Newcastle may be desperate for glory, but so are others

AMID all the hullabaloo about Newcastle United’s takeover by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, there was an underlying feeling the club’s fans were entitled to celebrate the transaction because they had waited so long for success. It is true that Newcastle have gone 52 years without any form of silverware, but they are not alone in being an underachieving club. Certainly, nobody should be using the phrase, “they deserve this because they want it so much”, a throwaway rolled-out by TV “talent” shows full of weeping wannabes and hyberbole.

For example, in the current Premier League, there are four clubs (Brentford, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Watford) who have never won a single major trophy. Burnley have waited the longest, 61 years since they won the league title. Then there’s West Ham and Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have gone 41 without a trophy on their boardroom table.

In Germany, exactly half of the 18-team Bundesliga have never won a trophy, while poor old Hertha Berlin have gone 90 years without a sniff of silverware. It was 1931 when they were last champions of Germany. Among the owners of barren trophy cabinets are RB Leipzig, who despite being in contention for honours, have yet to break their duck.

Only four clubs from Italy’s Serie A have never won a cup, but there’s a lot who have been waiting for what must seem like an eternity. Udinese (91 years), Genoa (84), Venezia (80) and Atalanta (58) are all among the most patient of clubs.

Nine clubs from La Liga are potless, while Athletic Bilbao have waited the longest among the past winners, some 37 years. Interestingly, seven teams have lifted trophies in the past three seasons from Spain, highlighting their strength in European competition.

France, despite the dominance of Paris Saint-Germain, has only five Ligue 1 teams who have never won a bean. Eleven clubs have won something since 2001. Of those that can look back on past glory, Reims have been waiting longest – 30 years.

The top 10 most patient clubs

Last trophyYears
Hertha Berlin193190
Newcastle Utd196952

Returning to the Premier League, there are three clubs that are most often spoken about when it comes to a lack of tangible success: Newcastle, Tottenham and Everton. The following list provides a chronology of when all three clubs won their major trophies.

  1891 (13)
 1901 (19) 
1905 (13)  
  1906 (15)
1907 (2)  
1909 (2)  
1910 (1)  
  1915 (9)
 1921 (20) 
1924 (14)  
1927 (3)  
  1928 (13)
1932 (5) 1932 (4)
  1933 (1)
  1939 (6)
1951 (19)1951 (30) 
1952 (1)  
1955 (3)  
 1961 (10) 
 1961 (10) 
 1962 (1) 
 1963 (1)1963 (14)
  1966 (3)
 1967 (4) 
1969 (14)  
  1970 (4)
 1971 (4) 
 1972 (1) 
 1973 (1) 
 1981 (8) 
 1982 (1) 
 1984 (2)1984 (14)
  1985 (1)
  1985 (1)
  1987 (2)
 1991 (7) 
  1995 (8)
 1999 (8) 
 2008 (9) 
2021 (52)2021 (13)2021 (26)

Burnley break even in their pre-takeover season

BURNLEY, so long paragons of common sense football management, broke even ahead of the club’s takeover by Alan Pace’s ALK Capital.

Burnley’s turnover fell by 3% to £ 133.8 million and revealed that the covid-19 pandemic had cost them around £ 10.5 million. Although last season they made a profit of over £ 4 million, a breakeven scenario was arguably an acceptable result given the backdrop of uncertainty and crisis.

All revenue streams decline, matchday, the obvious casualty, was down 27% to £ 4.6 million, while commercial fell by 5% and broadcasting by less than 2%. Obviously, should the current season continue in its current vein, matchday income could be all but wiped out in 2020-21’s accounts.

Burnley continue to over-perform given the size of the club, but the December 2020 takeover has introduced a very different dynamic to Turf Moor. Pace’s group took an 84% controlling stake in the club, paying US$ 231 million for the privilege. This was, effectively, a leveraged buyout transaction that included substantial borrowing from MSD UK, the family office of computer magnate Michael Dell. 

ALK said, at the time of acquiring the club, it had considered all economic circumstances, both on and off the pitch. They added that the private equity firm is committed to investing in the club and team. 

Pace, 53, is a Wall Street veteran and made his name at Citigroup. He is the former CEO of MLS franchise Real Salt Lake. Although he talks about data and using data and insights to develop and acquire talent, he insists the Burnley project is not about “playing Moneyball”.

Burnley, traditionally, have had low debt levels, but the takeover means the club is much more vulnerable. In such a climate, retaining Premier League football will be crucial in the years ahead. Burnley are currently in their fifth consecutive Premier campaign and should be safe from relegation soon. The club’s last Championship campaign was 2015-16 when revenues totalled £ 40 million, a figure that was almost swallowed up by player wages. There may be more pressure on coach Sean Dyche than he has experienced in the past – US owners are renowned as demanding employers. 

Burnley’s wage bill – £ 100 million in 2019-20 –  is among the lowest in the Premier and represents a wage-to-income ratio of 74.8% (up from 62.8% in 2018-19). Burnley’s total wages are a third of the amount paid out by Manchester City and Liverpool and half of Arsenal’s total bill. Burnley can claim, with some justification, that they get good value for money. A decade ago, Burnley’s wages totalled £ 15.4 million, which was more than their total income.

Similarly, their matchday and commercial income streams are one of the lowest. With cash totalling £ 81 million, they have more in hand than even Manchester United.

Burnley’s transfer policy is modest compared to their peers. Since they returned to the Premier, the club has spent £ 125 million in the market, but recouped £ 65 million. They are a bargain-hunting club but the number of big money deals has been relatively low – the sale of Michael Keane (£ 25 million) and Andre Gray (£18 million) represent their biggest transactions, to Everton and Watford respectively. Of the current squad, goalkeeper Nick Pope, James Tarkowski and Dwight McNeil are arguably the most marketable players. 

It will be interesting to see the new owners’ ambitions for the club and what they will consider as tangible success. Financial discipline will be important, coupled with realistic objectives, especially in 2021-22 when the full impact of the pandemic may hit home. Burnley have tasted Europe before, that might be one way to start. One thing is fairly certain, relegation struggles won’t be tolerated by owners who will expect some return for their investment. 


Photo: Flickr – David Arnone CC-BY-2.0