The Americanisation of English football

A quarter of all Premier League clubs are US-owned as the lucrative appeal of English football finally hits America.

    Stan Kroenke's acquisition of Arsenal means that a quarter of English Premier League clubs are now in the hands of Americans [GALLO/GETTY]

    Last week saw American tycoon Stan Kroenke secure a controlling stake in Arsenal Football Club, clearing the way for a full takeover that would make him the fifth US owner of an English Premier League club.   

    Arsenal has become the latest club to find itself in the hands of foreign ownership, joining Liverpool and Manchester United.

    It's an interesting turn of events for Arsenal, who have always remained sceptical about overseas investors.

    Arsenal's chairman Peter Hill-Wood made his feelings perfectly clear of what he thought of Stan Kroenke back in 2007, citing that the North London club didn't need 'his sort', when Kroenke first made his intentions clear, increasing his stake to over 12 per cent.

    However, with the increasing spending prowess of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool and echoes of disgruntled fans at the Emirates due to the lack of silverware, the general consensus at Arsenal is that they would need to up the ante to compete with the Roman Abramovichs and Sheikh Mansours of this world.

    Arsenal's move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, although lucrative, has tied the hands of manager Arsene Wenger in the transfer market, and the injection of funds from 'Silent Stan' for transfers would be just what Arsenal require at this time.

    Stan Kroenke's imminent takeover could also spell the end for Alisher Usmanov, Arsenal's second largest shareholder, who himself has designs of taking over at one point. He is reported to be 'livid' by these recent developments.

    It will be interesting to see whether Arsenal fans take to Stan Kroenke or not. Arsene Wenger's vision married with Kroenke's spending power could result in a bitter divorce for the Gunners, or a marriage made in heaven. 

    Only time will tell.

    Kroenke's involvement with English football appears to be a recent growing trend of US based owners taking over, as a quarter of English clubs plying their trade in the English top flight now are owned by US owners.

    This now also tilts the balance of power at any prospective Premier league shareholder meetings, with the Americans staking a claim at making themselves heard at any possible opportunity. Of the 20 teams in the Premier League, only half are home owned.

    Foreign invasion

    Roman Abramovich's arrival at Chelsea in July 2003 paved the way for a foreign invasion. The influx of American owners began with Malcolm Glazer, who invested in Manchester United a few months later, although it would take him over two years to gain full control of the club.

    In 2006 Randy Lerner and his £62m buyout of Aston Villa, brought an end to Doug Ellis' 24 years at the helm and a year later saw the disastrous takeover of Liverpool by George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who have since sold the club to John Henry of FSG in 2010.

    The popularity of foreign owners, particular those residing stateside, have been controversial to say the least.

    The fierce objection from fans of Manchester United of the Glazer family, can be visually seen with the 'Gold and Green' brigade in regular attendance at Old Trafford.

    The £500m bond refinancing to use £70m of club revenue to off their controversial £220m PIK (payment in kind) loans, culminated to mass demonstrations and protests outside the Theatre of Dreams. It prompted manager Sir Alex Ferguson to issue statements urging fans to back the current owners.

    EPL Factbox

    Home owned clubs

    Newcastle United
    Stoke City
    Tottenham Hotspur
    West Bromwich Albion
    West Ham United
    Wigan Athletic
    Wolverhampton Wanderers

    Foreign owned

    Arsenal (US - Stan Kroenke)
    Aston Villa (US - Randy Lerner)
    Birmingham City (Hong Kong - Carson Yeung)
    Blackburn Rovers (India - Venky’s)
    Chelsea (Russia - Roman Abramovich)
    Fulham (Egypt - Mohammed Al Fayed)
    Liverpool (US - John W. Henry)
    Manchester City (UAE - Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan)
    Manchester United (US - Malcolm Glazer)
    Sunderland (US - Ellis Short) 

    The ownership of Liverpool played out like a soap opera when investors George Gillett and Tom Hick had a very public falling out. Court cases and lawsuits ensued, as both Gillett and Hicks looked for a quick getaway when faced with the wrath of the Anfield faithful.

    The club was eventually sold to John W. Henry of FSG, for a fee believed to be around £300m - half of what it was valued at.

    But there have also been owners who have been accepted by fans.

    Ellis Short of Sunderland and Randy Lerner of Aston Villa, in particular, appear to be favourites of fans and are perceived to be genuine 'good guys'.

    This was evident when Villa fans rallied behind Lerner, after the resignation of manager Martin O'Neill, a popular figure within the game.

    The lure of crossover potential appears to be lucrative and attractive for many potential owners when looking at Premier League clubs. The Premier League is big business and the most lucrative competition in the world football.

    Its global appeal reaches from East Asia to the Middle East, therefore investors view the globalisation of football as an opportunity to make serious money. But one cannot underestimate the importance of fans.

    They are the bedrock of any club, especially in England, where each club is steeped in history and tradition. It's imperative for any new owner to understand this notion and work towards getting them onside from the beginning.

    One thing is for certain, if the globalisation of the Premier League does continue, then more English clubs can be expected to fall into foreign hands before long.

    Asam Shah is a freelance digital journalist based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter@AsamPlusONE or see his website

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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