There is a popular myth that football clubs are rich. That is understandable. The owners are gazillionaires, the players drive from their villas to practice in super sports cars. Fans pay through the nose for season tickets, replica jerseys, and even to watch their teams play on TV. In addition, the Premier League has never been more popular. Surely these guys have to shape it?
And the pretext is upheld by those who really should know better. With that in mind, Barcelona’s recent troubles should serve as a salutary lesson for everyone in the sport. This is a football club that was named the richest in the world in the Deloitte Football Money League just last January.
The illusion of wealth comes from a cycloptic focus on just one page of the ledger. Too few in the world of football, it seems, know the principle of the Charles Dickens character Wilkins Micawber: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenses nineteen nineteen and six, result of luck. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenses twenty pounds zero and six, result in misery. “
Barcelona may have been the first club in a sport to ever have annual sales of $ 1 billion, but that has been cut by the pandemic and has been, as Simon Kuper describes in his book Barça: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Football Club , slightly exceeded the annual expenses of the association. “Adding the salaries and depreciation [on transfer fees]”Barça’s total spending on players was around € 700 million a year,” writes Kuper. “Terrifyingly, that was more than the club’s total revenue for the 2020/21 season.”
Like Mr Micawber, Barcelona lived beyond its means. Result: misery. Or more precisely: the tearful departure of perhaps the best player in the history of the sport, debt of 1.2 billion hopes to win the La Liga or the Champions League in the foreseeable future.