Ajax loss hits € 30 million, despite revenue increase

AJAX were beaten 6-1 at home by Napoli on UEFA Champions League matchday three, a disastrous result for a club that needs to be part of Europe’s top club competition. The Dutch champions’ latest financials reveal that income from Europe remains a vital component of their business model, but the Napoli game suggested Ajax will be exiting at the group stage this season, and therefore in a year’s time, the effect will be felt.

In 2021-22, Ajax made a pre-tax loss of € 31.7 million, a 171% rise on the previous campaign’s loss of € 11.7 million. Given all main revenue streams increased, the increased deficit can be partly attributed to higher expenses which included an € 8 million settlement with the family of Appie Nouri, the young player who has been left paralysed after a cardiac arrhythmia attack in a pre-season game in Austria in 2017. Ajax, who are hugely dependent on player trading, also saw their profit on sales drop by 56% to € 37.8 million.

In 2021-22, the most notable sale was David Neres to Shakhtar Donetsk, which yielded a fee of € 12 million. The previous campaign had seen Ajax receive over € 100 million from the sale of, among others Hakim Ziyech, Quincy Promes, Donny van der Beek and Sergiño Dest. In 2022-23, Ajax received more than € 200 million in transfer fees, including a total of € 152 million from the sale of Antony and Lisandro Martínez to Manchester United. This should ensure Ajax return to profit for the first time since 2020.

At a glance

€m2021-222020-212019-202018-192017-18
Revenues18912516219993
P&L pre-tax(32)(12)27693
Wages10995929253
Net Debt126129128(62)(12)
Source: Swiss Ramble

Ajax’s total revenues for the season were € 189.2 million, a 51% increase on the covid-affected 2020-21. The two main sources of the rise from € 125.2 million were matchday and broadcasting. Given the heavy impact that near-negligible matchday earnings had on Ajax in 2021, it was no surprise that a return towards normal operating conditions resulted in a 1674% rise in matchday monies from € 1.9 million to € 34.2 million.

Although Ajax’s main rivals, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord have yet to publish 2021-22 figures, they will be some way behind. Ajax’s total of € 34.2 million would have been higher if the league did not have a capacity restriction. They averaged 35,000 at the Cruyff arena when under normal circumstances, they would attract 50,000-plus.

The club’s broadcasting monies were also up, by 34% to € 73.8 million. Almost 86% of this total was received from UEFA after Ajax reached the last 16 of the Champions League in 2021-22 – the Dutch league has been tied to a 12-year deal with Fox, signed in 2013, a move they probably regret today.

The importance of UEFA money is such that it contributes a third of the club’s overall turnover. In the past five years, the club has earned well over € 200 million from UEFA, giving them a huge competitive advantage over their domestic rivals. It is little wonder that Ajax are dominating Dutch football once more, with four consecutive league titles and a revitalised player development programme that has seen them sell top talent to clubs like Barcelona, Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester United.

Ajax are also the leading commercial business among football clubs in the Netherlands, a very identifiable brand with strong partnerships. Most of their Eredivisie stablemates only earn a fraction of the € 81.2 million generated in 2021-22. Indeed, this figure is a record for the club and 19% up on 2020-21. Their current shirt sponsor, Ziggo, and kit provider, Adidas, have deals running to 2025. Despite being the biggest draw in the Eredivisie, Ajax’s commercial stream is dwarfed by the top clubs in Europe.

Equally, Ajax are able to pay the highest wages in the Eredivisie, their 2021-22 bill coming to € 109 million, which equates to 58% of income. In 2020-21, the ratio went up to 76%.

Ajax remain one of the clubs who operate on the fringe of the elite but their track record in Europe (four European Cup/Champions League titles) and their reputation for nurturing talent rightly earns them a place at the table. They will forever be a big fish in a small pond, which will always make them extremely successful at home, but they will forever be running to stand still in Europe.

Europe’s fairy-tale in 2022? Union Saint-Gilloise

IN 2020-21, three of the five big European leagues saw a changing of the guard, although it is unlikely to represent a seismic shift in the balance of power. In Italy, Juventus’ long reign was brought to an end by Inter Milan, Lille knocked Paris Saint-Germain off their perch in France and in Spain, Atlético Madrid were champions for the first time since 2014. 

As Manchester City opened up a six-point advantage in the Premier League, poundits were starting to predict a prolonged period of sky blue prominence, with City overtaking Manchester United’s 20 title wins. This is, of course, a possibility, but the chances are, a new contender or two will emerge in the coming years to change the competitive landscape.

Nevertheless, Manchester City are looking formidable again this season and after chasing Chelsea earlier in the campaign, they have raced ahead and it would be a fool who would bet against Pep Guardiola’s team lifting yet another title. At best, it could be a three-horse race in the Premier, involving City, Liverpool and Chelsea, although three may become two in the near future. City are not the only team in Europe who probably won’t have to return their championship trophy in the summer.

No change there, then

Red Bull Salzburg are, predictably, 14 points clear in Austria and look far too strong for the rest of their Bundesliga rivals. They also have a Champions League last 16 tie with Bayern Munich to look forward to. Rangers are six points in front of Celtic in Scotland and have transitioned well after losing their coach, Steven Gerrard, to Aston Villa. But after going undefeated in 2020-21, they were beaten at Tannadice, home of Dundee United, 1-0. It’s there only league defeat so far.

In Italy, Inter have surprised everyone by going top after the departure of coach Antonio Conte, Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakim. Inter signed the veteran Eden Džeko to replace Lukaku, and it seems to have worked, but Inter actually look a more fluid side and are playing very good football. Inter will play Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League, which could be much more difficult than fending off the Serie A challenge of AC Milan (4 points behing) and Napoli (seven).

Bayern Munich are on course for yet another Bundesliga title and have nine points more than second-placed Borussia Dortmund. Robert Lewandowski, so cruelly denied the Balon d’Or, has netted 30 goals in all competitions. Other champions from 2020-21 who look destined to retain their championship include Slavia Prague (Czech Republic), Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia), Olympiacos (Greece), Ferencváros (Hungary) and Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia). 

Surprise packages

The most eye-catching league leader in Europe has to be Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium. The Brussels-based team, who only a few years ago were in the third tier of Belgian football, are seven points clear of holders Brugge. It’s often forgotten that USG have been champions 11 times, but the last occasion was in 1935. The club has been owned by Tony Bloom, the chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion, since 2018.

Legia Warsaw, Polish champions in 2020-21, have been having a torrid time this season and are languishing in the bottom half of the top flight, which is more of a shock than Lech Poznań being top of the league. In Switzerland, FC Zurich are top of the table, ahead of Basel and Young Boys Bern. Zurich, who were last champions in 2009, have not been contenders for some time and finished eighth in 2020-21. There could be an unfamiliar face at the top of the Turksih league come the end of the campaign. Trabzonsopor are 10 points ahead of second-placed Konyaspor and could win their first championship since 1984.

Tight competition

Portugal is experiencing a keenly fought title race and the big three, Benfica, Porto and Sporting, are in a commanding position. Porto and last season’s champions, Sporting are both on 41 points and are unbeaten, while Benfica have four less. All three clubs are still involved in European competition, with Sporting facing Manchester City and Benfica playing Ajax in the Champions League last 16. Porto have been paired with Lazio in the Europa League play-off. As ever, the Serbian title will be decided between Partizan and Red Star Belgrade. The former have five points more than the champions and are unbeaten in their first 21 games. Similarly, it is a Shakhtar Donetsk – Dynamo Kyiv battle in Ukraine, with the former just ahead of champions Kyiv. Both teams have excellent away records.

Back on top

Real Madrid have an eight point cushion at the head of La Liga and have lost just once. Sevilla, Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano (!) are chasing Real, while champions Atlético Madrid are in fifth position but have been blowing hot and cold. Barcelona are way off the pace, largely due to their financial problems and the physical and psychological loss of Lionel Messi. His new club, Paris Saint-Germain, have a 13-point margin over second-placed Nice  and look certain to recapture the title they lost to Lille in 2020-21. Messi, who has taken time to adjust to Ligue 1 football, has scored just one league goal for PSG. 

Ajax have got serious competition this season in the Eredivisie and are in second place, one point behind PSV Eindhoven, who were last champions in 2018. Interestingly, PSV were beaten 4-0 at home by Feyenoord and 5-0 when they travelled to Ajax. With the Amsterdamers distracted by the Champions League, though, PSV have an opportunity to consolidate their leadership in the next few months.

European football has become quite predictable over the past decade, although the big clubs have always been successful over the long-term. While it is fair and responable that the best should emerge as winners, the joy of the unexpected is what makes football so interesting. We need more stories like Leicester City (2016) and Lille (2021) – could we find one or two from this season? If you’re a football romantic, cheer on little USG in Brussels!