Football might break out at Everton v Man Utd amid talk of takeovers, FFP and deductions

Sean Dyche and Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag
Sean Dyche and Erik ten Hag on the touchline.

With international football now shelved until March, the Premier League returns this weekend with a proper feast to stave off those domestic hunger pains.

Given all that has happened in recent weeks, a Super Sunday clash between Everton and Manchester United is a genuine highlight and a very fitting representation of the so-called ‘Best League in the World’.

In fairness, props must be given to the league, clubs and media outlets for their sterling work in the latest interminable break from the club game; it has allowed us to direct attention away from several dead rubber qualifiers and Jordan Henderson’s latest inexcusable international cap.

The obvious talking point was the unprecedented 10 point deduction Everton received for breaking the Premier League profit and sustainability rules. Over a three-year period, the Toffees were adjudged to have made losses of £19.5m over the limit of £105m.

‘Shocked’ by the decision, Everton will lodge an appeal and said in a club statement that they will ‘also monitor with great interest the decisions made in any other cases’. Rough translation: Manchester City and Chelsea, we will be watching you.

The break saw more reports of the apparent illegal operations of Roman Abramovich while in charge of Chelsea, which the club have self-reported since Clearlake’s acquisition of the club in 2022. UEFA have already handed out a small fine to the Blues for Financial Fair Play breaches, but the Premier League’s prospective punishment will send shivers down the spines of everyone at Stamford Bridge.

As it will at the Etihad…or will it? The Athletic reported this week that, after reading emails released by the UK Foreign Office, following a freedom of information request by the publication, that the league ‘agreed to settle their differences’ with Saudi Arabia/Public Investment Fund so that the takeover of Newcastle United could ‘go ahead’ – with ‘legal binding assurances’ of no state influence!

City claim to have ‘irrefutable evidence’ in their defence, but if that is the case, why would they not co-operate with the league’s investigation (Everton did, in fairness) and try and slow down everything in the process? Why would they want 115 charges hanging over the club’s achievements like a dark cloud and asterisk’s love child?

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With UAE also a business partner of the UK, and a fund backed by them looking to take over the Daily Telegraph (which even some Tory MPs are lobbying against), will similar ‘differences’ be settled to ensure no geopolitical blowback, or are we facing a Lance Armstrong moment in the English game? What a sorry set of words that is.

Everton’s issues also partly relate to geopolitics (what isn’t in the Premier League?), with Alisher Usmanov, a long-time business associate, commercial partner and benefactor of owner Farhad Moshiri, being one of the many Russian oligarchs sanctioned after Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

This led to the club being quickly forced to cut ties with their chief sponsor, USM Holdings, who sponsored Everton’s training ground, women’s team and match days at Goodison Park. The conglomerate had also bought exclusive naming rights to the new stadium at Bramley Moore-Dock, which was anticipated to provide a nine-figure sum that would help cover the costs of the construction.

Smaller deals have since been agreed but there’s no big-money naming rights replacement in place. Again, it begs the question: how are any of these people allowed into English football and how can football clubs, fans and their future be dictated by world events and the actions of dictators and despots?

The simple answer is cash, which has ruled everything around English football since the explosion of mid-to-late 1990s commercialism in the newly created Premier League. It’s how Abramovich and Abu Dhabi got in without any questions asked in 2003 and 2008 respectively, and it’s why the ‘fit and proper owner test’, introduced in 2004, is so flimsy and easy to manoeuvre.

It’s also a reason for the paltry £22 million combined fine for the Big Six’ after their scandalous and shambolic attempt to join the European Super League. What a 48 hours that was.

Bigger sanctions were promised if they did it again – that will teach them! It showed how in thrall the league is to these clubs and how ridiculous the concept of self-governing is. There is no coincidence that City’s charges, after a four year investigation, came in the same week as plans for an independent regulator were announced at government level. Nor that Everton were dealt with so seriously.

Let’s see what happens with Spurs too, given they, Portsmouth and Jermain Defoe allegedly ‘dealt with an unlicensed agent during the negotiations’ for the player’s return to north London in January 2009. The case has now been reopened by the FA. Insert can of worms or Pandora’s box being opened references where deemed necessary.

While these takeovers have undoubtedly benefited City, Chelsea and Newcastle at least in terms of on-field success, the opposite can be said for both Everton and United, who have both been run terribly under the stewardship of Moshiri and the Glazer family respectively.

Frivolous spending led to the Toffees getting stuck in financial trouble, while United’s own policy of throwing sh*t at the wall and seeing what might stick is long established.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, United have had five permanent managers, three caretakers and one interim. Somehow, Everton have been even more trigger-happy, with seven permanent managers (and four caretakers) in seven years of Moshiri rule.

Seven is rather apt given the proposed takeover of the club by 777, an American investment firm. There have been serious questions about those investors, with allegations of fraud since their founding in 2015. Co-founder Josh Wander also pleaded no contest to a drugs charge in 2003. All very wholesome, and one serious test of the ‘beefed up’ owners’ and directors’ test.

United, on the other hand, are on the verge of Sir Jim Ratcliffe taking 25% of the club shares and assuming ‘sporting control’, whatever that means. It is not the full exile of the Glazers fans wanted but it a step towards that and immeasurably better than any state involvement, let alone the Hamas-funding and housing Qataris, and that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their human rights abuses.

Both potential investors/owners already own other clubs – Genoa, Standard Liege and a minority stake in Sevilla for 777, Nice and Lausanne-Sport for Ratcliffe. It will add even more multi-club ownership models to the Premier League, which has just voted on allowing loan deals between such sister clubs.

Seriously, could there be any more issues in English football?

Two of the original ‘Big Five’ who led the breakaway to form the Premier League in 1992, it is a disgrace how both Everton and United fanbases have been so badly let down by the very organisation meant to protect them, as well as the FA and British governments. Leveraged buy-outs are now illegal in football, largely due to the Glazers’ destruction of United.

With all of this going on, one might forget there is actually a game of association football taking place at what is bound to be a raucous Goodison Park this Sunday. Both clubs need a win – Everton to kickstart their survival bid, United just to kickstart their season – and rather bizarrely, both are in good form.

Erik ten Hag’s side have somehow accrued the most points from the last five league games and Everton have begun to look like a proper Sean Dyche side, with 10 points in that same period – how crucial they might prove to be. The two sides also have the same goal difference (-3), despite being 13 positions apart (United in sixth, Everton in 19th), which adds to the bizarreness around both clubs.

Whatever happens in a game between two of the country’s most famous and historical clubs, more attention will ultimately be paid to events at ownership level and in court rooms/commission hearings in the coming weeks, which tells you everything you need to know about the current state of English football.