The debate about the English Premier League being the best in the world will go on for a good while yet, but one thing that cannot be argued is that the rate of money coming into the English game shows no sign of slowing down.
Much of that investment is from overseas, with around half of the clubs in both the top flight and the Championship having foreign owners or majority shareholders. Although this is not a recent phenomenon, the rate at which English clubs are being bought up is increasing.
Although the three clubs promoted to the Premier League this season are all actually UK owned, there will still be 12 out of 20 with owners from the US, Russia, Thailand and a number of Middle Eastern countries. There are some fans that see this as everything that is wrong with the game, but the money brought into the English game has changed everything.
Of course, investing heavily in English football is nothing new. There were always big, successful, moneyed clubs, but the investment put up by Jack Walker to help Blackburn Rovers win the title back in 1995 was the first real example of cash being poured into a club rather than being taken out. Walker was English, but he paved the way for foreign investment that revolutionised the game in the country – along with the record-breaking television deals that occurred at the same time.
With the amount of money to be made from playing in the Premier League, many foreign investors have poured cash into their new clubs. Marquee signings are a staple of a foreign takeover, but the money also goes into state-of-the-art training facilities and other off-field areas that have really changed the way that clubs are run these days.
Because there is so much money available to Premier League clubs, teams in the lower leagues have also started to be taken over by foreign investors. There are just as many Championship sides that have foreign owners, and part of the attraction is that – with money to buy the best players at that level – these clubs can win promotion and get to the promised land of the Premier League.
Cardiff City and Reading are just two examples of foreign-owned clubs, as well as Nottingham Forest, who have just seen one foreign investor replacing another with the Greek shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis taking over at the East Midlands club. There is also an ever-growing number of English clubs being bought up by Chinese owners seeing football as a good way to move money abroad as well as getting a good return on their investment.
Back in the Premier League, the money invested in clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City has brought them a haul of trophies in the last few years and has opened up the league to more competition – albeit between equally wealthy sides. Even last year’s campaign, which was regarded as a fairy tale after Leicester City ended up victorious, only came about because of massive investment from their Thai owners.
But for all the success stories, there are plenty more examples of how foreign investment has crippled a club after the potential that the money promised didn’t result in trophies. There are clubs in the lower leagues that have thrown money at an attempt to catapult into the top flight and become unstuck by owners who didn’t understand the game. Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers and Charlton Athletic have all struggled to turn investment into glory.
Even some of the biggest clubs in the land have not escaped controversy and troubles because of foreign money. Some Manchester United fans were so appalled by the way that the American Glazer family bought their club that they left and formed their own non-league outfit in an attempt to reclaim the true spirit of football. Liverpool and Arsenal fans have also protested against foreign owners in the past – for different reasons.
As long as there is an increasing amount of money in the English game, you will continue to see foreign investors buying up Premier League and Championship clubs. Some fans seem to accept this revolution as they hope to emulate the success stories of clubs regularly qualifying for the Champions League. However, football is not always that predictable, and these days, unless the new owners have even bigger reserves of cash than the owners already in the top flight, there is no guarantee that their investment will bring the results that they crave.