With Eggert Magnusson and his Icelandic consortium’s takeover of West Ham going through last week, 6 Premier League teams currently have non-British owners: Chelsea, Manchester United, Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Fulham and West Ham. I don’t really know whether or not to count Fulham; Mohammed Fayed isn’t a British citizen, and seems to view Fulham as a rich man’s plaything, but he’s been based in England since the 70s. Regardless, Fulham has never been mentioned in the same breath as the other clubs in regards to foreign ownership.
A quick look at the Premier league table: Manchester United 1st, Chelsea 2nd, Portsmouth 4th, Aston Villa 5th. Chelsea and United are business as usual, but Villa and Pompey have been two of the surprises of the season. It’s still early days, but you just have to look at the results from any of these clubs since the foreign ownership took over.
Aston Villa: Villa is a tougher club to justify, as American businessman Randy Lerner bought the club right at the start of the season, after O’Leary was fired and O’Neill brought in. Nonetheless, the improved atmosphere following the departure of Doug Ellis must count for something. Not to mention Lerner’s said all the right things so far about money in the transfer coffers. Villa certainly appears to have stabilized, and it's a combination of Lerner and O'Neill (more O'Neill, to be sure) that's gotten them there.
Portsmouth: Milan Mandaric got Pompey into the Premiership, but since Alexandre Gaydamak took over in January, they’ve seemingly established themselves as a Premier League side. The funds released by Gaydamak saw them purchase Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes, and Noe Pamarot, as well as bring Wayne Routledge and Andres d’Alessandro in on loan. This year, they’ve brought in two former English internationals in Sol Campbell and David James, as well as Kanu, Andrew Cole, and Manuel Fernandes. I don’t expect them to finish fourth, but their run over the past calendar year has been impressive.
Chelsea: Do I really need to go through this? Since Abramovich bought the club in 2003, they’ve won the League for the first time since 1955, setting a points record in the process, and then won it again the following year. Nearly every squad member is also their respective international squad. They’ve also spent something like £120m+ on transfer fees, incidentally, not even mentioning some of the wages the likes of Terry, Lampard, Ballack, Sheva, Essien, etc, etc are on.
Manchester United: It’s easy to make the argument that foreign investment hasn’t changed United one way or the other, and this is where they’re expected to be. Fair enough. However, considering all the melodrama when Glazer et al bought the club, you certainly can’t complain about where the club’s gone on the pitch. They’ve retained spending power in spite of all the worries, having the money to splash out £15m or so on solely Carrick. Alex Ferguson, to the chagrin of everyone not at United, remains the manager with the full backing of the owners. An American owning Manchester United hasn’t brought about the collapse of Old Trafford. If anything, it’s resuscitated and prolonged the Ferguson era of (sigh) dominance.
Granted, I may enter into this with a few biases, as by this classification, I’m a foreigner as well, but it’s hard to argue that any of these teams are poorer due to foreign investment. Please be conscious I’m not making any argument as to its impact on soccer in general. I’m fully aware of the corrupting influence of business in sport, and the possibility of ignoring and betraying the traditions of a club. Chelsea has single-handedly finished what Real Madrid started, and utterly decimated the transfer market. The gap between the rich and poor in soccer continues to grow, to the detriment of competition. We read about everyday fans feeling alienated from the local club they support, and few teams are made up of players from the local community, let alone the country. Soccer becoming a business has changed the game for good, and it’s probably not for the better. But foreign investment is an effect of this, not a cause. I’m solely arguing that the results have improved on the field for every single club since the foreigners took over.