Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG have benefited from a swift injection of wealth since the turn of the millennium, but who should you buy if you suddenly became a billionaire today? Well, let us help you.
Back in 2003, when Roman Abramovich first started to think about buying a football club, investment bank UBS Warburg offered him a few options.
The first one – Manchester United – was rejected pretty much straight away for two obvious reasons: A) United fans would definitely have gone crazy over the thought of their team going into a Russian oligarch’s pocket; B) Even back then, buying the club cost so much that Roman nearly had a heart attack.
So, Roman called up his helicopter and went on a short trip over London. According to Chelsea’s president Bruce Buck, in the last few days before the deal was signed, Abramovich had a choice between Chelsea and Tottenham.
Luckily for Chelsea fans, it was Daniel Levy who unintentionally shaped the league for the next decade by simply not picking up the phone when Abramovich called him.
As a result, on June 2, 2003, then-owner of Chelsea Ken Bates pocketed £140 million, and two weeks later, Abramovich started laying down foundations for the future super team by bringing Claude Makelele, Joe Cole, Damien Duff and others to Stamford Bridge.
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At this point, you’re probably wondering why on Earth I’m telling you about the events that took place almost fourteen years ago. Well, here’s why. Imagine that one day you find out that one of your friends, business partners or even long-forgotten high school buddies became a billionaire and decided to buy a club, and then they turned to you, after all those hours on Football Manager, for advice.
‘If you were me, which club would you buy?’
So, what would you tell him?
As far as pipe dreams go, I’ve spent too much time thinking about this question. And you know what? I just might have an answer for you.
So, let’s start by looking at those who have tried to do what we want to do in the last few years and analyse their success.
Firstly, only three clubs in the 21st century truly succeeded in their plans and went all the way to the top: Chelsea, Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain.
AS Monaco? Dmitry Rybolovlev, just another Russian businessman, has owned them for over five years now and the club are doing extremely well… and yet, they’ve truly exploded only last season, and who knows what happens when Kylian Mbappé or few other key players flee to Madrid, Barcelona or London. To put it simply, they are just not quite there yet.
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Secondly, not everything is clear even with our holy trinity. Despite significant investments, Manchester City hadn’t been perceived as a top club for quite a while because: A) It’d be difficult for anyone to escape from Manchester United’s shadow; B) Watching the sheiks spending millions on guys like Jo and Scott Sinclair was like watching a 13-year-old playing FIFA, so we just couldn’t take them seriously; C) City’s rush simply p*ssed some off so much they didn’t even bother reconsidering their status.
Now, take a look at Chelsea. Early on in his ownership, Abramovich was gathering the same level of hatred and resentment Man City’s owners have faced. And yet, by the end of 2005, Chelsea were already considered one of the main contenders for the Champions League, as well as one of the most attractive brands in the world and a proud member of The Best Clubs On The Planet Party.
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Anyway, having money is definitely important, but if you really want to build a successful football club, you have to remember that there are millions of different factors. The most obvious one? Timing.
In 2003, football wasn’t as awash with big money as it was in 2008 or 2011, so it was much easier for Chelsea to put together a dream team and jump over hurdles than it was for PSG and Man City. Fourteen years ago, Abramovich’s aggressive transfer moves blew everyone’s mind because nobody, except Real Madrid, was doing anything like that.
So, the question is: what else do you have to offer besides money?
Of course, it’d be great to avoid any risks and just spend everything you have on Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Juventus, or Arsenal. It’s like casting Meryl Streep in your movie. You would be insured against failure.
As we already established, though, our billionaire friend is not really ready for such a big investment, the whole thing would just become too easy and boring way too quickly, and everyone is tired of throwing Academy Awards at Streep, anyway.
So, we have to dig deeper. And in order to do this, let’s set three important parameters that will help us filter candidates.
Look at the list of the biggest European football clubs one more time. Does anything come to mind?
Right, they’re all located either in capital cities or main tourist destinations (Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Paris, London, Milan, Rome, Naples), or the cities where people have historically been crazy about football (Liverpool, Manchester, Dortmund, Turin). It’s insanely difficult to create and develop an international brand without an active local fan base, a robust tourist influx, or both.
The best example of a top club making huge amount of money on tourists? Barcelona. In 2011 alone, the Catalans made around €17million selling tickets to the club museum that, according to the city’s mayor, is one of the three most visited museums in Barcelona.
Plus, I still remember Alexis Sanchez rejecting my beloved Liverpool only because he wanted to live in London. So yeah, let’s concentrate on the teams that are lucky enough to be based in a truly great city.
As previously mentioned, Man City faced more than a few challenges during the initial years of Sheikh Mansour’s ownership. And yet, if you wanted to figure out why exactly City couldn’t really take off for a while, I would have just opened a map and pointed at the south-west end of Manchester and United’s trophy-packed club museum.
We all know that it’s not easy to rebrand a club. But to pull it off in a city with another big and highly successive team is even harder. You can’t be Jonah Hill for years and expect to get the part written for guys like Tatum or Pitt. No matter how hard you work and how quickly you move people still need time to get used to the new reality.
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Consider that PSG’s owner Nasser Ghanim Al-Khelaifi already invaded the fifth-best European league (France), and that no one would care about our new club in Portugal (Lisbon and Porto are already taken), the Netherlands (Amsterdam is taken), Brazil (Rio and Sao Paulo are taken), and Argentina (Buenos Aires is taken). No way we’re repeating PSG’s mistakes.
So, where do we stand now?
1) We only consider four leagues – La Liga, Premier League, Bundesliga and Serie A – because we want everyone watching us taking European football by storm.
2) We need a REALLY good location, either a capital city or a major tourist destination, because we want to pack our stadium every other weekend and make money from tourists.
3) We’re going to avoid cities that already have one or several successful clubs, because we don’t want to live in their shadow for decades Dave Franco-style.
This can only mean one thing…
[A few more seconds full of suspense]
Wait till the “50+1” rule finally gets cancelled and there will be such a massive hunt for this club you’ll think O.J. Simpson’s car chase was a joke. Hertha easily gathers 50,000 people at the Olympiastadion and plays in one of the most attractive, multicultural and rapidly-developing cities in Europe.
In addition to this, the club’s history is so sad (86 trophyless years) that not screwing up in your first month of ownership would already be akin to a good girl finally meeting a good guy after years of being in a relationship with a pr*ck.
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Nobody is going to follow your every move and burn you in papers, leave that crap to the Premier League managers. What if your first season is a disaster? Well, who cares? Just act normal and you will be fine. You won’t even have to pay off a pile of debts left by previous owners, that might have been the case in other countries.
Obviously, you’ll be pretty busy during the first two or three months handing out contracts to key players, meeting fans, definitely hiring a quality social media manager to throw shades at haters slamming the league for betraying its roots. But then your first German summer will come, the time of big transfers moves. And that’s when you’ll show them who’s the boss.
Sanchez’s wife refused to move to Liverpool? Well, Berlin has as much to offer as Barcelona or London. Man City’s sheiks spent months trying to come up with a way to top their annoying neighbour? Trust me, FC Union is not going to bother you. No one watched PSG’s games? No worries, when you drop six goals on Munich’s heads, people will talk about it for weeks.
To convince myself, I shared this theory with one of my German buddies and asked him how the locals would react to the ‘50+1’ rule finally getting cancelled and my imaginary billionaire buying Hertha BSC to turn it into a top club. His response: “I think most fans would hate you the second it happens.”
Well… I could not have planned this better, could I?
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