Income falls, but the song remains the same in football’s money league

WITH no sign of a resumption of football as a spectator sport, Europe’s top clubs could be € 2 billion out of pocket by the end of the current season. That was the view of Deloitte as they unveiled their latest Football Money League for 2021 this week.

There’s few surprises in terms of the listing, the top 14 remains the top 14 as it has done for three years. The deckchairs are slightly rearranged, Manchester United falling to fourth, Liverpool climbing to fifth, Arsenal still out of the top 10 and Real Madrid and Barcelona slugging it out at the top. There are two new entrants in the 20: Gazprom-backed Zenit St. Petersburg and Eintracht Frankfurt. Zenit, the Russian champions, are the only club in the 20 from outside the “big five” European leagues.

Football clubs across Europe have suffered from a loss of revenue due to the pandemic. The average income for the top 20 totalled € 409 million, some € 55 million lower than in 2018-19. The league with the highest overall fall was the Premier League, € 413 million, while the biggest drop to the average club income was seen in Spain and France € 68 million.

All the top clubs saw their overall revenues decline, Barcelona, the number one club by income (€ 715m) experienced a 15% fall, but the downturn varied at Real Madrid (-6%), Bayern Munich (-4%), Manchester United (-19%), Liverpool (-8%), Manchester City (-11%) and Paris Saint-Germain (-15%). While matchday and broadcasting income fell right across the board, 12 of Deloitte’s top 20 were boosted by increased commercial revenues. Tottenham were the only club in the top 10 to enjoy increased matchday cash. Deloitte suggested that matchday revenue for 2020-21, should the current situation continue, would be close to zero. 

Deloitte’s top 10

Pos 2021 Pos 2020 Club Revenues € m Change %

Domestic Lge pos 2019-20

1 1 Barcelona 715.1 -15 2
2 2 Real Madrid 714.9 -6 1
3 4 Bayern Munich 634.1 -4 1
4 3 Manchester Utd 580.4 -19 3
5 7 Liverpool 558.6 -8 1
6 6 Manchester City 549.2 -11 2
7 5 Paris St-Germain 540.6 -15 1
8 9 Chelsea 411.9 -9 4
9 8 Tottenham 445.7 -15 6
10 10 Juventus 397.9 -13 1

Within the little-changed membership of the league, there are some interesting signs of the changing landscape. For example, the two Manchester clubs have never been closer in terms of their revenues. In 2014-15, United had an advantage of £ 143 million, a figure that was eroded to £ 87 million by 2018. In 2019-20, the differential became just £ 28 million. Similarly, the three-way battle between London rivals Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham is changing all the time.  

Five years ago, Arsenal were generating the highest revenues in London, £ 350 million. Tottenham’s total was just £ 209 million at the same stage. In 2018, Arsenal were in Deloitte’s top six, but as their revenues have declined, thanks to the loss of perpetual Champions League football. They have been overtaken by Tottenham and Chelsea and find themselves outside the top 10 for the second successive year. 

Italian clubs have experienced very mixed fortunes, although Juventus maintained their top 10 position. Inter have plateaued at 14 for the third consecutive year, but their San Siro house mates, AC Milan, have sunk to a place outside the 20 at number 30.

With Barcelona embroiled in internal politics and Real still burdened by an ageing squad, both Spanish giants also have infrastructure projects that will hamper their financial progress in the coming year. With that in mind, their place at the head of Deloitte’s interesting snapshot table may be threatened by European champions Bayern Munich. As Deloitte so candidly stated, the full impact of covid-19 may not be realised for some years to come. One thing is fairly certain, though, the clubs in Deloitte’s study should come through the crisis a little challenged but intact, unlike some of their smaller cousins.

Photo: PA

The Super League – who is really hiding behind the leaked document?

IT’S BACK again, the threat of a European Super League involving 15 fixed clubs and five lucky qualifiers. We can easily name the likely 15: there’s six from the Premier League; three from La Liga; three from Serie A; two from the Bundesliga and one from Ligue 1. It’s almost certainly the usual suspects, the first 14 in the latest Deloitte Football Money League and stray giants AC Milan.

The strategically-leaked document, which has turned up all over the place, shows no sign of accountability. Normally, one might expect a logo or two to indicate who has put the paper together. But there’s nothing to suggest where the proposal is coming from, no real mention of the universal benefits of such a structure and no attempt to convince. In other words, nobody is asking for approval. And nobody has yet to claim responsibility.

We can make a good guess where the idea originates from because without the involvement of some of Europe’s blue riband clubs, there would be no mileage in the project. But everyone is hiding and even some clubs that have been named as driving forces are distancing themselves from the controversial concept. If this is such a great idea, then why doesn’t anyone confidentally step forward?


It’s pure cowardice, because the clubs know that such a proposal would attract a mountain of negativity, mostly around the self-interest of the behemoth football houses and the damage it might do to the football eco-system. Social media will destroy anyone supporting the league. 

This just doesn’t make sense and will effectively kill it before it can gather momentum. Why? Because without providing credible discussion points around the rationale and pluses of a super league, the governing bodies, media, supporter groups and vast body of opposition clubs will prevent it happening. If those that produced the paper want to gain backing for their league, then they have to canvas, cajole and compromise. Throwing it out there, running away and waiting to see what will happen is foolhardy. OK, it makes good copy, but actually, it is getting a little tedious.

A super league might actually be the natural evolution of the UEFA Champions League, but not in the way influential clubs are trying to create. This should be UEFA’s idea, devised by them, proposed by them and fully-aligned to domestic football across the continent. 

The timing couldn’t be worse or more cunning. Football clubs across Europe have suffered from a loss of revenue due to the pandemic, as noted by Deloitte in their latest Football Money League. All the top clubs saw their overall revenues decline, Barcelona, the number one club by income (€ 715m) experienced a 15% fall, but the downturn varied at Real Madrid (-6%), Bayern Munich (-4%), Manchester United (-19%), Liverpool (-8%), Manchester City (-11%) and Paris Saint-Germain (-15%).

While matchday income and broadcasting income fell right across the board, 12 of Deloitte’s top 20 were boosted by increased commercial revenues. It is difficult to see the proposal of a super league anything other than a commercial enterprise. It’s curious that the involvement of bank financing from JPMorgan Chase was mentioned in much of the coverage, but no confirmation of the clubs that will undoubtedly be involved.


UEFA, FIFA and the European Union are all against the plan and FIFA have said anyone who plays in any super league would be banned from their competitions. This could prove a major stumbling block as it could start a player drought. But it is not just players that might be in short supply, what about managers and coaches, will they not be impacted?

Admittedly, the 15 clubs already have most of the world’s best players – 77% of the Guardian’s top 100 and 94% of the top 50 in KPMG Football Benchmark’s player valuation database. The clubs already trade heavily among themselves – Real Madrid, over the past five years, have dealt with 14, Manchester City 11, Barcelona and Chelsea nine.

But there’s also mention of the super league sending 12 teams to the annual revamped FIFA Club World Cup. How could they possibly even factor that into the equation unless there was reasonable hope that FIFA would buy into their scheme? Shouldn’t they be invited rather than assume they can even consider sending a dozen to China, Qatar, Morocco or wherever FIFA decide to host their new competition?

While the 20 involved clubs (the permanent 15 and five qualifiers) will play their 18 group games (two groups of 10) in midweek, they will also participate in their domestic leagues. How important will the Premier League be to the half dozen clubs who will appear in the super league, given their involvement is guaranteed in the latter? And surely, the FIFA Club World Cup will then become more important than the Premier?

This all could, of course, just be a tactic to push the governing bodies into a corner and for Europe’s giants to squeeze them for more cash, just as they have in the past. The tail is certainly wagging the dog, but the dog has got significantly weaker over the past few years. The clubs are so strong and they know that if they take their ball away, UEFA would struggle to produce a compelling Champions League that appeals to broadcasters and sponsors around the globe. This is a game of poker and at the moment, with the world suffering from covid-19 and lockdown fatigue, people are tired and bored of repeated attempts to bully the game into submission and introduce more elitism.

It would help if we knew who is really behind this attempt to challenge the status quo. If their paper is so marvellous, then stand behind it, explain it, try to change hearts and minds and, above all, present something that benefits the broader football world, not just 20 privileged clubs. The future of football is at stake, after all. Isn’t that worth a little more than USD 3 billion?

Photo: PA Images

Football’s experts and influencers – some of the people we listen to

ONE OF the big changes in the football business world has been the recognition that the most popular sport on the planet now carries far greater weight than ever before. Admittedly, the game is dismissed as being the most important of the unimportant things in life, but in terms of contribution to the economy, social relevance, employment and community, football can no longer be regarded as trivial.

The rise of football as a business sector has, quite naturally, given birth to agencies, consultancies, intermediaries and commentators who earn a living on the back of global football. Equally, these companies and individuals also provide intelligent insights and interpret the economics, politics and data that gets produced.

While many fans care little for anything other than the game of football itself, understanding the background, financial structures and key elements of reporting allows people to understand why a club is successful or unsuccessful.

Game of the People  has worked with many of the key players in this industry and has provided editorial content for a wide range of reports and papers. The following is a list of some of the people we consider to be important and influential in this field. The list is not in any order and represents a selection of our most used sources. Needless to say, the list is being added to by the week. We welcome suggestions and recommendations.

UK Media: We see the Guardian as having the best stable of journalists when it comes to football – away from match reporting, writers such as David Conn and Jonathan Wilson are not only excellent scribes, but they lay a level of intelligence and sophistication to their work that is unmatched. David Conn has a strong business element to his writing but also understands the culture of the game, witness his coverage of the Hillsborough disaster trials. Jonathan Wilson, as well as being an incisive historian, has the ability to explain how football is played and how it has evolved down the decades. And there are others from the Guardian deserving of praise and respect, including women’s football expert Suzy Wrack and Italian football authority Nicky Bandini. The Athletic has lured a number of writers away from newspapers, such as Amy Lawrence and Raphael Honigstein while the Times has the likes of Henry Winter and Alyson Rudd (who was named GOTP’s top journalist in 2019). 

Swiss Ramble: This gentleman, a Brit living in Switzerland, provides possibly the most accessible and lucid explanation of football club accounts. His analyst-level content is football finance 101 for journalists, clubs, agencies and anyone with an interest in the game’s economics. And it is quite possible that he gets nothing for his considerable work. There are countless reports that reference Swiss Ramble and plenty who take his content and give no credit to the Zurich-based Arsenal fan. He is, without a doubt, social media’s foremost analyst.

KPMG Football Benchmark: KPMG’s Football Benchmark team is based primarily in Budapest, but it’s an international group led by Andre Sartori, a Juventus-supporting Italian. They came to the game after their corporate rivals Deloitte, but their European Elite report has become one of the “go-to” papers on football club evaluation. KPMG also produces a rolling player valuation tool and are regularly interviewed on TV.

Inside World Football: Experienced journalists form the backbone of this news portal which covers a broad range of topics and geographies. The site has a number of well respected writers including Mihir Bose and Andrew Warshaw. As a reference tool, Inside World Football is invaluable.

Soccerex: An events-driven company founded by Don Revie’s son, the late Duncan Revie, which stages conferences in various parts of the world. Soccerex published its third Football Finance 100 earlier this year, a report on the financial health of the top clubs.. Soccerex’s events are great networking opportunities and invariably have some top notch speakers.

Brand Finance: Brand Finance are based in the City of London and evaluate brands across many sectors and geographies. Included in their very considerable portfolio is the Football 50, which has been expanded to take the form of an annual that includes expert opinion, data and research findings. Their publications are backed by sound methodology and industry viewpoints.

Deloitte: Deloitte’s Football Money League is really the product that started the ball rolling in football finance. Although Deloitte’s research is primarily based around revenues and the elite end of the game, rather than other contributory factors, the presentation, editorial and format provides a clear snapshot of a club’s strength. Deloitte also produces an annual review of football finance, which is equally interesting and informative. These are the people that other companies aspire to emulate.

CIES Football Observatory: The Swiss-based CIES are the data gurus of the football world, producing reports that range from basic information about performance, player values and demographics to some quite obscure topics. So strong is their offering that other companies aim to partner with CIES to make use of their skills. We live in the data age and CIES are at the heart of football’s transition to a more scientific game.

Soccernomics: If Deloitte were the groundbreakers in producing club analysis, then Soccernomics , the book written by Stefan Szymanski and Simon Kuper, provided the ultimate text book. Soccernomics is more than a tome, though, it is arguably the most intelligent volume written about the game. Soccernomics is also an agency, comprising Kuper, Szymanski and Ben Lyttleton. They advise clubs, federations and businesses across the football landscape. The book, though, is what sells Soccernomics, it is an essential companion for anyone interested in how football works.

Academics: Kieran Maguire of the University of Liverpool’s Sports Business unit is one of the pre-eminent figures in football finance. He wrote The Price of Football  (if you can get hold of it) and has featured regularly on TV, in newspapers and websites. David Goldblatt, a larger-than-life character, has written some outstanding books, such as  The Ball is Round,  The Game of our Lives  and  The Age of Football. Also worth mentioning are: Simon Chadwick, Director of the Centre for Eurasian Sport Industry and Professor of Eurasian Sport Industry; Paul Widdop, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University; Daniel Parnell of University of Liverpool; and Rob Wilson of Hallam University. There is a growing field of experts who have recognised the contribution made by football to society and the global economy. All of the aforementioned, who represent a far wider body of men and women from the field of academia, are worth listening to.