Leicester City in search of miracles

An image of Leicester City's Jamie Vardy is projected on to a hotel during the "Backing the Blues" campaign in Leicester, Britain April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Staples - RTX2C7NF©Reuters

Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy is projected on to a hotel ahead of the big game

Only one of the football teams playing at Old Trafford on Sunday has any realistic chance of success next year.

And it is not Leicester City, who are poised to win the English Premier League after a remarkable nine-month fairytale that has seen them rise from a 5000-1 shot to a 1-20 near certainty.

But after the celebrations, the Midlands team will be left with a question: are they a one-season wonder or can they repeat their success?

According to figures from Deloitte, the consultancy, the club will receive at least £50m, with potential to rise to about £75m, as a direct result of winning the Premier League this season.

But experts said much more investment would be needed to sit at the top table of English clubs.

“It took Chelsea and Manchester City approximately £1bn [in spending on players] each to cement their position at the top,” said Stefan Szymanski, author of Money and Football: A Soccernomics Guide and a sports industry academic at the University of Michigan. “I do not think £50m extra is going to do it. I do not think it even gets close to doing it.”

Mr Szymanski said the best predictor of a team’s league placing, according to his research, was the club’s wage bill: a reflection on how much it spent on players.

Last season — the most recent for which clubs have published figures — Leicester spent £57m on staff, the third-lowest wage bill in the league at the time. The biggest spender was Chelsea, with £216m, which was duly crowned champion.

“The basic relationship is that talent is something you can buy in a market fairly reliably,” Mr Szymanski said. “We know [Barcelona forward Lionel] Messi commands the most money because he is the world’s best player. Broadly speaking, we know money equates with success, and success generates more revenue.”

If historical comparisons between a club’s finances and on-pitch performances remains true, Leicester’s board, led by its chairman and owner, Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, will be left with a dilemma.

Dan Jones, head of Deloitte’s sports business group, said Leicester could either bank this year’s cash and hope — but not expect — the current squad can repeat this year’s performance or gamble that an increase in spending would result in greater success and revenue.

“There are good arguments, footballing and financial, for going either way,” he said.

Leicester City did not respond to requests for comment.

The club’s standing at the top of the Premier League table is the biggest over-performance relative to wage bill in the past 15 years, the period of available salary data.

No club with Leicester’s relative spending power has ever broken into the top four, let alone reached the pinnacle. The previous best was Ipswich Town, which in 2001 finished fifth with a similarly small wage bill.

Judging Leicester’s performance on points instead of position makes their feat even more impressive, since it factors in their healthy seven-point lead over second-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

A typical points total for a side with Leicester’s wage bill would see it on about 37 points at this stage of the season, just below Crystal Palace in 16th place. Instead, the club has more than double that: 76.

According to Deloitte’s estimates, Leicester will earn £30m in prize money and gate receipts from its entry into next year’s Uefa Champions’ League. If it gets further than the group stages, the club could earn up to £50m.

Even before this year’s success, the club’s revenues rose £73m last year to £104m because of promotion to the Premier League. That figure should rise again to £125m next year, and £155m the season after (even if Leicester finishes bottom) when a new £5.1bn television deal from Sky and BT kicks in.

Leicester is now the world’s 24th richest club, by revenue, and the 12th richest in the Premier League. But compared with Manchester United, whose revenues touched almost £400m last year, it remains a minnow.

The lack of a salary cap in English football has traditionally allowed top clubs to entrench their success by buying the best players. Squads that have managed to win the title, such as Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and Manchester City, only did so after substantial investment.

However, more money is flowing to lower-ranked clubs from the Premier League’s growing domestic and overseas television deals. The overseas agreements, for example, are split evenly among the 20 clubs and last year each team received £27.8m from this pot.

According to Deloitte, 17 of the 20 Premier League clubs were able to book operating profits last season, with clubs in the top tier of English football making a combined pre-tax profit of £120m. Before the 2013 television deal, clubs made a combined pre-tax loss for 14 consecutive seasons.

Mr Szymanski suggested Leicester’s unexpected success could break a fragile equilibrium at the top of the league, forcing rivals to spend more on players.

“In the boardrooms of these so-called big clubs, there must be interesting discussions going on about [whether] this is a one-off freak to be ignored, or if this is a trend and the shape of things to come,” he said.

“I do not see Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal losing their ambitions. I do not think they will see any other option than to go out into the market and buy the best talent. I see a spending spree here. History says next year will be a pretty average year for Leicester.”

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