Deloitte report confirms the Premier rampage just goes on

AS ANDREA Agnelli departed Juventus, he spoke of the need for a new football system in Europe to prevent one league dominating and sweeping-up all the major talent in the world. He was, of course, referring to the Premier League, and in doing so, he echoed the thoughts of La Liga’s president, Javier Tebas.

Agnelli and Tebas are on opposing sides in the European Super League debate, but clearly people are worried about the power of the Premier League. Interestingly, Agnelli is an advocate of a 12-team Super League which would undoubtedly inflict upon European football the sort of damage he fears from the Premier.

Deloitte’s Football Money League for 2023 (based on 2021-22’s financials) underlines the scale of the Premier League’s hold on modern football. There are 11 Premier clubs in the top 20, with another five in the 10-team “bubbling under” section, which also includes Benfica, Ajax, Sevilla and Villareal.

The latest list also shows that Manchester City are now the most compelling force in world football; they have the strongest squad, the leading manager, global reach and powerful backing. While the nature of their ownership will always draw some criticism, they are not just building a team, they are creating a corporate body that includes a multi-club, multi-country structure.

City’s total revenues amounted to € 731 million, a 13% increase on the previous season. Only two other clubs generated over € 700 million: Real Madrid (€ 713 million) and Liverpool (€ 702 million). Liverpool, who had a spectacular season in 2021-22, saw their income go up by 27% – only Tottenham Hotspur enjoyed better growth (29%), taking their revenues to € 523 million.

  2021Revenues €mMatchdayCommercialBroadcasting
1Manchester City173164373294
2Real Madrid2713.888318307
4Manchester United5688.6126309254
5Paris Saint-Germain6654.2137383139
6Bayern Munich3653.668378207
Source: Deloitte

Six of the top 10 are from the Premier League, with two from Spain and one apiece from France and Germany. It is fair to assume that within the elite, the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Real and Barca, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich will constantly fight for the top six. While Manchester City have jumped to top spot in the past two years, Liverpool have also risen from the lower reaches of the top 10 to the top three. PSG have become much more proficient in their commercial activity to cement their place, while Barcelona have dropped significantly and find themselves in seventh position just two years after topping the table. Bayern Munich, for all their scale, have also fallen, sixth place being their lowest in a decade.

The London trio, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, all generated healthy increases, but they hover just above mid-table. Since 2014, Chelsea have never gone higher than seventh, never lower than ninth. Tottenham have risen to become a top 10 side, while Arsenal’s slump sent them spinning from top six to below halfway in 2019 to 2021. They edged back into the top 10 in 2021-22.

Deloitte have tried to emphasise the contribution made by clubs with women’s sides, but the figures reveal the challenge of driving growth and popularity of this segment of the game. The Money League’s 20 clubs generated an average of € 2.4 million per women’s team, with Barcelona earning € 7.7 million. Deloitte highlighted that there is great disparity in the domestic leagues in Europe; in Spain, Barca’s revenues dwarfed most of the league, notably Atlético Madrid, whose income totalled just € 0.1 million. Likewise, in England, Leicester City’s € 0.4 million is but a fraction of Manchester United’s € 6 million.

Deloitte, in summing up the women’s game, called for better governance to allow all teams to be more competitive. Women’s football has become as polarised as the men’s game in a much shorter timeframe, but the report says: “The answer is not simply to follow the template of the male equivalent.”

While the concept of a European Super League may have been parked for the time being, it hasn’t gone away. It is worth noting that the dozen clubs who initially announced their involvement are all in Deloitte’s top 16. The top 20 generated € 9.2 billion in 2021-22, the 12 rebels contributed just under 70%. The potential damage is very real.

Meanwhile, the Premier League’s growth rate could introduce more clubs to the top 20 – Fulham, Aston Villa and Brighton could all find themselves knocking on the door in 12 months’ time. And of those who made the 20 this time, Newcastle United, one of the success stories of the current campaign, may make a significant jump in 2022-23, and Manchester United’s position may also strengthen.

Boring? The Champions League is still the best we’ve got

TWENTY-ONE of this season’s UEFA Champions League group stage clubs were involved in the 2021-22 campaign. Given this phase of the competition is supposed to represent the best that Europe has to offer, this should surprise nobody. Indeed, if the constitution feels a little stale, it is because European football, generally, is dominated by the same clubs in almost every major country. As a result, the standard bearers for each nation have a very familiar look about them.

The modern game has evolved into a series of hegemonies, where money, power and influence have elevated a group of clubs that are expected to dominate and show leadership. The Champions League, which has played its part in creating these clubs, has become the property of the elite but at the same time, it has given lesser clubs the chance to earn serious money on an occasional basis. But let’s be frank, the competition belongs to the rich and those that sit outside the golden ring are really thrown scraps from the table, albeit valuable, gilded scraps.

However, it is hard to dispute that the quality of the competition – at least in the knockout stages – is hard to beat and is arguably more compelling than the World Cup and other national team tournaments. Continued participation in the Champions League allows clubs to go back to their domestic leagues with a distinct financial advantage.

It’s understandable, then, that of the 32, 13 feature in Deloitte’s Football Money League top 20 for 2022 and a further two are in the 30. Seven are not involved, the most notable exclusions being Manchester United and Arsenal, who have become Europa League clubs for the time being.

The creation of the Champions League, which expanded the idea of the European Champion Clubs Cup to include more than just the league champions of each country, has almost guaranteed that Europe’s biggest clubs have a better chance of participating each year. This is good for the clubs concerned and good for UEFA from a financial and marketing perspective, but is it necessarily good for those that do not, and are never likely to, take part? Is making the elite band completely inaccessible really good for the overall health of the game? In 2021-22, the four Premier League clubs that took part in the Champions League earned close to £ 400 million between them. Football’s great selling point has always been the prospect of the unexpected and the possibility of having aspiration. By almost ring-fencing the gravy train, some of that is removed. Unfortunately, the Champions League brought the idea of extreme capitalism to football, the survival of the fittest and richest and damn the rest.


silverware winners
Group AAjax, Liverpool, Napoli, Rangers14
Group BAtlético, Brugge, Leverkusen, Porto22
Group CBarcelona, Bayern, Inter, Viktoria Plzn23
Group DFrankfurt, Marseille, Sporting, Tottenham04
Group EAC Milan, Chelsea, Dinamo Zagreb, Salzburg33
Group FCeltic, RB Leipzig, Real Madrid, Shakhtar33
Group GCopenhagen, Dortmund, Manchester City, Sevilla23
Group HBenfica, Juventus, Maccabi Haifa, Paris Saint-Germain23

Of this year’s group stage clubs, 15 were league champions in 2021-22 – in pre-Champions League days, these clubs would have taken part in the European Cup and the rest would enter the UEFA Cup (or even Cup-Winners’ Cup), which was a strong and lucrative competition at its peak. The expanded Champions League clearly damaged the credibility of the UEFA/Europa League, but in 2022, we saw a revival of UEFA’s second and third offering – the pleasure people seemed to get from both the Europa and Conference leagues was very visible. UEFA, as derided as they frequently are, may have got something right in they have given back some aspiration. If closely linking all three competitions was possible (beyond the Europa winners being given a place in the Champions League), UEFA may have stumbled upon a credible response to those calling for a super league.

The critics of the bloated format of the Champions League might consider that familiarity breeds contempt, but the group stages don’t always reveal that. For example, in five years between 2017-18 and 2021-22, Bayern Munich had 15 different opponents (out of 15) in the group stage, Liverpool and Juventus had 14 and Real Madrid and Manchester City 13. This season’s draw, an example of how to squeeze a lot out of a seemingly simple process, has brought together a few old friends, such as Real Madrid and Shakhtar for the third season running, Liverpool with Ajax and Napoli and Barcelona and Bayern.

It is inevitable the latter stages will look like the same old scene because the best teams should win through the group phase. On average, the last eight changes by 50% per season, but in 2021-22, five teams remained the same as the previous season. From a small number, the likely winners of the Champions League will emerge. We’ve seen four different champions in four years: Liverpool, Bayern, Chelsea and Real Madrid. In that time, there have been seven different finalists out of a possible eight. The “bulge bracket” of clubs currently comprises the top Premier clubs (at this moment Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but likely to change at any moment),  Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich. It is no coincidence that the last seven finalists include those six clubs plus Tottenham. Barcelona are temporarily sidelined, but not for long. The usual Quarter-finals include three clubs from Spain, two from England, one from Germany and then two drawn from Portugal, France or Italy. Regardless of what some sceptics might claim, not one club has been an ever present in the last eight of the Champions League over the past decade and in the last five years, just one has been ever present, Manchester City.

Best performance in European Cup/UEFA Champions League32 Group stage entrants
WinnersAC Milan, Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Borussia Dortmund, Celtic,  Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Marseille, Porto, Real Madrid (14)
FinalistsAtlético Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Brugge, Eintracht Frankfurt, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Tottenham (7)
Semi-finalistsRB Leipzig, Rangers (2)
Quarter-finalsSevilla, Sporting Lisbon, Shakhtar Donetsk (3)
Round of 16FC Copenhagen, Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg (3)
GroupDinamo Zagreb, Maccabi Haifa, Viktoria Pilzn (3)