The Thing Is: Man Utd top the finance league, the rest come nowhere

On the pitch, the football season is under way. The transfer window is closed and the clubs are getting on with the business of trying to win games. But in the boardroom the important stuff is still to come.

Most clubs share the same financial year-end of July, deliberately chosen to coincide with the end of the season, and this means publicly listed clubs will all be posting figures over the next few weeks.

Only one set is likely to be good: Manchester United's. The North-west marketing machine will show how it benefits not only from all those fans in far-flung corners of the world, but from the sale of two of its highest-paid stars: David Beckham to Real Madrid and Juan Sebastian Veron to the newly enriched Chelsea. Both were believed to be on around £90,000 a week, so their departure will have a happy effect on the wage bill, one of football's heaviest costs. The club will eventually pocket £30m for Beckham, a player it brought up through its youth team. It paid a then-record £28m for Veron two years ago and sold him for £15m. But the removal of his salary will ensure the board does not lose too much sleep.

It is, therefore, hardly a surprise that its chief executive, Peter Kenyon, followed Veron last week by defecting to Chelsea. After all, with multi-million-pound sponsorship deals already sewn up and the finances in such good shape, not much was left for him to do. At Chelsea, with its new billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, raring to go after a summer spending spree, the job of turning the club into a global brand has only just started.

Yet the lofty heights of Man U and Chelsea are the exception. Even Arsenal does not enjoy such financial grandeur. The north London team is desperate to move from its current home in Highbury to a new state-of-the-art stadium, but revealed last week how the banks were baulking at the cost.

Elsewhere, takeovers remain a possibility for several clubs. Man U has long been touted as a target - some expected a move last week after Mr Kenyon's departure - and Newcastle United is rumoured to want to delist. Aston Villa has been approached by potential investors - thought to be a consortium of South American businessmen - but the club said last week that they had not produced "sufficient evidence" of funds. That aside, the substantial stake held by its elderly chairman, Doug Ellis, remains a lure.

All that, however, is nothing compared to the financial woes likely to be revealed by some clubs. Relegated Sunderland, for example, will suffer from a slump in television revenues, although it raised around £15m over the summer by selling players. And no one's results are more widely anticipated than Leeds United's. A review of the finances by accountants Ernst & Young, expected to be completed in the next couple of weeks, is unlikely to show any evidence of fraud or deliberate misuse of funds. What is agreed, though, is that the final results will be nothing short of dire.

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