Dark financial cloud looms over Dutch kick-off
Reaching the World Cup final may have been a Pyrrhic victory for Dutch football. It was all well and good for Bert van Marwijk's men to send Brazil home in the quarter-finals, but the extended stay of international players in South Africa has had an unwelcome effect on the Eredivisie.
Four days after the final, Netherlands reserve goalkeeper Michel Vorm should have played for FC Utrecht in the Europa League. He refused to join up with his club and returned for the next round two weeks later after a much needed vacation. Worse was the plight of Martin Jol's Ajax, who had four pivotal players in the final stages of the World Cup - Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory van der Wiel, Demy de Zeeuw and Luis Suarez.
Admirable as it was to have these representatives of the club flying the flag in South Africa, it wreaked havoc on the preparations for one of the most important stages of their season: the qualifying rounds for the Champions League. Jol had to train for weeks with a depleted squad, uncertain when and if these men would come home; being in the World Cup spotlight attracts many transfer rumours. Stekelenburg was connected with Arsenal and Manchester United, Bayern Munich appeared to display a serious interest in Van der Wiel, while Suarez was linked with a move to most Premier League clubs as well as Barcelona. But for Jol, keeping the players is of greater importance than cashing in on them.
Once a wealthy club after going public, Ajax's six seasons without Champions League football and more than a handfull of ill-advised signings have left the club on the brink of financial disaster. Last year they had a €21 million deficit on a budget of €65 million and there is a lot of deadwood in the squad, with hefty salaries and long-term contracts too prevalent. These players must go, but few clubs are prepared to meet their financial demands. It leaves Ajax with several Winston Bogarde-cases - players who sit out their contracts by playing for the reserves or even not at all, while laughing all the way to the bank.
Last week Ajax disposed of PAOK Salonika to set up a deciding qualifier with Dynamo Kiev. Reaching the Champions League is however a double-edged sword. It brings in millions of euros during the coming season, but it also makes the star players almost unsellable as they are not eligible to play for another team in European competition. Should Ajax bow out to Dynamo then this restriction is lifted. It leaves Suarez, Van der Wiel and Stekelenburg with an interesting price tag during the last days of the transfer window at the end of August. Interesting for Ajax that is; less so for other clubs as money is tight everywhere these days.
Particularly at Feyenoord, who are now officially in dire financial straits. They are one of 13 professional clubs under the surveillance of the Dutch FA and must balance their books within three years or lose their licence, while they are currently not allowed to buy any players without the FA's consent. The former European Cup winners are fortunate to have passionate supporters who ensure capacity crowds on a regular basis, but these fans have watched in agony as their club has spiralled downwards since the UEFA Cup victory in 2001.
Some of them even had a hand in it as Feyenoord suffered from severe UEFA punishments after riots at European away games. The impatient and sometimes hostile atmosphere in the Kuip can also be very intimidating for some of Feyenoord's new signings and young talents, whose spirits can be broken. Yet the biggest financial setback for the club is that they take little income from hospitality on matchdays. Feyenoord are unable to take the next step in their budget until a new stadium is ready. Planning permission is due this autumn but for the foreseeable future, straws are being clutched at in Rotterdam.
Ten years of Champions League football in a row had left PSV in a sound financial state, but after two years out of the competition their coffers are now emptying thick and fast. Having experienced a financial loss last season that almost equalled Ajax's, there is a profound need to take the title in 2011. This is not always a guaranteed path to monetary wellbeing though, just ask 2009 Eredivisie winners AZ. When the club chairman's bank collapsed last year, so did AZ's sponsor and support network. Their prosperity from UEFA money was short-lived as the owners are now selling all the key assets, including players like Mounir El Hamdaoui and Moussa Dembele. Suddenly FC Twente, with their healthy household, and FC Utrecht, with a rich and wise investor, are becoming the clubs of the hour.
For the first time the Dutch FA, in accordance with the clubs, has implemented a license system which punishes financial irregularities and shortcomings with a points deduction. NAC Breda started the Eredivisie season with minus one as they were late paying their players. In the second tier of Dutch football, the massacre is more severe as no less than six Jupiler League clubs find themselves under scrutiny, with some of them having broken two or even three financial rules.
The banking crisis has caused havoc in medium and small business with an immediate effect on sport sponsorship but because the clubs in the Jupiler League have to largely do without television money or other commercial spin-offs, they are somewhat used to spending their financial lives on the brink. Haarlem, founded in 1889 and responsible for nurturing Dutch legend Ruud Gullit in his early career, were the first to keel over last season - going out of business in January. They were almost followed by Veendam, whose impending bankruptcy was reported several times, but the club somehow managed to keep going.
This season sees the start of a semi-professional league made up of the major former amateur clubs. The winners of this Topklasse could be promoted to the Jupiler League next summer. One team was relegated to this level last season; ironically, the victims were FC Oss, known as one of the few clubs that made a profit over the years. Their no-debt financial model and active social involvement in the community has made them an excellent example of how to run a football club in a small provincial city. Soon they will open a new stand which has school facilities and a training centre; what a shame it is, though, that their off-pitch stability was not reflected in the league table.