More, more, more – that seems to be the motto for many cash-rich football club owners.
The multi-club ownership model continues to grow in popularity, despite the risks that owning two clubs who could, in theory, meet in a competition brings. More on those shortly.
That doesn’t seem to be too high up on the list of concerns for the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has been linked with bids for both Liverpool and Manchester United, and it seems as though he will fulfil his ambition of owning a Premier League club in the near future.
But could he, financial cost notwithstanding, actually buy both? Are there any rules stopping him and the sovereign Qatar Sports Investments firm from snapping up multiple Premier League clubs?
Can You Own More Than One Premier League Club?
There’s uniformity across the board in English football, with the FA, Premier League and the EFL all singing from the same hymn sheet as far as domestic multi-club ownership is concerned.
Any prospective owner that wants to buy an English football club must pass a ‘fit and proper person’ test, which is a framework that identifies trusted individuals and should, in theory, prohibit bad eggs from completing a takeover.
The effectiveness of the test has been brought into question – the Saudi Public Investment Fund was able to acquire Newcastle United despite links to the despotic regime there, whereas One Direction warbler Louis Tomlinson was barred from buying his hometown club, Doncaster Rovers, by the same measures.
The fit and proper person’s test must be passed by any individual or entity with a shareholding of 30% or more in a club. Those owners and directors would then fail the test if they then wanted to buy a 30% or higher share in another club, which would grant them significant voting power.
According to the Football Association’s Rules, it is prohibited for any party to have the ‘power to influence the management of another club.’
The EFL, which managed the best 72 English and Welsh clubs outside of the Premier League, has taken a similar stance. Their rule 105.1.4, under section ‘Association and Dual Interests’, states that no individual or body should ‘have any power whatsoever to influence the financial, commercial or business affairs or the management or administration of another football club,’ therefore outlawing multi-club ownership.
The only possible workaround would come if/when Premier League reserve or youth teams are allowed to compete in the English professional football pyramid. This would still be one ownership entity, although the reserve/youth team would not be allowed to be promoted into the same league as the senior team, who would also receive a bye if drawn against their ‘feeder’ in a cup competition.
What are the Rules Overseas?
When we think about multi-club ownership in a continental sense, thinks start to get a little murky.
An owner or investment consortium is allowed to have a majority shareholding in clubs in different countries, however these are prohibited from competing in the same competition.
So, let’s say Qatar Sports Investments adds Manchester United to their portfolio that already boasts PSG. A situation would unfold where one of these teams would be barred from competing in the Champions League (or other UEFA competition) – that would be the club that finished the lowest in their domestic league table.
This rule came about in the year 2000, two years after AEK Athens and Slavia Prague were scheduled to compete in the UEFA Cup. Both were majority-owned by ENIC, forcing UEFA to enact a new rule preventing them from participating.
ENIC took their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and even the European Commission. Both agreed with UEFA’s ruling that if two clubs form the same ownership stable were allowed to pay one another, it would affect the ‘credibility’ of the sport.
A similar scenario unfolded in Italian football in 2021. Salernitana enjoyed promotion to Serie A, but there was an immediate issue to resolve given that they were owned by Claudio Lotito, who also has a majority share in Lazio.
The Italian FA decided that his shareholding of Salernitana would have to be placed in a trust, with an agreement struck that he would have to sell up by Christmas of that year – or face automatic relegation.
As the days ticked down, no formal offer was made. A deal was eventually completed just hours ahead of the deadline, with local businessman Danilo Iervolino scoring himself a bargain at just €10 million (£8.8 million) – leaving Lotito angry that he hadn’t been able to net his €70 million valuation.
Salernitana had benefitted from Lotito’s Lazio connection by regularly loaning in the Serie A giant’s best young talents, and that too forced the Italian FA to ban multi-club ownership altogether. Now, no owner can own more than a single club in the Italian game, or even have a minority shareholding in another.