Private Equity’s attraction to football comes with a warning

FOOTBALL’s investor base has diversified in recent years and the market has seen a new type of club owner – one that demands some sort of return on investment. Past benefactors have poured money into clubs and asked for very little back, but with the arrival of private equity firms in football, the dynamic is changing.

Private equity’s role in football club ownership is certainly different than a sovereign wealth fund or state-owned entity from the middle east. While the middle eastern owner is not over-concerned with profit-making by a club, the private equity owner expects a return and also will have an exit plan built into the transaction. Furthermore, they invariably rely on debt to fund an acquisition, which can make them very unpopular with the support base.

While investment by a P/E firm can be seen as big capitalism moving in, there are some positives that can benefit a club, such as innovative ideas, cost controls and a penchant for data analysis.  There is also a focus on new revenue generation. In short, a P/E outfit can transform a club and become its saviour, but if the fundamentals are wrong, it can also break and destroy a club.

What is so attractive for these firms? Obviously, TV monies and spiralling broadcasting deals have made football a cash-rich industry at the very top, but the imbalances are huge and probably always will be. It’s also a global game and its popularity shows little sign of waning. 

For the big clubs, very lucrative revenue streams are virtually guaranteed and their brand has little trouble attracting big sponsors and commercial partners. Clubs are also quite accessible and there are few intermediaries, unlike leaders in other sectors. It is relatively easy to have c-suite discussions with football clubs as most are desperate for cash as the pandemic was brutal for many football clubs. Even in the elite bracket, wages are too high and transfer fees are out of hand. 

All around Europe, Private Equity has been busy with companies like CVC, Clearlake, Red bird, Apollo and Fortress all taking stakes in major clubs. Some, like 777 Partners, have a taste for football investments and have built up a multi-club portfolio that includes Genoa, Standard Liege, Hertha Berlin, Paris Red Star, Sevilla and Vasco Da Gama. CVC have decided to invest in leagues and have had dialogue with Serie A, Ligue 1, La Liga and the Bundesliga, with varying degrees of success and no small amount of resistance from fan groups. CVC managed to invest around US$ 3 billion in part of La Liga’s commercial business. 

The worldwide appeal of Premier League football has made English clubs sought after assets, but the ongoing debate over the sale of Manchester United does hint that pricing is an issue. While figures have been thrown around valuing United at £ 4 billion and higher, Tom Markham, a football finance expert has calculated the club’s true value is more likely less than £ 1 billion. It is well known that Qatar, who were favourites to win the bid for the club, insist they will not overpay just to land a prestige prize. P/E may yet buy United but other clubs have come under the microscope of the sector, such as Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

But it has to be noted and underlined that Private Equity companies are not sugar daddies and are not avuncular patrons. They are all about making money and in order to do that, they will slash costs, including peripheral activities like community initiatives, and insist on some level of prudence in the transfer market. They may not throw money around on a carefree basis, but they will try to run a club properly so that when they do choose to exit, their asset will be attractive. For a club like Chelsea, who were taken over by a consortium that included a P/E firm, they are at the start of a very different era than that funded by Roman Abramovich.

In the football landscape of the future, Private Equity will have its place, but with interest rates rising, a nervous banking crisis possibly unfolding and continued geo-political concerns, there is a level of uncertainty that could deter even the most cavalier investor. It is unlikely that football will avoid the next period of major economic upheaval.

Manchester United – five of their best

MANCHESTER UNITED may have won the first major prize of 2022-23 when they beat Newcastle United 2-0 to win the EFL Cup, but they have a trophy-laden history. Some of the game’s greats have played for United, including Duncan Edwards, Billy Meredith, Bobby Charlton, George Best, David Beckham and Roy Keane. Here’s five of the best united teams – but there are others that can claim a place in the pantheon of the world’s most popular pastime!


Harry Moger, Hugh Edmonds, Vince Hayes, George Stacey, Alex Bell, Alex Downie, Dick Duckworth, Charlie Roberts, Jimmy Bannister, Harold Halse, Billy Meredith, Jack Picken, Jimmy Turnbull, George Wall, Enoch West, Herbert Burgess, Thomas Homer, Anthony Donnelly, George Livingstone.

Manager: Ernest Magnall

Achievements: Football League champions 1907-08 and 1910-11; FA Cup winners 1908-09.
Five-year record (1907-08-1911-12): 1 – 13 – 5 – 1 – 13

Key men

Billy Meredith
, Welsh international winger, controversial figure who played with a toothpick in his mouth. Played 300 games for each of the Manchester clubs; Sandy Turnbull, bustling forward who died during WW1. Involved in scandals that led to him being banned from football; Charlie Roberts, strong and skilful centre half who was capped by England. Both he and Meredith were instrumental in establishing the players’ union.


Ray Wood, Harry Gregg, Roger Byrne, Bill Foulkes, Jackie Blanchflower, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, Johnny Berry, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Dennis Viollet, Colin Webster, Billy Whelan, Bobby Charlton, John Doherty.

Manager: Matt Busby

Achievement: Football League Champions 1955-56 and 1956-57; FA Cup finalists 1956-57 and 1957-58. Five-year record (1953-54 – 1957-58): 4 – 5 – 1 – 1 – 9

Key men

Duncan Edwards, strong, physical, versatile and high on stamina. A defensive midfielder who could dominate games. Tragically died after the Munich air crash, aged just 21; Roger Byrne, captain of the United team, a defender who became one of the first attacking full backs. Won 33 caps for England but also died in Munich in 1958; Eddie Colman, the youngest of the “Busby Babes” to die in the Munich disaster, his trademark was his body swerve, which earned him the nickname, “Snakehips”; Tommy Taylor, strong centre forward signed from Barnsley for £ 29,999 who scored 137 goals in 237 games for United. Won 19 caps for England, scoring 16 goals. Another player who died in Munich.


Alex Stepney, Tony Dunne, Bobby Noble, David Sadler, Pat Crerard, John Aston, David Herd, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton, Shay Brennan, Nobby Stiles, George Best, Brian Kidd, Francis Burns, Bill Foulkes.

Manager: Matt Busby

Achievement: Football League champions 1966-67, European Cup winners 1967-68. Five-year record (1964-65 to 1968-69): 1 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 11

Key men

George Best,
 Northern Ireland international winger, 37 caps, who was one of the great players from the late 1960s and early 1970s. A wonderful, flawed genius of a performer, his off-pitch life brought an end to his relatively unfulfilled career. A great dribbler, improviser and goalscorer, he died sadly young at 59. Bobby Charlton, one of England’s greatest players who lived through the Munich air disaster of 1958 and eight years later, won the World Cup with England, for whom he won 106 caps and scored 49 goals.  Gave his name to fierce, long-range shooting, the “Bobby Charlton thunderbolt”.  Denis Law, won 55 caps for Scotland, scoring 30 goals, and in his club career, scored 303 times in just over 600 games. A legendary figure, acrobatic, competitive and tenacious. He had a short spell with Torino from whom he joined United in 1962. Ended his international career in the 1974 World Cup.


Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Paul Parker, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Lee Sharpe, Andrei Kanchelskis, Ryan Giggs, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Brian McClair, Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes.

Manager: Alex Ferguson

Achievement: Premier League champions 1993-94, FA Cup winners 1993-94, Football League Cup finalists 1993-94. Five-year record (1991-92 to 1995-96): 2 – 1 – 1 – 2 – 1

Key men

Peter Schmeichel, 
Danish goalkeeper who joined United in 1991 from Brøndby for £ 500,000. Won 129 caps for Denmark, including the successful 1992 European Championship. An imposing and very physical keeper, an all-time great. Eric Cantona, French forward, an iconic figure who was as controversial as he was skilful. Joined United in 1992 from Leeds for a bargain £ 1 million. Won 45 caps for France. Retired at 31 in 1997 after scoring 82 goals in 185 games for the club. Ryan Giggs, one of United’s great clubmen, playing 963 games in a career that saw him become one of the most decorated players in English football. Welsh international, he won 64 caps.


Peter Schmeichel, Gary Neville, Philip Neville, Denis Irwin, Ronnie Johnsen, Japp Stam, Nicky Butt, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke, Jesper Blomquist, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ryan Giggs. 

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

Achievement: Premier League champions 1998-99 (and 1999-00 and 2000-01); FA Cup winners 1998-99; UEFA Champions League winners 1998-99. Five-year record (1996-97to 2000-01): 1 – 2 – 1 – 1 – 1

Key men

Dwight Yorke,
 Trinidad & Tobago-born striker who joined United from Aston Villa for £ 12.6 million. A fast and tricky player, he scored 29 goals in 1998-99.   Jaap Stam, Dutch central defender who won 67 caps for his country. Joined United from PSV Eindhoven in 1998, he combined strength and spped with an ability to read the game well. Gary Neville, one of England’s great full backs, a tenacious, hard-tackling defender. Born in Bury, he won 85 caps for England. Roy Keane, captain of the treble winning team, a hard man who was very, and occasionally too, competitive. Joined from Nottingham Forest for £ 3.75 million, he won 67 caps for the Republic of Ireland.