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Everton, Debt, and Billionaires

Elite football is the plaything of the world’s richest people.

Alisher Usmanov

Financial Fair Play, whether in England alone or in Europe as a whole, is about maintaining the status quo. It is sold as something for the fans to keep football clubs solvent, but its enforcement doesn’t save the Bury’s of the world, it instead threatens any club that tries to change their financial standing in the game. It’s no accident that the two clubs most famously penalized under the European FFP system are Manchester City and Paris St. Germain. None of us will feel bad for clubs funded by sketchy oil money getting a bit of comeuppance, but at their core these two clubs represent the new money trend that threatens the establishment of the Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Juventus’ of the world. It’s not like either club was was at risk of being insolvent or folding, the intent of FFP investigations was to keep them in their place until they had paid their dues.

Everton has found itself in a similar situation. Despite reports of record losses at the club (which we covered here) we all know that with Farhad Moshiri involved and Alisher Usmanov hovering, there is zero threat of the financial stability of this club. Even with the 85% ratio of wages in relations to revenues (well over the UEFA-mandated 70% figure), if FFP were truly designed to be a failsafe protecting clubs from insolvency, it would have no questions for Everton because there are two billionaires ensuring the club has as much money as it needs.

In practice, the way the rules of Financial Fair Play work is that you need money from European football in order to have the revenues to buy the players you need to consistently play European football. A club that extends itself into risky FFP waters to get those players is subject to censure if everything doesn’t go perfectly on the pitch, therefore most clubs do not risk it and more or less the same clubs play in Europe each season. Gone are the days where a billionaire can arrive at a place like Chelsea and just pump money in until they are secure among European elite without concern, now you have to push the envelope on an arbitrary set of rules and hope it all works out.

All of this said, billionaires generally become billionaires for a reason. They know how to find financially beneficial loopholes, and that’s exactly what the new deal with USM (owned by Usmanov) over an option to name the stadium is. If you’re curious about more details we covered it here. According to FFP, all deals for sponsorship have to represent ‘fair market value’ (if that sounds subjective and arbitrary to you that’s because it is). Conveniently for the clubs already in Europe’s old boy’s club, ‘fair market value’ for sponsoring them is far more money than clubs like Everton would be allowed to have, even if its coming directly from their oil money owners. So the £30m number represents what Moshiri and Usmanov think they can get by with for now as they offset the ‘record losses’ reported at the AGM.

Everton FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Modern football is in many ways a shell game for the super rich, and don’t mistake me, Everton are doing their part to play the game themselves. This isn’t the only thing Usmanov has sponsored at Everton, and it probably won’t be the last. Doing an ‘option to become the stadium sponsor’ allows him to double dip later and pour more money into Everton in a full stadium naming rights deal later on. What he and Moshiri are hoping is that as clubs like Arsenal destabilize to the point that we can take their place, but it’s very hard for that to happen when the Gunners’ revenues are bolstered by decades of European play and the notoriety and fanbase that comes with it.

To sum all of this up, I really don’t even raise an eyebrow at the club’s financial reports as long as Moshiri is still deeply committed to the project. His hiring of a big-time manager like Carlo Ancelotti sends a very clear message that at least for the foreseeable future, that will be the case. He and Usmanov will continue to find creative ways to get the club funds, and frankly its a shame that they have to search for loopholes to do it, because the rules they are finding technicalities in are really only designed to protect the world’s biggest clubs from upstart challengers. If this sort of relationship with billionaires and their corporations is unsettling to you, I completely understand, but if we dream of being among England and Europe’s elite, that’s just the name of the game in modern football.