Everything is clear at the top of the Premier League.
Manchester City are again champions of the English Premier League with what has become an unavoidable regularity. Victory over runners-up Arsenal was sealed last weekend and those two clubs, along with Saudi-owned Newcastle United and City’s crosstown rivals Manchester United, have already secured four places in next season’s Champions League.
The drama in England is now at the bottom of the standings, with three clubs heading into the final day of the season next weekend and battling for their place in the league to maintain their place in the league, with a examining the finances of one of those clubs – Everton – means that whatever happens on the pitch may not be the final word on who is relegated.
And that worries the Premier League.
The problem is this: Everton’s financial losses of £371.8 million between 2018 and 2021 (about $460 million) were more than three times higher than a limit imposed by the league. In March, the Premier League accused the club of breaching cost containment rules and appointed an independent arbitrator to investigate. According to the competition rules, only the arbitrator has the authority to decide the case and to impose any penalties.
However, in the weeks since, rival clubs have pushed for a decision before the start of next season. They include, but are not limited to, those teams whose futures are inextricably linked to Everton’s finish in the league, each aware that a potential points deduction for financial offenses – if it arrives before the new season – could lead to Everton’s relegation could seal instead of their own.
The Premier League – already under pressure to rule on a separate and long-running case linked to Manchester City’s spending – has also been quietly pushing for a solution. According to people familiar with the league’s internal discussions, Premier League officials have been lobbying the head of the independent committee to make a decision for next season.
However, the attorney hired to oversee cases of league rule violations, Murray Rosen, has refused to rush, according to those familiar with the exchanges. He has at times even felt the need to remind league officials of the independence of the Premier League’s judiciary panel.
Both cases come as English football is about to take on a government-appointed independent regulator, a position that threatens the Premier League’s ability to keep pronouncements on controversial issues internal. The league’s critics argue that such a regulator has become necessary to oversee a group of owners who increasingly come from all corners of the world, including nation-states with access to seemingly unlimited capital reserves and lawyers.
At the moment, Everton’s focus – like that of rivals Leicester City and Leeds United – is on avoiding the embarrassment (and potential financial ruin) of relegation. Only one of three clubs will be spared that fate on Sunday, and Everton, a fixture in the Premier League since its formation in 1992, currently hold a slim lead. It is one place – and two points – above Leicester and Leeds, needing only to match its rivals’ results on Sunday to finish above them in the standings.
For relegated teams, losing a spot in the Premier League and the tens of millions of dollars in revenue membership guarantees can be a devastating blow. So-called parachute payments from the Premier League are helping cushion some of the financial losses for as many as three seasons, but the fallout from the new plight often leads to the depletion of club budgets and the departure of players, coaches and other staff members.
The prospect that fate could fall on a club and be reversed later has angered even Premier League teams who were not involved in this year’s relegation battle. A Premier League manager recently expressed surprise that the claims against Everton were not given more attention and there was no urgency to review them; the official equated the allegations of financial rule violations with doping.
The Premier League declined to comment on the Everton investigation or efforts to bring it to a conclusion. Everton have indicated it will step in and challenge any penalties; When the Premier League allegations were announced in March, the club said it was “prepared to vigorously defend its position” to the commission.
But even without the threat of relegation, Everton are a club in disarray. Its owner, Iranian-British businessman Farhad Moshiri, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on players since buying the club, only to have results collapse on the pitch and a much-publicized stadium project stalled due to a shortage of funds. A search for a new owner announced earlier this year has so far yielded no rescue.
The club’s financial problems only worsened when Moshiri’s long-time business partner, billionaire Alisher Usmanov, was sanctioned by the British government and the European Union for his close relationship with Russian President, Vladimir V. Putin. That forced Everton to end its relationship with companies linked to Usmanov, who had plowed millions into the club in recent years and projects such as the team’s half-built new stadium.
Everton fans have protested ownership of it for much of the season – as they did last year when the team narrowly avoided relegation. On at least one occasion this season, Everton management have been advised by police not to attend matches.