recent attempt to sell the club to Mohammed bin Salman fell apart in 2020 because of a poor human rights record. Until Newcastle can find a good suitor, the club will struggle financially.
One of Spain’s top teams, Valencia have only ever been relegated once (spending the 1986/87 season in Spain’s second tier). However, that could happen again very soon. After finishing two of the three previous seasons in Spain’s top four, Valencia finished last season in 13th.
Just three games above relegation, Valencia had only ten wins. That’s the lowest they finished with since the 1987/88 season, the season after they had been in the second tier.
A huge part of this is Peter Lim. The Singaporean owner had big plans for the club when he purchased it in 2014, but has been accused of the same thing Manchester United’s owners have: using the club to make himself richer. That’s hard to argue – Valencia haven’t paid a transfer fee since 2019.
Like Inter Milan, Valencia have had and will have a flow of departing players. Kevin Gameiro, Rodrigo, Ferran Torres, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Francis Coquelin, Dani Parejo, Neto, Santi Mina, Jeison Murillo, and Simone Zaza are just some of the names that have exited since 2019.
Like many teams across the world, Galatasaray are finding out that signing aging big name players is not sustainable. And yet, somehow, they continue to do it.
The Turkish giants have had some famous players over the years: Arda Turan, Didier Drogba, Radamel Falcao, Ryan Babel, Wesley Sneijder, and Lukas Podolski are just some of the names to pull on the jersey in the past. However, the club is struggling with finances now, and paying these players is partially to blame.
Galatasaray’s youth academy has produced some fine players: the likes of Emre Belözoglu and Ozan Kabak came from the youth academies. However, recently the focus has been on aging stars. This is because they attract more fans, revenue, and – the clubs hope – immediate success. However, now Galatasaray are struggling with the finances of this catching up to them (and, to an extent, the Turkish Super Lig in general).
Longtime midfielder Younes Belhanda recently was released for speaking out against how the club is being run, and manager Fatih Terim also questioned where the team’s money is being invested. Two stars, Radamel Falcao and Sofiane Feghouli, have also been told to leave the club as the wages they are paid are too high.
It’s not just players that Galatasaray are losing. They are also losing standing in the league. From 1990 to 2010, Galatasaray finished outside of the top five once. Since then? Three times.
Schalke have really fallen from grace. Just three years ago, Schalke were a Champions League Round of 16 team, preparing to face Manchester City (who they lost against terribly, but regardless…). Now, they prepare to face Erzgebirge Aue in the second tier of Germany.
I’ve covered what Schalke should have done differently in the past, but since then they have been relegated and are feeling the effects of it. So far, 24 players have already left the side and more will follow suit, with Schalke desperate to gain transfer fees and lower the wage bill.
Just like Galatasaray, Schalke need to trust their own youth academy more and expensive aging stars less. Some of the game’s best players came from Gelsenkirchen, so Schalke need to start trusting them and not pursuing signings of Sebastian Rudy and Kevin-Prince Boateng (who somehow plays for Hertha Berlin now?). Only then will they return to the top of Germany.
It’s hard to find lists that agree on which club has the most debt in the world, but one thing that pretty much everyone agrees on is that Barcelona is very, very close to the top, if not number one. Bloomberg puts Barcelona’s debt at over one billion euros, including unpaid wages and unpaid transfer fees, with the club not being as affected by the pandemic as it claimed to be.
Barcelona has put themselves in this hole: the sheer amount of wages and transfer fees that they pay is absurd. Only eleven players (Jack Grealish included) have ever cost over €100 million. Barcelona have bought three of them, all of whom (Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, and Antoine Griezmann) have failed to leave their mark at the Camp Nou.
Now they are paying the price, both literally and figuratively. Lionel Messi became the latest name to leave the club, as Barcelona didn’t have the finances to re-sign him. They also can’t register any of their new signings because they don’t have the budget to do so, with many players being quickly forced out the door.
But at least Barcelona are learning from their mistakes. Or are they? They have brought in Memphis Depay, Sergio Agüero, and Eric Garcia, all of whom, while free transfers, undoubtedly have massive wages. They also paid to have Emerson, who they sold to Betis two years earlier, brought back to Camp Nou. Have they ever heard of loans?
Meanwhile, many promising youngsters have again gone out the door due to lack of opportunities. Six of the team’s eight departures so far have been 23 or younger. Whilst short-term success isn’t beyond Barcelona, they’ll struggle in the long run.
The Super League is once again in discussion, and, with this list in mind, you can kind of see how “big” clubs might be interested. They need financial stability, and the Super League offers finances to these teams. However, the Super League just won’t work for many reasons.
If a Barcelona or Inter Milan get massive amounts of funds in a very short period of time, they won’t think about how they have the funds to pay off debts and invest in youth for the future. It will create the illusion of financial security and convince these teams that they can sign the best players in the world, like Erling Haaland, Robert Lewandowski, or Kylian Mbappe, and not worry about the finances involved. Over time, the debts will actually increase.
It is important that these teams find out the consequences of bad business in the transfer window and are forced to rethink their strategies. Clubs like Borussia Dortmund and Ajax have been able to be competitive in Europe by focusing heavily on youth. Even some big-spenders like Bayern Munich do better jobs than most clubs, scouting younger players whilst offering very low wages compared to the rest of Europe. Sooner or later, teams that don’t adapt will find out the hard way. Sunderland, Palermo, Deportivo La Coruña, and Eintracht Braunschweig were all playing in European tournaments once, too.
Which of these teams do you think will resolve their financial issues the soonest? Let me know in the comments!
Image Courtesy of m.caimary, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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