Renaissance of the Lion? Has the EPL reignited the glory days of English football in Europe?

Champions in Europe

In the heat of the Brexit debate in the English Parliament a few (months) ago, the then retiring PM Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were jibing about the English teams in Europe. Quoting Corbyn, he stated,

“In view of the amazing performance of Liverpool last night, perhaps the prime minister could take some tips from Jürgen Klopp on how to get a good result in Europe.”

To which the PM replied, 

“I actually think that when we look at the Liverpool win over Barcelona last night, what it shows is that when everyone says it’s all over, that your European opposition have got you beat, the clock is ticking down, it’s time to concede defeat, actually we can still secure success if everyone comes together.”

The gist of banter was to show the supremacy of the English Premier League teams. Both politicians were right to gloat about the dominance of the team. In the most prestigious football leagues in the world, the Champions League and Europa League, England had 4 of its teams in the Finals. What’s even more fascinating, the finalists in these leagues finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively. If you include the semi-finalists, the top team and 6th best from the EPL come into play.

Taking a trip to last year’s World Cup in Russia, England managed to best even the pundits to finish 4th after a fairy tale tournament. Under the guidance of then unfancied Gareth Southgate, as well as a youthful and untested team, the “Three Lions” managed to upset the formbook to book a place in the Semis, to be undone by the Croats.

Making the semis and accumulating $22 million in prize money as well as related TV earnings, endorsements and sponsorships have seen the English national team become the darling of the English media and companies too.

Does the club dominance and national team advancement indicate a renaissance of English football?

Conquering Europe…

Analysis from The Guardian (an English publication) annual review of the English Premier League clubs shows the 20 EPL teams made record revenues of $ 6.09 billion (approx.£ 4.87b). Compare this with the German Bundesliga which recorded revenues of $ 4.89 billion for 36 clubs in the two top divisions, or the Spanish La Liga with $ 4.87 billion for all 42 clubs in its top two leagues. Notice how the latter two have combined the top leagues compared to the EPL’s 20 clubs?

Observers have attributed the record revenues to the EPL’s lucrative international TV rights and once again the top clubs’ European success. This will be translated to increased revenues from UEFA TV and expected prize money.

In the KPMG’s Soccer Clubs’ Enterprise Value 2019 ranking, the EPL’s takes the lion’s share with 6 clubs – with Manchester United at $ 3,56 billion being toppled from the top by Spain’s Real Madrid. London-based and 2019 UEFA Champions League Finalists rounds up the English teams in the top 10 at number 9 valued at $ 1.85 billion.

This KPMG report also known as the Football Benchmark use five football-specific measures to extrapolate an Enterprise Value (EV), broadcasting rights, profitability, popularity, sporting potential and stadium ownership.

Andrea Sartori, KPMG’s Global Head of Sports noted, 

“For the third consecutive year, the overall EV of the 32 most prominent European football clubs has increased by 9%…The transition of major clubs into media and entertainment companies, with global brand exposure, also helps create more stable and predictable cash flows and consequently better warranties to investors and financiers”.

The situation is replicated in the Deloitte’s Bull’s Eye Football Money League 2019 report with a similar scenario to KPMG’s report of 6 EPL sides. See the infographic below:

Image result for deloitte football money league 2019

{Image courtesy of Deloitte Finance}

These reports have buttressed the growing dominance of the English clubs in the European top flight. Critiques though have been quick to note that the top 6 EPL teams including both Manchester City and United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham are pulling away from the rest of the 20 teams.

Millions have been spent to secure the best signings – the EPL has the most expensive, goal-keeper and most expensive defender (interestingly England is ahead of the pack of other European countries in player buying records at 15 of all record-signings, compared to Italy’s 8 and Argentina’s 5.

The EPL introduced the Home-Grown Player rule as part of an initiative to have the Premier League nurture talent from its own shores rather than buy its way to expensive talents as noted above. The hope is to offer a higher chance of the League producing better quality of English and other British players. 

The success of the “Three Lions” in 2018 may have finally started bearing fruits to the EPL’s head honchos looking to have cracked the nut. The same would said to the clubs’ success with each of the top and mid-table teams having a player or two representing the country.

The clubs’ management and boards have pulled all stops to secure the services of the top managers from across Europe.  In recent times, the English clubs have also sought to expand their infrastructure with Tottenham opening a truly state-of-the-art edifice of a stadium. 

The youth system in each of the clubs is bearing fruit as can be seen by the budding talent that is the under-19 and under-21 English teams. 

What next?

Brexit or Be-in?

The biggest test now for the EPL is how the English democracy negotiates the Brexit process. Having cost two PMs their jobs, the process seems to be claiming heavy political casualties. The economy has also been shook as has been the country’s currency. It is subtly permeating the sports scene albeit not with the pronouncements that the politicos have been warping. 

The bigger battle now for the EPL is to ensure that this doesn’t destabilize the League and bring disrepute to it. Immigration and how to handle players coming from the other EU countries as well as less developed economies will become imperative.

When Brexit happens, footballers from these countries maybe treated in the same way non-EU footballers are currently treated. This means they will have to meet a certain criterion to obtain a work permit which would allow them to work (or play for that matter) in the UK as employees of a football club.

A study done by BBC in 2016 estimated that over 300 players in the English Premier League, Championship and Scottish Premiership would not satisfy the criteria set out for working in the UK. The other side of this would be the status of British players plying or hoping to move to major leagues in Europe. The increased administration in applying for work permits would be make less lucrative for most players.

Similarly, foreign coaches would suddenly face the same scrutiny and criteria to work in the UK. As of 2018-19 season 14 out of the 20 clubs in the EPL had a non-British coach at helm. After Brexit, the challenge of retaining or attracting these non-Briton coaches would be real.

The image of the EPL will endure a moderately stifled atmosphere – based on restricted movement and reducing financial power. While the current situation slightly proves the critics wrong, the move will have an effect in the next 2-3 seasons with their continental contemporaries making money moves – Real Madrid in Spain, PSG in France and Juventus in France are but some watching from the fringes.

The saving grace now is the current impasse of Brexit where the British government sought a delay to Q3, 2019 and the remote possibility of Brexit not happening at all should a second referendum point towards staying in the EU. The EPL bosses would be rubbing their hands for the latter.

The Football Association which runs the English national team while enjoying the glory of the men’s national team success, is still cognisant of the impact the game needs to make for continued success. Funding of grassroot football through the sale of Wembley stadium among other moves is a commendable effort. What remains to be seen is if this will be sustained in upcoming European engagements and replicated in the Middle East in 2022. The success of the junior teams will point towards achieving this success but with aplomb. 

With globalization changing the face of sport and indeed the biggest impact on the football game. The biggest teams in Europe have become major brands across the world. This will continue in expanding the clubs and corporate sponsorships therein. The rapid change in technology and how we consume media will enable the teams reach audiences far and wide. 

The English Premier League has been the most consistent of the European leagues in looking to deliver a holistic approach for clubs, owners, brand and game experiences. They continue to explore pockets of opportunity to grow the game as the fan demographics and consumption behaviour and expectations change.

For now, though, let’s enjoy the glory days of the Three Lions and the conquering teams of the English Premier League in Europe.

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