Everton & Forest fans can be angry with the Premier League - but it's the owners who broke the rules

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The Premier League's financial rules are incomplete and need reform to be truly fair - but they are necessary, and fans should blame owners for their mistakes.

The announcement that Everton and Nottingham Forest are being charged with breaches of the Premier League’s profit and sustainability regulations (PSR) – formerly known to us as FFP – has caused a fresh wave of anger and frustration to be unleashed in the direction of the Premier League, building on the protests seen at Goodison Park after Everton were deducted ten points earlier this season. There is some reason for all that ire, but much of it is being directed at the wrong people, and the owners of these teams should be taking far more flack than they are.

It is fairly clear at this point that the PSR rules have a lot of rough edges to sand off. The regulations state, in short, that clubs cannot lose more than £105m over a rolling three-year period, but the way that punishments are handed down and mitigations are considered is far from clear. If the Premier League wish to make the rules fairer, then clarity is needed in key areas – but that doesn’t mean that they are wrong to impose these regulations, or to bring harsh punishments down on those who breach them.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Everton fans will feel the most aggrieved as it stands. Part of that rests with the fact that the second overspend with which they are overcharged overlaps with the first – essentially, because they failed to control their finances over the course of one season, they risk punishment up to three times because that overspend continues to roll through the three-year period. If they did pick up another points deduction, it would feel a lot like being sentenced twice for the same crime. That ‘double jeopardy’ would not sit right.

Similarly, if the regulations do punish overspends on an annual basis, it would be blatantly unfair if Everton were to have points taken off twice in the same season – which would be the case if they were found in breach of PSR again, with the Premier League deciding that the case has to have been concluded by 8 April, pending appeals. Because Everton’s first case took longer to be worked through, they have already been given a 10-point deduction this year when it should have come last season – or if that penalty had to apply this year, then the latest breach should only apply a points deduction next season. On current form, Everton stand every chance of retaining their Premier League status despite being docked 10 points, but 20 would be a different matter entirely.

The fact that the process seems to be happening at arbitrary points in the season is one of the issues that the Premier League needs to deal with in order for the PSR to appear fair and transparent, but that objective is being made more challenging by the case against Manchester City.

Everton’s original punishment was dealt with swiftly because they were only defending themselves against a single charge. City, by comparison, currently face no fewer than 115 different breaches of the rules across nine seasons, most of which fall under the old FFP rules and all of which the club deny. The sheer extent of the proceedings mean that it will take an incredibly long time to pick through all the bones and reach a decision on guilt or potential punishments. Nevertheless, the anger of many fans that City are being allowed to ‘get away with it’ remains unfounded – the case goes on and if City are found to have broken the rules so extensively, it is likely that the consequences will be extremely severe.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Another problem facing the PSR, however, is those punishments. The Premier League’s rules do not set out what penalties teams should face for breaches, and they initially proposed a six-point deduction for Everton before turning the decision over to an independent committee, who decided upon 10 points. If that is too severe – and it is very hard to say what a ‘fair’ punishment is with few points of comparison – then the Premier League themselves are also not to blame. But the fact remains that they need to tighten the process, confirm the potential sanctions and offer clarity over potential mitigations. Everton and Nottingham Forest, both of whom are expected to offer explanations in the hope of offsetting any potential punishment, are in the dark over exactly what may or may not constitute acceptable mitigation.

The extent to which they have become test cases for the rules should not be considered acceptable, and it has been made clear that the Premier League are still refining the regulations as they go along by the way they recently closed the ‘loophole’ that Chelsea used to amortise their enormous transfer outgoings over long periods. The reason for the much-derided eight-year contracts that they handed out to players like Mykhaylo Mudryk was because they were able to split the cost of the transfer fee over the course of the entire deal – that has now been capped at five years. It would not be fair to expect the Premier League to foresee every potential way clubs could seek to work around the rules, but they don’t appear to have done enough of the groundwork in advance.

So the PSR have many problems, and a great deal of work has to be done to make them appear reasonable to clubs – but while the Premier League’s system is far from perfect, they are not the people with whom supporters should be most upset. That is the owners of the clubs involved.

Everton owner Farhad Moshiri and his Forest counterpart, Evangelos Marinakis, were both made aware in advance of the maximum losses they were allowed to make, and failed to ensure their clubs stayed within budget. They may good excuses or bad, but the responsibility for ensuring compliance rests squarely with the owners and executives of the clubs. They appear to have failed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Take the example of Forest, who have barely paused for breath in the transfer market since promotion to the Premier League. They have purchased so many players that senior members of the team have had to be excluded from the registered squad list on multiple occasions. In their first season back in the top flight, they spent an estimated £37.4m (according to Transfermarkt) on Lewis O’Brien, Jonjo Shelvey, Giulian Biancone, Omar Richards and Remo Freuler, all of whom have since either been released, loaned out or sold for a nominal fee. That loss is greater than the permitted average single-season loss on its own, and doesn’t account for the many more successful transfer that were made.

They have frequently spent in an unwise and scattershot fashion, seemingly without due regard for the risk of breaking PSR, and now face the prospect of a points deduction at a moment when they are just four points above the relegation zone. Similarly, the flaws with Everton’s ownership are well-documented and they have recently found themselves relying on outside investment from prospective owners the 777 Group.

Many fans, especially on Merseyside, accept that their owners are at fault, of course, but there are too many under the false impression that their clubs are suffering because of the whims of a league which wishes to protect the ‘cartel’ of big clubs who have a financial stranglehold on the game’s economy. It’s true that limiting spending in the way that PSR does will indeed help the richest clubs to maintain their advantage, but that isn’t the objective, just an unfortunate byproduct of the necessity to rein in spending both to prevent the football bubble from bursting disastrously down the line, and also to protect smaller clubs from negligent owners.

It's not so long since Portsmouth plunged into administration and League Two have spent miles beyond their means in the pursuit of short-term success. To believe that they would be the last top-flight club to flirt with bankruptcy because of owners who could not spend responsibly would be naïve in the extreme. Too many teams, up and down the football league, have either come close to going out of business or disappeared entirely.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Furthermore, while the PSR rules may smack of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, it’s equally foolish to believe that the gap between rich and poor wouldn’t grow even further without some form of regulation. The biggest teams with the biggest fanbases and wealthiest owners will always have an advantage. At least now the gap can, hopefully, be maintained at a vaguely sensible size.

Football needs to be protected from itself, and its fragile economy is has been pushed to breaking point in recent years by owners spending lavishly while the organisations responsible for the game fail to limit the excess. PSR is far from perfect, and a lot of work needs to be done to make sure that the processes involved are transparent and the punishments meted out are proportionate. The Premier League need to do that work soon, and do it well, to ensure that PSR doesn’t collapse under legal challenges.

The Premier League’s rules may appear capricious and the sanctions brutally severe. But they are a necessity – and it is equally necessary that the owners of Premier League clubs take their responsibilities as custodians of our clubs and the sport as a whole seriously. Negligent, incompetent or morally bankrupt owners have plagued the game for years – and if they cause problems for the teams under their care in the future, then the blame needs to be pointed at them, not at the people trying to create a system which safeguards the game.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.