As cash-rich investors from overseas circle Premier League clubs with interest, the general feeling amongst supporters is one of jubilation at the prospect of a sizable financial injection.
But you should be careful what you wish for….
Rules adopted by both the Premier League and UEFA make it very difficult for an owner with multiple clubs to compete against one another.
That’s an issue that could rear its head should the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, go through with plans to buy an elite-level club to join PSG in his portfolio.
The emir has been linked with a bid for Manchester United and/or Liverpool, and given that he has the financial backing of an entire state stumping up the £5 billion or so it will take to secure a buyout is of no concern.
However, there could be issues further down the line if the emir’s new club qualifies for continental competition….
What are the Rules on Multi-Club Ownership?
Under UEFA regulations, two or more clubs that are owned by the same individual/consortium CANNOT play one another in a sanctioned competition.
So, given PSG’s dominance of French football, this could have serious ramifications for Manchester United or Liverpool’s hopes of competing in the Champions League. The rules dictate that the team finishing highest would take precedence over the other club(s) embroiled in the situation.
Article 5 of UEFA’s regulations refers to ‘integrity of the competition’, with multi-club ownership specifically mentioned. These decree that no individual or entity can have ‘control or influence’ over more than one club in a UEFA competition.
In this case, control or influence is defined as holding a majority shareholding (or voting right), the power to remove members from the management body of a football club or being by any means a ‘decisive influence’ in the running of a club.
The sub-rule, 5.02, is the one that will have fans of the elite clubs in England fearing the worst. This states that when two or more clubs are involved in a breach of Article 5, only one of them will be allowed to play in the Champions League, Europa League or other UEFA competition.
That is decided on this descending scale:
- #1 – the club which qualifies on sporting merit for the most prestigious UEFA club competition
- #2 – the club which was ranked highest in the domestic championship giving access to the relevant UEFA club competition
- #3 – the club whose association is ranked highest in the access list
Although England is higher than France (currently) on that UEFA access list, any club that the Emir purchases would need to finish higher than PSG (see #2 above) in their respective league tables in order to usurp the Parisians from the Champions League.
It has been reported that those interested in purchasing Manchester United or Liverpool in Qatar are ‘conscious’ of this UEFA ruling, and in typical ‘head in the sand’ fashion are considering a motion to the governing body to change their rules.
Another party rumoured to be interested in bidding for United is Sir Jim Ratcliffe, whose majority ownership of French club Nice could create a similar problem.
Fit and Proper?
The situation would become even more complicated if the Emir of Qatar, or any other buyer for that matter, decided that they wanted to invest heavily in more than one English club at the same time.
However, rules on multiple-club ownership – devised by the FA, the Premier League and the EFL – prohibits any controlling group from holding a share of 30% or greater in two or more English or Welsh clubs at the same time.
So no, the Emir of Qatar couldn’t own both Liverpool and Manchester United at the same time. Although he could stump up the cash and employ a figurehead to act as the owner – this will be the next problem that the authorities will have to combat as international buyouts continue to dominate English football.
The Rise of Multi-Club Ownership
It’s becoming increasingly common for ownership groups to purchase a controlling stake in more than one club – but typically those teams are not in competing competitions.
For example, the City Football Group owns Manchester City, New York City FC, Melbourne City and Troyes, as well as smaller stakes in other clubs. But the quartet named will never have any creative conflict, unless Troyes enjoy a significant improvement and start contesting the Champions League places in Ligue 1.
It would not be wise to invest in two or more clubs with convergent interests on the continent, but it’s evident that the Qataris have the belief – or arrogance – that they can persuade UEFA to change their rules on multi-club ownership.
Red Bull Gives You a Loophole
Of course, those arguing their case may point to the situation at RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg, the German and Austrian outfits respectively owned by the energy drinks firm.
They were both permitted to compete in the 2017/18 Champions League, with UEFA claiming that ‘significant and substantial changes’ were made behind the scenes that meant the two clubs had distinct corporate structures in place. While owning Leipzig outright, it was claimed that Red Bull were only the ‘title sponsor’ of Salzburg.
But that only came after an appeal to an independent adjudicator, with UEFA initially rejecting the application of both to participate in the Champions League under their previous ownership models.
In that scenario, Leipzig would have been barred entry as Salzburg had finished in a higher position in the Austrian Bundesliga, while Hoffenheim would have been promoted to the Champions League as the next in line based on their German Bundesliga performance.
But changes were made at board level, with those individuals on both boards walking away from one of their positions, in order to distinguish between the two clubs at the supervisory level.
So there are ways for multi-club owners to game the system, but fans of Premier League clubs rejoicing at the prospect of foreign investment should, perhaps, be careful what they wish for….