For Everton and Premier League, relegation battle is not over

Everything is clear at the top of the Premier League.

Manchester City, with what has become an inevitable regularity, is once again the champions of the English Premier League. Their triumph over second-placed Arsenal was sealed last weekend, and those two clubs – along with Saudi-owned Newcastle United and City rivals Manchester United – have already secured the league’s four places in the Premier League. next season’s champions.

The drama in England is now at the bottom of the standings, where three clubs go into the final day of the season this weekend locked in a high-stakes fight to retain their league places, and where an investigation into the finances of one of those clubs – Everton – means whatever happens on the pitch may not be the final word on who gets relegated.

And that worries the Premier League.

Here’s the thing: Everton’s financial losses of £371.8m between 2018 and 2021 (about $460m) were more than three times the league’s cap. In March, the Premier League accused the club of breaking its cost control rules and appointed an independent arbitrator to investigate. Under league rules, the referee alone is empowered to decide the case and enforce any potential penalties.

In the following weeks, however, rival clubs pressed for a decision before the start of the next season. They include, but are not limited to, those teams whose future is inextricably linked to Everton’s league finish, each of whom is aware that a potential points deduction for financial violations – if it arrives before the new season – could seal the club’s relegation. Everton instead of their own.

The Premier League – already under pressure to announce a decision in a separate, long-running case over Manchester City’s spending – has also been quietly pushing for a resolution. According to people familiar with the league’s internal discussions, Premier League officials have been pressing the head of the independent commission to reach a decision before next season.

The lawyer hired to oversee rule-breaking cases in the league, Murray Rosen, refused to be rushed, however, according to people familiar with the exchanges. At times, he even felt the need to remind league officials of the independence of the Premier League’s judicial panel.

Both cases come as English football is on the cusp of adopting a government-appointed independent regulator, a role that threatens the Premier League’s ability to keep decisions on controversial issues internally. The league’s critics argue that such a regulator has become necessary to police a growing pool of property owners from all corners of the world, including nation states with access to seemingly limitless reserves of capital and lawyers.

At the moment, Everton’s focus – like that of rivals Leicester City and Leeds United – is to avoid the ignominy (and potential financial ruin) of relegation. Only one of the three clubs will be spared that fate on Sunday and Everton, who have played in the Premier League since its inception in 1992, currently have a slim lead. They are one place – and two points – above Leicester and Leeds, and need only match their rivals’ results on Sunday to finish above them in the standings.

For relegated teams, the loss of a Premier League place and the tens of millions of dollars in revenue that membership guarantees can be a devastating blow. The Premier League’s so-called parachute payments help cushion some of the financial losses for up to three seasons, but the fallout from the difficult new circumstances often leads to shattering club budgets and the departure of players, coaches and other staff. members.

The prospect that fate could befall one club and then be reversed has angered even Premier League sides not involved in the relegation fight this year. A Premier League executive recently expressed surprise that there had not been greater coverage of the claims against Everton and the lack of urgency in prosecuting them; the official compared accusations of violating financial rules to doping.

The Premier League declined to comment on Everton’s investigation or any efforts to fast-track it. Everton have signaled they will dig in and fight any potential penalties; when the Premier League allegations were announced in March, the club said it was “prepared to defend firmly” its position before the commission.

Even without the threat of relegation, though, 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 see his on-field results plummet and a much-touted stadium project risk stalling due to lack of funds. . The search for a new owner, announced earlier this year, has so far not produced a savior.

The club’s financial problems only got worse when Moshiri’s former 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 in recent years has invested millions in the club and in projects such as the team’s new half-built stadium.

Everton fans have been protesting their ownership for much of the season – as they did last year when the team narrowly avoided relegation. On at least one occasion this season, Everton’s leadership have been advised by police not to attend games.

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