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The 'rain man' of football finance - and an Albion fan

Kieran Maguire has been called football finance's “Rain Man”.  He is a lecturer at the University of Liverpool’s Sports Business Group and a regular presence on radio and TV whenever the media need the opinion of an expert on the flow of money in the game.

By Nick Szczepanik • 08 April 2020

By Price of Football Podcast
Kieron Maguire, left, presents the Price of Football podcast with Kevin Day.

He is also the authoritative voice in the unmissable Price of Football podcast and the author of a book of the same name. But, first and foremost, he is an Albion fan.

“Even in the worst times for the club there has always been a wonderment about the Albion for me that I could never shake off,” he says. “I work in Liverpool and have lived in Manchester most of my life so there have been alternatives - but there is no way I could ever give up the Albion.  It gave me that sense of identity that nothing else has ever done.”

Kieran has seldom been off the broadcast media this season, whether talking about the downfalls of Bury and Bolton Wanderers or musing on the financial implications for football of Brexit or the Coronavirus pandemic. But he is a reluctant (and unpaid) media performer.

“My present level of media exposure is very unusual for an academic,” he says. “I want to descend back into my burrow as quickly as I can. But the university are keen for us to have public engagement to get academic research and field work into the public eye and I never say no to anybody. Yesterday it was the Doncaster Free Press.”

He describes another Yorkshire institution as a ‘shining light’. “Rotherham United are a perfect example of the paradox of the Championship. They were the only club in the division to make a profit last season and they were relegated, while Aston Villa made the biggest loss and were promoted. That shows where football’s objectives are as regards the balancing of sporting and financial success.”

What he sees in the balance sheets that he scrutinises, especially among Championship clubs, makes him even happier to support the Albion. “We have benefited from having Tony Bloom as owner, who has gambled part of his fortune on the club.

By Paul Hazlewood
Chairman Tony Bloom.

“But unless you have either a strong balance sheet or an owner who has huge resources it is a very precarious model on which to run any business, even when things are going well.

“The losses in the Championship last year were over £600 million and that requires a lot of people with very deep pockets for clubs to survive even in normal circumstances. And clearly we are living in extraordinary times at present.”

Wisely, he does not criticise clubs or owners on any of his many platforms. “As an academic, it is my job to inform and educate and I let people draw their own conclusions on the basis of what I’m putting out there.”

Such as? “I find some of the things that certain clubs are doing fascinating: transferring employment contracts to other companies; being sponsored by taxi companies that own no taxis; paying a player’s mother £700,000 as an academy scout because academy costs don’t go towards Financial Fair Play.

“But I just lob the stuff out there and I know that people, for example on social media, will lap it up and form their own opinions. I don’t want to get involved in battles between fans and clubs. It is not my interest.”

By Paul Hazlewood
The AESSEAL New York Stadium.

The expression ‘creative accounting’ springs to mind. “It’s funny you should say that because I used to teach creative accounting on Wall Street and we all know what happened in 2007 on the back of that,” he says. 

“I am aware of what can be done, and, without wishing to say ‘I told you so,’ when the Financial Fair Play rules were first introduced, within 24 hours I wrote down ten schemes that could be used to circumvent the rules, just for a bit of fun as much as anything. And now clubs are employing those types of schemes.

“They have advisors who are super smart and although I am smart enough and comfortable with where I am I am way behind them, and if I can come up with ways round FFP they certainly can.”

For example? “Selling naming rights for a stadium that doesn’t yet have planning permission is apparently acceptable to the Premier League, so fair play to them. Even I hadn’t thought of that one.”

His idea of ‘a bit of fun’ might not be everybody’s, as he admits. “People are entitled to take the micky out of me for enjoying poring over bound sets of accounts,” he admits. “My wife was a school head and says that if I was at school today I would be assessed as being on some spectrum or other.

“But I get genuinely excited when a new set of accounts comes out. About five clubs came out this week and I am busy with them at present, trying to get a feel for them.”

And when the poring is done? “I am not cynical, but whatever skills I may have, I always feel that I am capable of questioning the ‘official version’. And it does concern me that clubs put out big announcements in press releases but don’t accompany them with detail.

“So when the detail comes out, I will say if there is an inconsistency.  And that is all I will ever say. What I am trying to do is get people to pick it up and draw their own conclusions.”

PART TWO OF THIS FEATURE WILL BE ON OUR WEBSITE ON THURSDAY

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