The clubs in the top divisions of European football were financially profitable overall for the second year running in 2017‑18 and far less saddled with debt than before financial fair play rules were introduced in 2011, according to continent-wide analysis conducted by Uefa.
The annual “benchmarking” report produced by European football’s governing body recorded generally booming attendances, TV income and commercial revenues across all leagues, but Uefa also sounded a warning about the widening financial and competitive gap between the richest elite clubs and the rest.
The report assessed the 2017-18 financial reports from all 712 clubs in the top divisions of Uefa’s 54 European member countries and found the Premier League has dramatically cemented its dominance over all other leagues during the past decade.
Uefa’s analysts found the combined revenues of the 20 Premier League clubs, €5.4bn, was more money than the 617 clubs in all 50 European leagues below the top four. The gap between the Premier League and the next wealthiest and most powerful leagues is also vast, its clubs making €2bn more than the Bundesliga, whose members made €3.2bn, and La Liga (€3.1bn), with Serie A clubs having earned €2.3bn and France’s Ligue 1 €1.7bn, a third of the Premier League’s total earnings.
Uefa and its president, Aleksander Ceferin, pointed to the generally increased financial strength of the European game, and major investment by 80% of clubs in their training facilities, as a transformational result of the FFP rules that require clubs to tightly restrict their losses. The overall profit, €140m, although down from €615m in 2016-17, the first profitable year, compares with losses of more than €5bn in 2008-11, the three years before the limits were introduced in response to concerns about football’s financial sustainability.
Ceferin described the improved financial landscape as “a testament to the success of FFP regulations, the stable European football ecosystem and sustained and sensible investment”. But he also cautioned about “threats” to the game’s stability: “These include the risks of globalisation-fuelled revenue polarisation, of a fragmenting media landscape, and of cases of over-dependence on transfer activity revenue.
“The report also shows that European club football is strong, united and resilient, and I am certain that European football can and will overcome these challenges and others just as successfully as it dealt with the threat of spiralling losses in the recent past.”
For several years Uefa under Ceferin has raised concerns about the game’s widening financial gap, and the concentration of success among an elite group of clubs, without so far achieving any agreement on whether or how it can be closed. Uefa’s strategy document for 2019 until the new football calendar is agreed in 2024 states that improving “competitive balance” is a core aim, for which “specific regulations” need to be developed, but the realistic possibilities are still being worked on at the organisation’s Swiss headquarters. Pressure from the major European clubs is in the opposite direction, for more lucrative Champions League matches from a reshaping of the competition after 2024, and there is very little talk of redistributing money more equally.
Uefa’s analysis found Manchester City spent more on transfers for Pep Guardiola during the 2017-18 financial year, €282m, when they signed players including Kyle Walker (£45m), Benjamin Mendy (£52m) and Aymeric Laporte (£57m), than any other club in football history. Manchester United, who spent €223m during that period, including £75m for Romalu Lukaku and £40m for Nemanja Matic, are cited as having also broken the record for the most money spent annually on signing players, €221m by Real Madrid in 2008-09.
United, still carrying borrowings and other financial charges loaded on the Glazer family since they took over the club in 2005, had the highest net debt in Europe, at €568m. Tottenham had the next highest net debt, €483m, due to the investment and cost of building their new stadium.