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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Will the Chelsea acquisition be a defining moment for the Premier League?

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More hours before the 9pm Friday deadline to bid for Chelsea, the Todd Boehly-led consortium seemed confident. There is optimism that they have the best full offering, right down to fan participation.

Other well-placed sources urge extra caution and say don’t look where the noise is coming from. They insist that some of the most interested parties have not yet come out in the open because they do not feel the need to show this in public. “There are more postures than reality, on all sides.” What is certain is that, as of Friday morning, the number of games in any type of advanced stage was not more than three.

On Friday it will be revealed who is serious. The same sources insist that the interest of the Saudi Research and Media Group is well founded. Much could depend on internal politics in Saudi Arabia and whether Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman would want two clubs under the influence of his state. Sources close to the Public Investment Fund (PIF), owner of Newcastle United, doubt that it will happen.

If successful, however, that would leave open the possibility that Saudi Arabia’s top ruler essentially has influence over 10 per cent of the Premier League. That, according to several football and business figures in Saudi Arabia, “would totally undermine the integrity of the Premier League.”

As for how that prospect will be acted upon, that’s where it gets even more complicated.

The Raine Group, which is handling the sale on behalf of Chelsea, will make the main decision on the bidders. A lot will depend on the factors that influence the decision, but keeping the club at the highest level is known to be one of them. The UK government is involved in granting the new license allowing the sale and ensuring that no money goes to Roman Abramovich.

After that, the Premier League Owners and Directors Test will decide if the successful bidders are eligible.

The process will tell us if football has really learned a lot in recent weeks and if we are moving into a new era, where the game is more attentive to how it has been hijacked by much higher powers.

This entire history of Chelsea has articulated a series of fundamental questions for the governance of the sport. There is the unconditional embrace of any money, the protection of the clubs, the slowness of regulation and, above all, how precariously subject football is to forces beyond its control. This is the geopolitical position in which the game has gotten itself.

Abramovich’s forced departure shattered the distant fantasy that the Premier League could forever remain untouched by the concerns of the real world.

Roman Abramovich wants to sell Chelsea after 19 years as owner of the Stamford Bridge club

(PA cord)

The tide is going out, to paraphrase Warren Buffett, and we are only now finding out who has been swimming around in the clothes of an emperor, or maybe of state. Where once the Premier League saw international investment in as many clubs as piles of cash, it now seems like there are plenty of potential problems and financial holes. Gary Neville took to the country’s flagship live football show on Sky Sports and pointed to the various clubs affected by this, referencing the Chinese investment in Wolves and saying that Manchester City may have a problem with their Abu Dhabi ownership. . He didn’t go so far as to elaborate on the UAE’s own war in Yemen and the growing turn to Russia, and the long-term problems that may cause, but it was a historic moment. He forced a mainstream audience to confront discussions that had been bubbling under the surface. Officials at some clubs were said to be “furious”. There was at least some “unrest” within the Premier League.

The game knows that trouble is coming. The most progressive voices see it as a great opportunity.

“This is the time,” says a prominent source, “for both the Premier League and the Football Association. This is the opportunity.

The big question, as Neville argued, is whether the sport is equipped to tackle it. Is there vision? Is there a forecast? Or will everything come back to the fore, until the next periodic crisis that pushes the game a little closer to the reckoning everyone knows is coming?

Initial signs, speaking to a variety of sources for this piece, don’t indicate any kind of big change.

In public, the Premier League’s director of policy and corporate affairs, Helen MacNamara, made some of the right noises when she spoke to the government select committee on Monday. She confirmed that they had been in talks with Amnesty about the human rights provisions and said the competition is enthusiastic “entry tests can be strengthened”. That’s encouraging but vague.

That’s partly because, privately, the Premier League is still formulating ideas. “There is a much greater awareness of all this now,” says a source. Another description was that “the scales have fallen from the eyes of the people.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean you follow the clearest vision.

The general mood is that there is no desire for big changes. Chief Executive Richard Masters would rather monitor than review. For all the fuss over potential human rights provisions, the independent you have been told that the main solution currently being considered is the adoption of the EU register.

“That would be a pretty low bar,” says a source. “It would still allow almost anyone to exclude the oligarchs, and that’s only from the last few weeks.”

Meanwhile, the clubs will never vote for changes, because they don’t want to further erode a small field of potential buyers.

That sums up the core issue, and how much of it stems from what the Premier League is and how it has developed.

Former CEO Richard Scudamore established a philosophy that the competition was to be a truly global league, encouraging investment from anywhere, and that in a country deliberately structured to do the same. Scudamore’s own belief was what would settle the market. Oh, that has happened well. It’s just that the market isn’t a completely independent force either, as the Chelsea case showed. Before then, this atmosphere was only amplified by a Conservative government, the dynamic peaking with the way the politics of Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Britain framed the Newcastle takeover.

Sources within the Premier League point out how that process still took two contentious years despite criticism, with the green light ultimately coming from legal precedence. The problem with a moment that only represented a continuation of what happened before is that it also became a milestone in itself.

Former Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore

(The overlap)

If it is the Saudi offer that comes with Chelsea, for example, the acquisition of Newcastle would, absurdly, make the whole thing impossible to stop. It would be very difficult to single out overt state influence as a concern when they had already accepted “legally binding assurances” that PIF was separate from that state.

So the situation can get worse, instead of better. That line never exists, in the way that the game really needs it. Some figures within football are already talking about how the Masters was “like a rabbit in the headlights” with the acquisition of Newcastle.

The Premier League may well reach reductio ad absurdum, a point of absurdity it cannot exceed. The great irony would be that it began to damage the international image of the competition.

The Premier League would again have to react too late, as it always does. That has been one of the problems.

Competition-related figures argue that this is the nature of the beast, and that you can only adapt to situations as they arise. They point to how regulations have been changed in the wake of cases like Carson Yeung at Birmingham City, as well as the collapses of Leeds United and Portsmouth.

“What you will find is that the regulatory framework is often behind the regulatory needs,” says one source.

Then there will be changes after Abramovich, but they won’t be drastic.

“There will be more checks and balances,” adds the source. “They will not be wholesale blockades against investment funds or states or individuals with high purchasing power.”

Other individuals involved argue that this just shows a stasis in thought as the world changes around them.

Worse still, even if there were reformers in English football, none of them have the task. The game is too fractured, with everything in the wake of the Premier League, and the Premier League controlled by the clubs. That’s the nature of the beast, but now, in terms of ownership, that beast is Frankenstein’s monster. He has gone too far to control. Ownership decisions already made mean the Premier League has little choice regarding future decisions.

Many in the body simply argue that this is simply the correct procedure. Scudamore himself used to say that you couldn’t do a “jib cut test”, where acquisitions were decided on what felt right. Everything has to be legally defensible.

It simply means that legal restrictions are always catching up.

The hope is that this will not be the case with the “golden stock.” The idea of ​​fans having a right of veto on issues related to the club’s heritage, such as the crest and colours, was one of the main recommendations of Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review. It’s just that it hasn’t been implemented yet.

the independent He has been told the government will not make it a condition of takeover, but there is hope that the momentum behind the review and pressure from the Chelsea Supporters Trust will make a difference.

“We have made it explicitly clear to DCMS that the recommendations from the review must be included in any sale, including a gold share for fans,” a Trust statement read.

“The sale of Chelsea FC represents a fantastic opportunity for the Government to show that it is really serious about improving the governance of football for the benefit of fans.”

It is still possible that this acquisition falls into a regulatory limbo in that sense, although it has been four months. That is the time that has passed since the review was published.

It is not infeasible that the limbo for Chelsea continues as well. Many other Premier League officials are excited to see what’s next.

There is still pain from the acquisition of Newcastle. Some want Chelsea to pay for what are seen as years of unfair advantages.

It means that there really isn’t that room to maneuver. If Chelsea is sold too cheap, it will be considered anti-competitive. If the £1.5bn debt to Abramovich is cancelled, there will be discussions about a points deduction. On the other hand, however, there will be complaints if someone too rich enters. That will not be seen as any kind of penalty.

Some of this is undeniably driven by self-interest, and that illustrates how difficult any kind of clear path is.

“We are at a turning point in English football,” said Nigel Huddleston, Under Secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The problem is that the interests are so labyrinthine that there may be another 50 tipping points after that. That’s what we saw with the Super League. It is as if the game moves ever closer to a reckoning that has not yet come, but perpetually postpones what must be done to prevent it.

With this, no one really believes that states or quasi-state organizations will be prohibited from buying clubs. The time will not come.

What happens next with Chelsea will tell us a lot, but it will be far from the last word.


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