The owners of these clubs made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Football is the most-watched sport on earth, with global audiences totalling billions. The power of broadcasting and the talent and competition on offer are the chief reasons for this explosive growth in prominence.
Millions of fans support their respective football clubs. Therefore, they have become epicentres of wealth, bragging rights, and avenues for finding new markets.
The owning parties are smart enough to harness the power of the game to rake in millions in revenue. While some have shaped the success of their clubs, others have had their own vested interests, some good, some otherwise. A few have shown absolute gay abandon and have rendered their clubs unwieldy through their incompetence.
But, nowadays, no move is amiss and so are takeovers of football clubs. So, we take a look at 10 such occasions where new owners induced fresh air into the football clubs, but under contentious circumstances:
10. Blackburn Rovers
The VH Group purchased Blackburn Rovers in 2010 for £23m. The VH Group is the parent company of Venky’s, an Indian company that is one of the biggest poultry exporters in the world and invested in other businesses as well.
The new owners immediately replaced then manager Sam Allardyce with Steve Kean. The move started the process of Blackburn’s eventual relegation at the end of the 2011-12 season.
The club also declared heavy losses during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns. Despite the owners’ assurances, no one addressed the dire financial situation, making this one of the worst takeovers in football. Blackburn were also relegated to the third division in 2017. But, they quickly returned to the Championship. They’ve since been loitering in the English second tier. This has been quite a fall from grace for the 1995-96 Premier League champions, who once had Alan Shearer leading them to glory.
9. West Ham United
The duo of David Gold and David Sullivan purchased a controlling stake in West Ham in 2010. While the move was not very contentious, the respective businesses the two were involved in were. Gold and Sullivan were partners and dominated the business of adult films and products in the UK. David Sullivan also served time in prison, convicted for living off immoral earnings earned from his businesses.
In 2016, the owners decided to move the club from the Boleyn Ground, their home for 112 years, to the 60,000-strong London Stadium. This led to a massive uproar among supporters and made the duo unpopular.
There were protests and also interventions during matches. After moving to the new stadium, West Ham faced a few underwhelming seasons, while not properly investing in the club. Therefore, the relationship between fans and the owners has not always been rosy.
8. Derby County
Derby County endured a nightmare season in 2007-08. The club won promotion to the Premier League and were looking to start a new life in England’s top flight. But, little did they know the ordeal awaiting them.
In January 2008, the club were taken over by General Sports and Entertainment, an American investment group. One of the most controversial takeovers in football, the move was in the works well before Derby’s promotion to the Premier League. But, its imminence led to a lot of uncertainty at the club.
Derby barely spent on transfers and it led to poor performances on the pitch. The arrival of the new owners further exacerbated the situation. Eventually, the Rams were relegated in the month of March itself, the first club to do so. Derby went through the season with only one win and 11 points in total. This was the worst-ever showing by a club in Premier League history and the joint-least number of wins in any division in English football.
7. Atletico Madrid
The controversial Spanish politician Jesus Gil took over Atletico Madrid’s presidency in 1987. Jesus Gil had a reputation as a ruthless businessman and politician. His penchant for the extreme and trigger-happy nature plunged the club into crisis. In 1992, Gil shut down the Atletico academy. This was a fatal move whch led to plenty of promising players moving elsewhere, including Raul to rivals Real Madrid.
Although the club won the La Liga and Copa del Rey in 1995-96, Gil’s constant chopping and changing of managers brought more instability. Atletico were eventually relegated in the 1999-00 season. Jesus Gil and his board were investigated for misuse of club funds and were suspended.
Gil handed over the reins of the club to his son and current CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin in 2003. He passed away the following year at the age of 71. In his 16-year tenure, Atletico went through nine managers, including the likes of the legendary Arrigo Sacchi and Luis Aragones.
6. Manchester City
The Abu Dhabi United Group purchased Manchester City in 2008 in one of the landmark takeovers in the game. The group is an investment arm of the UAE government. It is led by the Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan and Khaldoon al Mubarak. The group later established Manchester City as the apex club in the City Football Group.
The takeover swiftly changed Manchester City’s fortunes and catapulted them into one of the biggest clubs in world football. They’ve spent billions of pounds on talented players who have contributed to their success. But, it hasn’t come without its fair share of controversy. The club’s exorbitant spending has often led it to skirmishes with regulators regarding Financial Fair Play.
Things came to a head when they were accused by UEFA of breaching FFP guidelines. City faced fines and were banned from European competitions for two seasons in 2020. But, the club swiftly challenged the allegations and walked away scot-free. This led to massive consternation in the football world. Therefore, while their success is undeniable, the methods to achieve the same have always been scrutinized.
5. Paris Saint-Germain
Paris Saint-Germain were purchased by the QSI (Qatar Sports Investments) Group in 2011 in one of the most controversial takeovers in football. QSI is a public investment arm under the royal family of Qatar, currently headed by Hamim bin Hamad al Thani, the Emir of Qatar.
QSI led by President Nasser Al-Khelaifi have spent massive sums to purchase players. Some of the prominent ones include Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Beckham and recently Lionel Messi among others. They also made the two costliest purchases in football history in Neymar (€222m) and Kylian Mbappe (€180m). Such investment has fetched 27 trophies since the QSI takeover. But, like City, PSG constantly court controversy for their success.
Therefore, this spending has also got them in the cross hairs of Financial Fair Play. But, they haven’t faced any heavy punishment from the authorities, other than some fines. Their spending and financial might has helped them dominate French football and compete for continental supremacy.
4. AC Milan
AC Milan reached the peak of their powers under the ownership of businessman and politician Silvio Berlusconi. But, the former Prime Minister of Italy was looking to get the club off his hands in 2012. This was due to issues pertaining to ongoing cases against him.
In 2016, after a few initial offers collapsed, Fininvest, the company led by Berlusconi reached an agreement to sell 99.93% of the club’s shares. The Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Co. purchased a controlling stake for €520m. The chairman of the group Yonghong Li incorporated the club under the Rossoneri Sports Investment Lux holding company.
Li took out a €303m loan from American hedge fund Elliot Management Corporation to finance the move. But, the Chinese businessman was unable to repay the loan on time. He defaulted on payments and eventually ceded control of the club to Elliot Management Corporation. Li also faced investigation into the sources of his wealth, considering the dodgy documents that were submitted for the initial takeover.
The off-field issues filtered onto the pitch as well. The team struggled for form and consistency with the constant change in personnel. In 2018, UEFA banned AC Milan from European competitions (later reduced to one year) for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations. The board removed Yonghong Li from his position as Chairman after he failed to pay up Elliott Management’s loan. It brought an end to one of the most troubled takeovers in football.
3. Manchester United
In 2005, Malcolm Glazer, an American entrepreneur purchased a controlling stake in Manchester United. Glazer made United a private company, removing it from the London Stock Exchange. Malcolm saddled all the debts on the club taking revenues generated as takeout. Therefore, his takeover was met with protests from fans. They were against a publicly listed club going to the controlling interests of a select few.
The tenure under the Glazers (Malcolm and now his sons Avram and Joel) has led to dissatisfaction among fans. Plenty of criticism has been levelled against the owners for using the club as a debt-evading exercise. United, who were a debt-free club in the early 2000s currently have a debt of more than £400m.
Things came to a boiling point when fans stormed the pitch before a United Vs Liverpool FA Cup game last season, in protest against the owners’ move to join the controversiial European Super League.
2. Newcastle United
The most recent case of a dubious takeover was when Mike Ashley decided to sell Newcastle United on 7 October 2021. It ended his 14-year reign at the club. A consortium led by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, RB Sports & Media, and PCP Capital Partners, the investment firm of British businesswoman Amanda Staveley completed the purchase for £300m.
Staveley, the head of PCP Partners mediated the move. Her desire to buy Newcastle faced failure in the first two attempts in 2018 and 2020, before succeeding in 2021. The Saudi-led fund holds an 80% take in the club, with the other two holding 10% respectively.
Plenty of pundits, experts and fans alike criticized the move, stating that it was another example of “sports-washing.” But, despite the furore, the Premier League sanctioned one of the most controversial takeovers in football.
1. Bury FC
The story of Bury FC is so unfortunate and shocking that it had to make the top of the list of most controversial takeovers in football. In 2019, the English Football League governing body expelled Bury from the league pyramid, ending their 134-year existence as a football club. The outfit’s administrative and financial ineptitude eventually led to the end of one of English football’s oldest clubs.
English businessman Steve Dale bought the club in 2018 for just £1. Dale took on the task of keeping Bury financially afloat and guaranteeing their survival in the pyramid. But, he did neither and further exacerbated the situation. He didn’t pay the players and staff on time. On the other hand, the EFL constantly pressed on the club’s financial situation. Dale never invested any time or effort in rectifying the club or even selling it, rendering it unwieldy.
Later, in an interview he stated that he never had any interest in the game and never followed it. Dale also reportedly liquidated 43 of his 51 businesses.
Dale was eventually implored to sell the club. However, he rejected advances from prospective buyers in the expectation of a bigger offer. But, it never materialized and Bury ran out of time to satisfy the EFL’s financial conditions to compete in the leagues. Therefore, on 27 August 2019, the EFL expelled Bury. The club released 140 youth players from their academy.