Football is a lucrative sport with a lot of financial benefits, but on the other hand, it is expensive to run, especially at club level.
Debt and football always go hand in hand, especially at club level. Clubs regularly owe money to banks, other teams, players, employees, and businesses that provide them with products and services.
Lots of clubs are running at a loss, and one of the quickest ways for them to balance the books is with equity or debt. Through the FFP rules, regulatory bodies have limited how much money club owners can put into their clubs.
Owing debt is not actually bad; what matters is the purpose of the debt. But several clubs tend to lavish money on large transfer fees and player salaries — eventually getting crippled by huge debt and interest payments.
There are many different types of debts, ranging from huge to lesser ones, as well as those that will be paid in the short term or in the long term, among several other types.
So it isn’t really straightforward to list the most indebted football clubs in the world.
For example, Barcelona owes around £1.1 billion in total debt, but only about a quarter of it is short-term. Manchester United have the highest short-term debt in the Premier League and the biggest in all of Europe.
On the other hand, most of Tottenham’s £1.2 billion debt consists of low-interest loans worth £854 million that they can be paying back gradually till 2042. It is a leveraged debt, meaning it is a low-risk investment for the creditors that provided the loans.
Spurs took these loans to facilitate the construction of their new stadium. Thus, the additional matchday income they will generate would cover the interest costs while also increasing the club’s worth.
One will also expect Chelsea to be largely in debt due to their outrageous spending in the transfer market, but former owner, Roman Abramovich, had written off the Blues’ debt when selling it to the new owners.
To rank the football clubs with the most debts world, TOP SOCCER BLOG uses UEFA’s 2023 annual European Club Footballing Landscape report.
The reports show how the total bank debt of European football has grown by €1.25 billion, a 22% increase on the previous year. Compared to the years before the Covid-19 pandemic, the debt has increased by 51%.
Europe’s Top Five leagues alone are owing over €7.5 billion in bank debt as well as €2.5 billion to internal lenders — a total of over €10 billion in liabilities!
The presence of 4 Italian clubs in the top 10 clubs with the most debts lays bare the dire financial situation of the top Serie A sides.
1. Manchester United (€536m)
Manchester United are one of the biggest football clubs in the world, which means they generate a lot of revenue through various means.
The Red Devils have been spending lavishly in the transfer market to replicate the success of the Sir Alex Ferguson era but have been unable to do so.
They are one of the top football clubs with the highest wage bills in Europe.
Manchester United’s debt increased by £58.6m to £535.7m in the year 2022, according to the club’s annual financial results.
As a result of not qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, the Red Devils’ overall revenue suffered a huge dip.
It is not surprising that the club’s owners are currently willing to listen to offers to sell the club.
2. Benfica (€336m)
Benfica are one of the best soccer teams in Portugal with numerous achievements and trophies.
Benfica’s ability to punch above their weight (given their relatively low revenue) is impressive, but their business model is very reliant on factors like qualification for the Champions League, matchday revenue, and large gains from player sales.
The Eagles’ gross financial debt increased due to Covid-19, as well as buying of players to remain competitive against bitter rivals, FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon.
Furthermore, Benfica were hit by the resignation of their long-serving president in 2021 following an investigation into tax fraud and money laundering.
But the Portuguese giants are safe in terms of UEFA FFP rules, though, because of adjustments for COVID losses, as well as allowable deductions (due to their infrastructure, academy, women’s football & community development).
3. Inter Milan (€306m)
Inter currently have the highest debt in Serie A, with the Nerazzurri owing the most in the Italian top flight.
Owned Chinese businessman and Suning’s president Steven Zhang, years of trying to keep up with deep-pocketed clubs (like PSG — backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, or Manchester City — owned by Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan) now has Inter Milan paying a hefty price.
All their spending helped to improve Inter’s performance on the pitch, earning the club its first domestic title in 11 years in 2021.
However, their financial capability has deteriorated. In 2021, the club took out an emergency €275 million loan from Howard Marks’s Oaktree Capital to shore up its finances.
With interest rates spiking and the debt due in just over a year, the team is now looking for new investors.
4. Valencia (€285m)
Valencia is one of the biggest football clubs in Spain, but they are in crisis right now.
Since Peter Lim bought the club in May 2014, there have been whole lots of managerial changes at the Mestalla.
Moreso, plans for a new stadium are still on hold, almost 15 years after. Fans now regularly protest the way the club is run by Lim.
Valencia’s overall debt is €400 million ($420m), €285m of it short-term.
Worse still, they face a third consecutive season without European football. Their three best players are also about to become free agents.
The club have to complete almost €40m worth of outgoing transfers this summer just to balance this year’s budget.
5. QPR (€279m)
This season has been topsy-turvy for Queens Park Rangers.
In October, they were top of the EFL Championship, but they are now sitting in 18th, just four points above the relegation places.
The club published its annual financial report for 2022, which shows that it lost £24m (almost half a million pounds a week), with almost £90m still owed in various loans and player transfer installments, as well as an outstanding settlement over Financial Fair Play (FFP) breaches.
An increased playing staff accounted for a 10% increase in wage costs. And all these losses came despite the club increasing their turnover by 7% in the previous year.
QPR have not spent a penny on transfer fees in the last two transfer windows, and that perhaps indicates that the club are already looking to address their terrible financial situation, which is a positive move in the right direction.
6. AC Milan (€249m)
AC Milan were among the most indebted clubs in 2022, but decent performances on the pitch and a change of ownership is turning the club’s fortunes around.
They used to be one of the richest football clubs in the world.
They have now moved further out of the red financially, with projections showing an improvement on last season. Milan’s low level of debt bodes well for the future of the club.
Under the guidance of head coach Stefano Pioli, the Rossoneri won the Scudetto trophy in 2022 and are aiming for continued success in Serie A.
Moreso, lots of quality young players have been signed for relatively low fees and, more importantly, on low wages. The fact that the team is in the latter stages of the Champions League will further help, but qualification for next season is vital.
With a solid financial footing, AC Milan will be well-positioned to compete at the highest level in the coming years.
7. CSKA Moscow (€224m)
Regular contestants in UEFA competitions, CSKA Moscow (like other Russian clubs) have been significantly affected by the Russian versus Ukraine war.
They have been banned by UEFA, players have departed for free, and CSKA’s debts are rising.
8. Galatasaray (€222m)
Years of imprudent management, a nationwide financial crisis, an unpopular president, and Covid-19 now has Galatasaray battling financial mess.
Galatasaray’s debt is caused by overspending on player transfers and salaries, as well as a lack of success in European competitions.
In fact, most of the highest-paid players in the Turkish Super Lig are in Galatasaray.
The club’s debt, according to UEFA, is €222m.
9. Juventus (€209m)
Juventus recently won their appeal against a points deduction due to a financial scandal, in which they were accused of using capital gains in the last few seasons.
The Old Lady boasts of some of the best talents in Serie A, and they always splash the cash on players when necessary.
They signed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Matthijs de Ligt, and Dušan Vlahovic in the last few seasons for big money, but it comes at a price.
They are one of the Serie A clubs with the highest bank debts and one of the top 10 sides in world football with the most debts.
A €400m capital injection by their parent owners in 2021 helped improve their finances, but the Bianconeri currently owe €209m.
10. Roma (€208m)
Nearly two years on from his appointment as Roma manager, Jose Mourinho has delivered on his promise.
He secured the club’s first-ever European trophy in his first season, winning the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League.
But Roma’s debt stands at around €208m, and even with lucrative Champions League football, that figure will remain relatively high next season.
Last summer, Paulo Dybala and Nemanja Matic arrived on free deals, as did Gini Wijnaldum on a season-long loan from PSG.
Of course, Dybala’s wages are high, but Roma spent little on transfer fees. It is expected that a similar approach may be undertaken this coming summer.
The club faced FFP sanctions from UEFA this season, with the governing body withholding €5m ($5.5m) of their prize money from their run in this season’s Europa League.
Investments are needed if Roma want to perform to a decent standard in the Champions League and perhaps even challenge for the league title next season.