Analysing the High Risks and Rewards of Premier League Ownership

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistNovember 11, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 09:  Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Wigan Athletic at Stamford Bridge on May 9, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

So, you think you have what it takes to become an owner of one of the 20 clubs in the English Premier League? 

Do you think it's all glitz and glamour, and you can purchase whoever you want to don the kit of your club? 

Well, think again.

Being an owner in the Premier League is a risky investment that would leave even the confident Gordon Gekko double and triple checking his decision to be involved in the lucrative business that could reap a high reward or become a high risk if not done correctly. 

We all know the stories of success presented by Chelsea and Manchester City, but we are also aware of the plight of clubs such as Portsmouth and Bradford City. 

Every owner who enters the fray of the EPL is usually welcomed with thousands of cheers from the club's supporters at the beginning, but those cheers can be easily turned into boos very quickly if the job is not done right. 

Just take a look at Portsmouth Football Club on the south coast of England for an example of how things can go miserably wrong. 

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 30:  General views of Fratton Park prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Portsmouth and Arsenal at Fratton Park on December 30, 2009 in Portsmouth, England. Portsmouth Football Club has been issued with a windin
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

As recent as the 2009-10 season, they owned a coveted spot in the Premier League, and now they are mired in League Two, the fourth pillar of English football, after an ownership crisis that began during their last season in the top flight. 

Under the direction of Sulaiman Al-Fahim, whose name still carries a negative connotation in and around Fratton Park, Pompey fell into a financial crisis where on numerous occasions players claimed that they were not paid. 

Since owning a top-level football club was too much for Al-Fahim, he ceded control of the club just 40 days after purchasing it from former owner Alexandre Gaydamak.

The man who stepped in for Al-Fahim, Ali al-Faraj, was not too successful either, and before the season would end, Balram Chainrai was the man with all the power and Portsmouth were placed into administration.

Just two seasons later, with most of their prized assets gone and their new owner, Vladimir Antonov, who was facing a legal struggle, the south coast side were once again placed into administration and dumped down to the third tier of English football, League One. 

The next season's fate was sealed from the start after Pompey were handed a 10-point deduction to start the season. 

With the club still mired in crisis, and without most of their professional players, they dropped to League Two, where they last played during the 1979-80 season.

Luckily, the ugly reminder of how sour ownership can get at Portsmouth finally got under control, as the Pompey Supporters Trust now owns the club. 

Portsmouth FC and Fratton Park are now owned by the Pompey Supporters' Trust
Portsmouth FC and Fratton Park are now owned by the Pompey Supporters' TrustSteve Bardens/Getty Images

All of this misery for fans of the club could have easily been avoided if Al-Fahim knew the depths of what he was getting into back in 2009. 

If Al-Fahim has been able to pay all of his staff back in that dreadful year, we definitely would not have seen Pompey buried down in League Two. There is no guarantee that they would have stayed in the EPL, but they surely would not have fallen as far as they have if they had a steady hand running the club.

Unfortunately for the devoted club football fans in England, the case of Portsmouth's demise is just the latest example of a poorly handled ownership situation that left everyone questioning how someone could do this to a club and their supporters. 

Another case of a club plummeting from the EPL into the lower leagues is the one of Bradford City in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The club who recently marveled us with a dream run to the Capital One Cup final last season, saw plenty of success under the ownership of Geoffrey Richmond. 

Richmond purchased the club in 1994, and during his time as owner the Bantams played in the EPL for two seasons, but after they were relegated to the second division, catastrophe struck the club. 

By finishing with 26 points during the 2000-01 season, the Bantams secured relegation and the slide down the English footballing ladder that sometimes accompanies it. 

Just like Portsmouth a decade after them, Bradford City were placed into administration twice before falling back into League Two. 

At the end of their dream campaign last season, the passionate fan base of the Bantams finally had something to celebrate as they secured promotion to League One and began the long road back to the EPL. 

Bradford City earned promotion to League One in 2013 after years of suffering in League Two.
Bradford City earned promotion to League One in 2013 after years of suffering in League Two.Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

With Bradford City finally finding success once again, it is a reminder to all of us of how rapidly a club can cascade down the English footballing pyramid and how long it takes them to thrive again.

Both tales are cautionary ones that owners of relegated sides must know about before they take over a struggling club in the EPL. 

Just recently, Blackburn Rovers, the one-time champion of the EPL, were handed a bit of heartbreaking news as the much maligned ownership group that has sacked managers at an alarming rate revealed that they lost £36.5 million after their exit from the top flight two years ago, according to BBC Sport. 

That loss is a staggering one that has killed many clubs before, and if Blackburn do not get their finances in line soon, they could face the same fate as Portsmouth and Bradford City once did. 

While there are plenty of examples of ownership failure in the history of the lucrative EPL, there are a few success stories as well led by Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour. 

Back in June 2003, Abramovich took control of Chelsea from Ken Bates, and with the purchase came an influx of money that would turn around the fortunes of the club.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18: Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich smiles during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on August 18, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Once the Russian billionaire began to splash the cash in West London, the Blues began to dominate the EPL under the managerial direction of the man who came to be known as "The Special One," Jose Mourinho. 

Under the volatile, yet always entertaining, first reign of Abramovich and Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, the Blues turned themselves into one of the most successful clubs not only in England, but in Europe. 

Expensive acquisitions like Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien combined with England internationals John Terry and Frank Lampard to form a core that would win back-to-back titles during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. 

LONDON - OCTOBER 15:  Didier Drogba of Chelsea celebrates scoring during the Barclays Premiership match between Chelsea and Bolton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge on October 15, 2005 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

The two title-winning seasons early on in his reign set the tone for the high standard that the trigger-happy Abramovich has had ever since. 

After plenty of managerial changes and a multitude of expensive transfers, Abramovich and Mourinho have come full circle and are looking to bring glory back to the club as they search for the Blues' first league title since 2010.

In the years after Mourinho's departure, the Blues have captured an additional league title, three FA Cups and the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League title with managers like Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto di Matteo and Rafa Benitez in charge.

Abramovich's high standard at Chelsea may have inspired the current owners of Manchester City to pursue success at the highest level. 

Back in 2008, the club that had played second fiddle to Manchester United for decades could have collapsed into financial ruin, thanks to owner Thaksin Shinawatra. 

But instead of letting the Thai businessman who did not have a clue of how to run a football club according to then-manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, destroy the top flight status of the Citizens, a group led by Sheikh Mansour bought the club. 

With the purchase by the Abu Dhabi United Group, the sky blue side of Manchester began its rise of historic proportions.

It all began with the transfer of Robinho from Real Madrid, which although ruled unsuccessful on a performance basis, was a statement that City's new owners were serious about success, and they wanted it as soon as possible. 

After Robinho joined City, plenty of other superstars joined the cause, but it was when the second wave of world-class talent entered Eastlands that they became a title contender.

Powered by a last-second goal by Sergio Aguero on the final day of the 2011-12 season, City became champions of England and finally broke through the "Big Four" threshold set by United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool for good. 

Since winning their first league championship since 1968, City have continued to spend on the best players in the world in search of consistent success at the top.

While they have not reached the highest achievement in Europe yet, winning the Champions League, the Citizens have laid out a path under Mansour and the group from Abu Dhabi that will eventually lead them to the ultimate promised land, just like Chelsea. 

Many owners will try to copy the paths of Manchester City and Chelsea when they take over EPL clubs in the future, but only few will succeed, while the majority are likely to turn out like the relegation-ridden sides like Portsmouth and Bradford City.

When done right, owning an EPL side can turn a mediocre team into one that will contend at the highest level for years.

When done wrong, we will get to talk about the rather unfortunate side effects that mismanagement at the top has on the performance of a club for close to a decade or longer. 

Owning an EPL club and doing it in a successful manner is quite the difficult task, but if owners did not strive for success in the first place, the EPL would just be your average, run-of-the-mill domestic league, which it is far from in the year 2013. 

Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90. 


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