Premier League clubs' debts are more than the rest of Europe's clubs put together – but the English top flight also accounts for almost half of clubs' assets across the continent.
The figures are contained in a new Uefa report into the state of football's finances, and shows the total debt of the Premier League clubs as being €3.8bn (£3.4bn), 56 per cent of the total across Europe.
Premier League clubs' assets are €4.3bn (£3.8bn), accounting for a 48 per cent share of the assets among all European clubs.
What is worrying for English clubs, however, is that the total value of the debt is so close to the value of the assets. In Spain, which has the next highest debt of £858m, the assets are worth £2.5bn, three times the value of the debts. In Italy, the debt is £442m and the assets worth £1.3bn.
Uefa's report, The European Club Footballing Landscape, has looked at the 2007-08 accounts from all 732 clubs licensed by football's European governing body. The 80-page document's analysis of the Premier League reports that many clubs have used their stadiums and grounds as collateral to borrow money.
The report accepts that much of the debt is linked to the leveraged takeover by the Glazer family at Manchester United and the Hicks/Gillett buyout of Liverpool.
"Some of the long-term debt is linked to new stadia such as Arsenal's, and in other cases already-built assets provide security for commercial lenders," says the report, adding that the leveraged buyouts have been "so far acting principally as a burden rather than to support investment or spending".
The report did not include the debts of Portsmouth and West Ham because they had not been granted Uefa licences that year due to their financial problems.
The report comes after it was revealed that Manchester United's £716m debt is greater than the entire cumulative sum owed by all 36 clubs in the top two divisions in Germany. The German Football League clubs' debts total £544m.
The Uefa president, Michel Platini, is pushing for a system whereby clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League would be allowed to spend only what they earn. Platini said recently: "The Financial Fair Play concept is very important for the well-being of clubs. We believe that for clubs to survive they can't spend more than they earn and the executive committee has agreed to introduce regulations to reach this aim."
The Uefa general secretary, Gianni Infantino, has said that the example of Portsmouth, who are expected to go into administration at the end of this week, showed the need for action.
Infantino said: "The problem is that all clubs try to compete, a few of the biggest can afford it, but the vast majority cannot. They bid for players they cannot afford, then borrow or receive money from owners, but this is not sustainable because only a few can win. The recent example in England of Portsmouth shows it is time to do something. The requirement to break even is not to punish clubs but to help them. Many owners have asked us to introduce some rules, to help them resist the pressure to overspend."
Meanwhile, a referee from Bosnia-Herzegovina has been handed a life ban by Uefa after falling foul of a Europe-wide investigation into match-fixing and corruption.
Uefa's Control and Disciplinary Body took the decision last Thursday regarding the match official Novo Panic, who has been handed a permanent ban from "any football activities", after the body had studied information supplied from an ongoing investigation led by German police.
Two further match officials have received bans after being found in breach of "the principles of loyalty and integrity under Article 5 of the Uefa Disciplinary Regulations".
Tomislav Setka, an assistant referee from Croatia, has been suspended until June 30, 2011, while Oleg Oriekhov, a referee from Ukraine, has been suspended provisionally for 30 days, with the latter's case to be heard on 18 March. All three rulings are subject to appeal.
The Bulgarian referee Anton Genov was cleared of wrongdoing after an inquiry into irregular betting patterns during a friendly between Macedonia and Canada on 14 November.Reuse content