Only two months ago, Dutch newspaper NRC published a report on government aid to professional football clubs in the country. In it, there were loans of €18 million (FC Groningen), €22.5 million (FC Utrecht) and €16 million (FC Twente) for the funding of new stadia. The city of The Hague had already written off €6 million, handed to ADO in dire times, while Arnhem knows they will never see the €12 million handed to Vitesse again.
Only one Eredivisie club has never had any support by the state: PSV Eindhoven. Backed by the Philips conglomerate, the accounts of the serial champions used to have large surplusses, once big enough to bring Romario and Ronaldo to Europe. But this month all has changed. Next week the city council of Eindhoven will vote on life support for the 1988 European Cup winners to the tune of at least €40 million as the city is about to finance a complicated deal to buy the land, but not the Philips Stadion that stands on it. A negative decision might plunge the club into immediate administration and it begs the question: What went wrong?
The explanation is simple: high costs, low income. PSV has not played in the Champions League since December 2008, when they were beaten by Liverpool at home and two subsequent seasons in the Europa League (and another one to come) have seen the club suffer. The annual income for a successful run in Europe's second tier competition is around €2 million, but not much more.
PSV however, have run their budget based on Champions League participation and the whopping bonuses from UEFA, the sell-out crowds and all the commercial windfalls it brings. As the sole Dutch representative, the club cashed about €30 million in one season when TV-money was booming. In hindsight, you can call it stupid, incompetent and irresponsible and it probably is, but when you consider that the club had a continuous presence between 1997 and 2008, it becomes understandable.
The club had only been outside the top two once since 1983 and to miss out three seasons in a row is anomalous and completely unexpected. The board could never have considered such an outcome and, with most PSV players on long-term contracts and salaries at the top end of the scale, it makes it difficult to budget. But why the downfall in the league since 2008?
In that year PSV decided to ban agent Vlado Lemic from their training ground. The non-FIFA licensed Serb was working from the office of technical director Stan Valckx and seemed to pull the strings in the squad. Frank Arnesen, Guus Hiddink, Piet de Visser and Ronald Koeman were all part of his entourage, while Lemic had strong ties with Roman Abramovich and was responsible for a healthy flow of top players to and from PSV with Mateja Kezman, Gomes and Alex the biggest movers.
A main feature of Lemic's presence though, was the hefty bills, such as half a million euros to extend a player's contract. When his players started to revolt in early 2008, (for example Gomes demanding a transfer only months after signing a new deal) the board had enough and assigned hard man and director Jan Reker to clear the club from any Lemic-influence. The agent had to go, as did technical director Stan Valckx, who earned a contractual five percent on every transfer.
Striker Ola Toivonen has since been the only astute foreign signing as the club lost €16 million in the transfer market over a three-year spell. Erik Pieters and Jeremain Lens both won international caps following their arrival in Eindhoven, but the millions of euros spent on Orlando Engelaar and Marcus Berg have been wasted. Indicative of it all was the gamble on Andy van der Meyde, who hobbled onto the training pitch and never reached full fitness. All involved with the PSV youth academy must have watched in horror when the rotund former international took the place of one youngster in the dressing room. It was not a good move.
Sending away Lemic may have been a victory for football economics, but he took with him a network on which PSV may have relied too much over the years. Reker has not been able to fill the void on short notice and left in December 2009, admitting that he did not have the qualifications to be a director. The PSV board should have hired someone else in 2007 and, in his few years at the club, many bridges were burned.
His successor Tiny Sanders used to be director of one of Holland's biggest diary firms, Campina. He set up the deal with the city, while also working on new sponsorship deals and for the first time the PSV shirt will feature a company name on the back, which is not from Philips or its subsidiary. Yet it was all too late to prevent the sale of Ibrahim Afellay to Barcelona and the slide from first place to third in 2011. Out of contract this summer, he was bound to go anyway, but the shortage of money made the club decide to take the €3 million in January. Afellay was off to play a bit-part in Barcelona's quest for every conceivable title in football and many may say that he made the right decision.
It could all have been so different if PSV had scored just once from a host of chances in their final away game at FC Groningen. A win would have secured second place and a seeded spot in the Champions League qualifiers, but it was not to be and now they have been forced to sell fans' favourite Balazs Dzsudzsak to Russia with no replacement in sight. Many supporters, too, are unhappy with coach Fred Rutten's style of play and, of course, his results, but the club cannot afford to fire him.
Next week the city council has to vote for the PSV-deal. With such a big club, one tends to think it will be fine. The deal was announced by the city councillor as pure paperwork with no money changing hands and even beneficial to the city in the long term. Experts had checked whether the European Union state subsidy laws were abided. Only, the European Commission can't be consulted beforehand so that remains a bit of a gamble.
Other, less prejudiced, experts believe the city of Eindhoven is going way over the line as there is too much money involved and the calculations are too optimistic. It could take years, though, before research is completed and that is if Brussels get involved at all. As long as nations like Greece and Portugal are in financial trouble, economically small PSV should be safe.