Debt! Who needs debt when you have profit!

In April 2009 Forbes magazine published a list of the World 25 Richest clubs.  The list unsurprisingly is headed by Manchester United and Real Madrid, with Arsenal surprisingly in third place.  What how do they actually define profit?  Well as only a few of the clubs in the Top 25 are publically listed they can actually be very ambiguous in how they class certain expenses and so the true position is slightly different.  Profit is also a short term measure.  You can run a business at a loss for years on end and pile up massive debt but in one year when you actually make profit you could appear on this list simply by selling one player, or the naming rights to a stadium.

So Manchester United’s £80m sale of Christiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid will almost certainly keep them at the top of the list next season as that is money they apply straight away to their P & L.  Now here’s the thing.  Accounting regulations allow them to book that money straight away as revenue, despite the fact Real Madrid may only pay the £80m in installments.  And Real Madrid will not show an £80m payment all in one go, they will write that off over a period of years – thus completely defeating the object of double-keeping in accounting.

So in order to judge which clubs are the best run financially in the world we should consider the long term situation, and the impact of debt.  At the start of the 2008/09 Premier League season there were only two clubs who had no debt – Hull City and unbelievably West Ham United.  Despite all of the financial issues surrounding the club, West Ham actually had no debt.  That was because when the original Icelandic take over went through, the debt was wiped out completely and transfered to the parent company, Hansa.  When Hansa went under then their assets which included the club were transfered to new owners, but the club was/is still debt free (apparently).

So, according to World Soccer Magazine the list of the most indebted clubs in the world can be revealed as:-

1. Manchester United – esimated debt £699million.  Includes interest accuring at 14.25% annually on the original £556m Glazer family loans.

Estadio Bernabau2. Real Madrid – £494million.  No surprises here and this is before the borrowing from various banks for Kaka and Ronaldo.  Very little in terms of assets they can sell off to re-finance as well.

3. Atletico Madrid – £449million.  Built up over decades chasing the La Liga dream.  Some expensive acquisitions have got them to this point although a deal to sell their Vincente Calderon stadium is due soon to reduce this.

mestalla4. Valencia – £441million.  Up to their necks in it.  Their new stadium is only partly built as they still cannot find a buyer for the Mestalla.  Even the sale of prize asset David Villa will not even make a dent in this amount.

The Emirates5. Arsenal – £416million.  Poor deluded Gunners who think they are financially secure because of the stadium.  They borrowed £200m for its construction and now owe double that.  Wenger’s transfer inactivity is nothing to do with his prudence.  Failure to make the Champions League Group Stages will have a serious impact on them financially.

Nou Camp6. Barcelona – £384million*.  Despite being the best team in the world, and the highest average attendance, the club is in serious debt like the rest of them.

7. Chelsea – £339million.  Halved from the £701m last year but that is because £360million owed to owner Abramovich was converted into shares in Chelsea Village plc.  Peter Kenyon made some bold statements in the past that Chelsea would be profitable by 2010, and this is how – convert debt (and interest) to equity.

Stadio Olimpico 8. AS Roma – £330million.  The most indebted Italian club and one that has lurched from crisis to crisis.  Do not own their own stadium so cannot use that as a bargaining chip.  The Sensi family who own the club are being put under pressure to seriously reduce this amount.

Liverpool9. Liverpool – £313million.  And you wonder why the stadium project is so slow to start.  Neither Gillett or Hicks is prepared to dig deeper into their own pockets considering they still owe so much.

10. Deportivo La Coruna – £257million*.  Remember La Coruna?  Tried to challenge the big two a few years back, reached the Champions League semi-final?  Sounds a bit like Leeds United really, but far far more serious.  Now light years behind on the pitch and limited commercial opportunities off the pitch.

11. Villarreal – £210million*. The latest Spanish club to try and break the big two.  Some success so far but at what price?

12. Fulham – £197million.  A surprise to many to be so high up on a global football list, but Mohamed Al-Fayed has ploughed in over £174million into the club in over a decade which will need to be paid back at some point we would think.  The real estate value of Craven Cottage is undoubtably worth more than the overall debt though.

City of Manchester13. Manchester City – £147million.  Still waiting for annual accounts to see how this debt has been accounted for by the new owners.  Will give Real Madrid a run for their money in terms of spending this year though, although they will struggle to make an impact on the higher reaches of the Premier League for a few seasons.

14. Espanyol – £133million*. Building of their new stadium near the airport has increased the overall debt.

The San Siro15. Internazionale – £125million.  Whilst they are the current Serie A champions, and have a wealthy benefactor in Massimo Moratti, they have few assets to their name which is a concern.

16. Racing Santander – £120million*.  Who, many will say.  Highest finish in La Liga has been8th back in 2008, never won a major trophy and play in a very small stadium in hardly a hot bed of football.  Have not got a clube how they could have run up so much debt!

17. Newcastle United – £106million.  Oh dear.  Heavily in debt, relegated from the Premier League, owner trying to off load the club.  Not looking good for a team that played Champions League football 10 years ago.

18. Real Zaragoza – £98million*.  Another Spanish club who have racked up debts trying to keep up with the big boys and have suffered relegation all too recently.

19. Sevilla – £96million*.  Recent on field success in the domestic leagues and two UEFA Cup’s have not translated into success financially.

Riverside Middlesbrough20. Middlesbrough – £93million.  Thank God for Steve Gibson who has covered all of their debts, including the building of the Riverside and some expensive overseas imports that has seen the club suffer relegation twice in ten years.

*Figures for Spanish clubs estimated by Professor Gay, a leading football industry commentator through his blog.

So to summarise, the Premier League is the richest in the world but had eight of the most indebted clubs within its legion of twenty last season, owing a whopping £2.2 BILLION.  Spain’s La Liga topped that with over £2.7 billion – quite unbelievable.  Notice there are no German clubs here – a league that has proper financial controls.

And I worried when I missed a payment date on my credit card!!

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