Manchester United and Chelsea, the two most indebted clubs in the world's richest league, have battled for the Premier League and the European Cup, and they are about to embark on a third race, for the title of the summer's biggest spenders.
In what is expected to be another record-breaking transfer window, Chelsea have as close as you can get to unlimited funds and it would be no surprise to see up to £100m spent. United, who spent (or rather committed to spend) something like £65m last summer, are actually in a healthier position this year, despite external debts of £666m.
If Sir Alex Ferguson wants to spend £70m or more this time around, the Glazer family will find ways and means of providing it for him.
Arsenal also have money, although nowhere near the £69.1m touted as available when they produced their last year-end accounts in May 2007. Around £25m of that was already earmarked for stadium debt, and as much again is tied up in property deals that will pay longer-term dividends. But that still leaves somewhere between £25m-£30m. Liverpool should have a similar sum, but again that will be partly dependent on what Rafael Benitez can accrue from sales.
Funds available elsewhere will range from the £10m likely to be given to Blackburn's manager Mark Hughes and West Ham's Alan Curbishley, up to the £50m region given to Sunderland's Roy Keane and to whoever occupies the managerial seat at Manchester City.
The factors that determine the budget vary from club to club. A majority of clubs lost money according to the most recent accounts available, for the season ending 2006-07. Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham bucked that trend with operating profits of £79.1m, £51.2m and £29.7m respectively. Most of the rest, for all the flood of TV riches that are pouring into the game, still rely on benefactors.
That might change, slightly, when the new money from the 2007-10 TV deals kicks in, but not significantly, because costs (mainly wages) keep rising. Chelsea are the prime example, in debt via private interest-free loans to Roman Abramovich to the tune of £578m. At Liverpool, Tom Hicks and George Gillett have hocked the club with debts of £350m.
Everton still rely on the largesse of Bill Kenwright, Aston Villa rely on Randy Lerner, Sunderland rely on the Drumaville consortium, Fulham on Mohamed Al Fayed (to whom they owe £150m-plus), Middlesbrough on Steve Gibson, Wigan on Dave Whelan, and so on.
Manchester United can afford to splash out this summer because they are, simply, by far the biggest club in England, with the most success and revenues to match. As a spokesman for the Glazer family said: "There is a long-term debt hanging over the club, but the cash flow more than covers that and will increase going forward."
While debt repayments amounted theoretically to £81m for the 2006-07 season, United only actually paid £42m. "That left £37m free cash flow [from the £79.1m operating profits], by far and away more than any other club," the spokesman said. It was on that basis that Ferguson was allowed to sign Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson, and to hire Carlos Tevez for two years, with a fixed price option to make it a permanent deal at any time of United's choosing between now and the end of June 2009.
The outlook for the financial year to 2008 looks bright again, the spokesman insists, not least because domestic TV revenues will increase, and because of Champions League success. Winning the Premier League in 2008 also guarantees entry into next season's Champions League. As importantly, that guarantees a big share of Uefa TV money from next season's top-table European competition.
"Of course there is money available for players," the spokesman said. "Our financial situation is as good, in fact better than last year."
And what about those debts, quoted as high as £764m when accounting methods and monies owed for players are included? "The debt structure is stable long term, and the credit crunch having no bearing on our financials." The spokesman says that the debt seen as most damaging – around £135m of remaining hedge-fund debt – accrues interest of 14.25 per cent, but will be restructured in due course. United's average interest repayments, across all loans, is around nine per cent.
Do the Glazer family ever intend to clear all the debt? They will "consider the opportunity costs going forward". In layman's terms, they will not bother clearing debt accruing nine per cent interest if they think that the cash that could pay off that debt will make more than nine per cent if put to use elsewhere.
One club where big debts have come close to sinking the ship is Fulham. You need only look at the most recently filed year-end accounts (to June 2007) to see that in stark terms.
"In the event of relegation from the Premier League [in 2007-08], the company's revenues would fall in the next two years to a level which would not finance ongoing contractual commitments, and the company would therefore have to place more reliance on funds provided by the parent company and take action to significantly reduce operating costs," the report said.
"Such action could prevent the maintenance of a playing squad capable of gaining promotion back to the Premier League. Therefore the Company's main aim is to prevent this risk becoming a reality." In other words, had Roy Hodgson not managed the near-miracle of Premier League survival, it might effectively have been the end of the line for Fulham as far as backing from Al Fayed was concerned. The firesale would have started. Costs would have been slashed. There were no more guarantees.
Instead, Al Fayed has reportedly had his love of the game revitalised by survival, and he will be just another in a line of chairmen writing cheques this summer for new players.
Blackburn could be among the lowest spenders, unless they sell David Bentley and /or Roque Santa Cruz and re-invest the proceeds. The club's ultimate owners, the family trust set up by Jack Walker, made it clear in last year's accounts "their preference to dispose of their holding." They do not want to keep bankrolling losses. Due to TV money increasing, budgets have been maintained and "there is no hurry to sell". But, the report said: "Focus is on finding a suitable investor to take the club forward."
As for Stoke and Hull, the oddball economics of the Premier League might mean, in the not too distant future, that reaching the promised land was also the beginning of the end. You only need to ask Oldham, Swindon Town, QPR, Barnsley, Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, Bradford City, Leeds, Southampton and Leicester City – to name a few – for testimony that the Premier League can ultimately, seriously damage your wealth.
What's in the kitty? How the Premier League clubs shape up financially
Owned by: Glazer family (since 2005).
Turnover: £210m (to 30 June 2007).
Profit/loss: £79.1m operating profit.
Debts: £666m. (last annual interest payment, £42m).
Prem TV cash 07-08: £49.35m.
Summer kitty: £60m+.
Owned by: R Abramovich (since 2003).
Turnover: £190.5m (to June 2007).
Debt: £578m (interest-free loans from Abramovich).
Prem TV cash 07-08: £45.58m.
Summer kitty: £100m.
Owned by: Major shareholders - D Fiszman (24.1%), A Usmanov (24%), N Bracewell Smith (15.9%); S Kroenke (12.2%).
Turnover: £200.8m (to May 2007).
Profit/loss: £51.2m operating profit.
Prem TV cash 07-08: £47.04m.
Summer kitty: £25m+.
Owned by: T Hicks (50%), G Gillett (50%) (since 2007).
Turnover: £133.9m (to July 2007)
Profit/loss: £21.7m loss.
Prem TV cash 07-08: £45.44m.
Summer kitty: £20m plus receipts.
Owned by: B Kenwright (37.2%), R Earl (34.6%), J Woods (28.2%).
Turnover: £51.4m (to June 2007).
Profit/loss: £10.9m operating loss.
Prem TV cash 07-08: £42.11m.
Summer kitty: £20m.
Owned by: R Lerner (since 2006).
Turnover: £52.7m (to 31 May 2007).
Profit/loss: £18.8m op' loss. Debt: £37m.
Prem TV cash 07-08: £42.26m.
Summer kitty: c.£30m.
Owned by: The Walker Trust
Turnover: £43.3m (to June 2007).
Profit/loss: £3.3m operating loss.
Prem TV cash 07-08: £40.24m.
Summer kitty: c.£10m, depends on sales.
Owned by: A Gaydamak (since 2006).
Turnover: c.£40m. (no accounts filed to 2007).
Debt: n/a. (c.£20m-plus).
Prem TV cash 07-08: £40.39m.
Summer kitty: c.£15m.
Owned by: T Shinawatra (since 2007).
Turnover: £56.9m (to May 2007).
Profit/loss: £1.4m operating loss.
Debt: n/a (c.£20m in loans at May 07).
Prem TV cash 07-08: £39.67m.
Summer kitty: £50m.
West Ham United
Owned by: B Gudmundsson (since 2006).
Turnover: £49.43m (to May 2007).
Profit/loss: £10.1m op' loss.
Debt: Cleared by Gudmundsson.
Prem TV cash 07-08: £36.77m.
Summer kitty: £10m.
Owned by: ENIC (J Lewis).
Turnover: £103.1m (to June 2007).
Profit/loss: £29.7m operating profit.
Debt: £29.1m in loan notes.
Prem TV cash 07-08: £36.05m.
Summer kitty: £30m, inc receipts, eg: Berbatov.
Owned by: M Ashley (since 2007).
Debt: Effectively cleared (from -£60m).
Prem TV cash 07-08: £39.25m.
Summer kitty: c.£30m.
Owned by: S Gibson (since 1993).
Turnover: £47.98m (to Dec 1996).
Profit/loss: £13.3m pre-tax loss.
Debt: £43.7m. (to Gibson-controlled parent company).
Prem TV cash 07-08: £34.17m.
Summer kitty: £12m.
Owned by: D Whelan (since 1995).
Turnover: £26.9m (to May 2007).
Profit/loss: £13.4m oper' loss.
Debt: £36.9m. (to Whelan-controlled parent company).
Prem TV cash 07-08: £33.45m.
Summer kitty: up to £20m.
Owned by: Drumaville Consortium (since 2006).
Turnover: £26.3m (to July 2007).
Profit/loss: £12m operating loss.
Prem TV cash 07-08: £33.6m.
Summer kitty: c.£45m.
Owned by: E Davies (since 2003).
Turnover: £43m (to July 2007).
Profit/loss: £2.01m pre-tax loss.
Debt: £37m to parent company.
Prem TV cash 07-08: £32m.
Summer kitty: c.£20m.
Owned by: M Al-Fayed (since 1997).
Turnover: £39.7m (to 30 June 2007).
Profit/loss:£11m operating loss (£15.2m loss including transfers).
Debts: £149.6m and rising. (interest-free loans to M Al Fayed).
Prem TV cash 07-08: £31.29m.
Summer kitty: c.£15m.
West Bromwich Albion
Owned by: Majority shareholder J Peace (since 2007).
Turnover: £26m (to June 2007).
Prem TV cash 07-08: £11.39m (parachute).
Summer kitty: c.£15m.
Owned by: P Coates (since 2006).
Value: Less than £10m.
Turnover: £7.9m (to May 2007).
Profit/loss: £2.9m operating loss.
Prem TV cash 07-08: n/a.
Summer kitty: c.£15m, inc wage commitments.
Owned by: P Duffen (since 2007).
Turnover: c.£12m (2007-08).
Prem TV cash 07-08: N/A
Summer kitty: c.£15m, inc wages.