FEYENOORD recently revealed the pandemic has been comparatively kind to them, partly due to their own prudent processes but also because the club’s fans and partners waived any compensation claims for an unfinished season in 2019-20. Feyenoord made a net loss of around € 6.7 million for the campaign, but their turnover increased from € 70.8 million to € 73.4 million. With so many clubs experiencing damaging losses of income, that cannot be too bad.
The Rotterdam-based club has started the 2020-21 season well and were unbeaten in their first seven Eredivisie games. They recently recorded their first win in the Europa League group stage, beating CSKA Moscow 3-1 at De Kuip. Feyenoord’s away form this season has been very strong – they have won all four games on the road. At home, they have drawn two of their first three, including the match against city neighbours Sparta.
Feyenoord’s financial performance may have been acceptable given the worldwide turmoil created by covid-19, but the club is so far behind fierce rivals, Ajax whose revenues for 2019-20 totalled € 162 million, a 19% drop on the previous season. After their exciting Champions League run in 2018-19, which announced the arrival of some excellent young players, Ajax went out of the competition cheaply, although they were in the same group as Chelsea and Valencia. Ajax made a pre-tax profit of € 27 million, the highest in the Netherlands. PSV Eindhoven, the other member of the Dutch “big three”, generated € 97 million in revenues and just crept into profit at € 2 million.
Ajax’s team in 2019 has more or less dispersed and as a result, the club made a profit on player trading of € 85 million. PSV Eindhoven, also made a healthy profit from player sales, € 47 million, while Feyenoord made a loss in 2019-20.
Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord accounted for around 60% of the Eredivisie’s total income of € 594 million in 2018-19. The wage bills say it all – Ajax’s players earned € 92 million (57% of income), which is almost double PSV’s and three times’ Feyenoord’s total salaries. Right at the bottom of the league, some clubs pay out a mere 5% of Ajax’s wages. Strength in depth has long been a problem in the Netherlands, but it has to be remembered it is a country with less than 18 million people.
While Ajax are a very big fish in a relatively small pond – witness their 13-0 win against Venlo – the plight of Dutch domestic football as a competitive force in Europe is plain to see. The Eredivisie’s income is barely 10% of the Premier League’s total and the league has a very sub-optimal TV deal versus other major leagues.
The Eredivisie is an established and successful breeding ground for young talent, as seen in the recent batch of Ajax players who are playing now for clubs like Barcelona, Juventus and Chelsea. According to CIES Football Observatory, the Dutch league is in the top eight in terms of player production and in the top five in Europe, ahead of Italy and Portugal. The main destinations for Dutch players is the Premier League and Bundesliga. Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord all field a high percentage of club-trained players, well over 30%.
With talk of a European Super League, it is unlikely that any of the big three will be invited to join the elite. Ajax may get included in any future discussions, but the Eredivisie is one of the leagues that will suffer from further polarisation in Europe. These are, however, all clubs with very impressive European pedigrees – the Netherlands has provided three different winners of the top competition, the same as Italy and Germany and more than Spain, France and Portugal. Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven have all contributed to the development of European club football in a very positive way. We should all hope that continues.