Author: Tariq Panja
Publish date: 2023-05-26 12:04:08
Everything is clear at the top of the Premier League.
Manchester City, with what has become an inevitable regularity, is once again the champion of England’s Premier League. Its triumph over second-place Arsenal was sealed last weekend, and those two clubs — along with Saudi-owned Newcastle United and City’s crosstown rival Manchester United — already have secured the league’s four spots in next season’s Champions League.
The drama in England now is at the bottom of the standings, where three clubs will enter the final day of the season this weekend locked in a high-stakes fight to retain their places in the league, and where an investigation into the finances of one those clubs — Everton — means that whatever happens on the field may not be the final word on who gets relegated.
And that is worrying the Premier League.
The issue is this: Everton’s financial losses of 371.8 million pounds between 2018 and 2021 (roughly $460 million) were more than three times higher than a cap imposed by the league. In March, the Premier League charged the club with breaking its cost-control rules and assigned an independent arbitrator to investigate. By league rules, the arbitrator alone is empowered to decide the case and mete out any potential penalties.
In the weeks since, however, rival clubs have pressed for a decision before the start of next season. They include, but are not limited to, those teams whose futures are inextricably linked to Everton’s finish in the league, each of them aware that a potential points deduction for financial violations — if it arrives before the new season — might seal Everton’s relegation instead of their own.
The Premier League — already under pressure to announce a ruling in a separate and long-running case related to Manchester City’s spending — has quietly been pushing for a resolution, too. According to people familiar with the league’s internal discussions, Premier League officials have been lobbying the head of the independent commission to reach a decision ahead of next season.
The lawyer hired to oversee cases of rules breaches in the league, Murray Rosen, has refused to be hurried, however, according to the people familiar with the exchanges. He has at times even felt the need to remind league officials of the independence of the Premier League’s judicial panel.
Both cases come as English soccer is poised to adopt a government-appointed independent regulator, a post that threatens the Premier League’s ability to keep rulings on contentious issues in-house. The league’s critics contend that such a regulator has become necessary to police a group of owners increasingly drawn from all corners of the world, including nation-states with access to seemingly unlimited reserves of capital and lawyers.
For the moment, Everton’s focus — like that of its bottom-of-the-table rivals Leicester City and Leeds United — is to avoid the ignominy (and potential financial ruin) of relegation. Only one of the three clubs will be spared that fate on Sunday, and Everton, a fixture in the Premier League since its inception in 1992, currently holds a slim advantage. It is one place — and two points — above Leicester and Leeds, and needs only match its rivals’ results on Sunday to finish above them in the standings.
For relegated teams, the loss of a place in the Premier League, and the tens of millions of dollars in revenue that membership guarantees, can be a devastating blow. So-called parachute payments from the Premier League help to cushion some of the financial losses for as many as three seasons, but the consequences of the new straitened circumstances often lead to the gutting of club budgets and the departures of players, coaches and other staff members.
The prospect that the fate might fall on a club and then later be reversed has angered even Premier League teams not involved in this year’s relegation fight. One Premier League executive recently expressed surprise that there had not been greater coverage of the claims against Everton and the lack of urgency to adjudicate them; the official equated the accusations of financial rules breaches to doping.
The Premier League declined to comment on the Everton investigation or any efforts to speed it to a conclusion. Everton has signaled that it will dig in and fight any possible penalties; when the Premier League charges were announced in March, the club said it was “prepared to robustly defend” its position in front of the commission.
Even without the threat of relegation, though, Everton is a club in disarray. Its owner, the Iranian-British businessman Farhad Moshiri, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on players since buying the club, only to have its on-field results crater and a much-hyped stadium project risk stalling because of a shortage of funds. A search for a new owner, announced earlier this year, has so far not produced a savior.
The club’s financial troubles were only made worse when Moshiri’s longtime business partner, the billionaire Alisher Usmanov, was sanctioned by the British government and the European Union for his close relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. That forced Everton to end its relationship with companies linked to Usmanov, who in recent years had plowed millions into the club and projects like the team’s half-built new stadium.
Everton’s fans have been protesting its ownership for much of the season — as they did last year when the team narrowly avoided relegation. On at least one occasion this season, Everton’s leadership was advised by the police not to attend games.