Manchester United have been backed to challenge Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona for the title of richest club in the world by business advisory firm Deloitte.
The latest Deloitte Football Money League saw United slip two places to fourth in the table for the 2005/06 season based on annual financial statements and other direct sources.
Although they were the highest-ranked of eight English clubs in the top 20, their annual revenue of £167.8m (€254m) was some way short of first-placed Real (£202m/€306m) and runners-up Barcelona (£179.1m/€271m).
But according to Alan Switzer, a senior consultant for Deloitte, the gap could be set to narrow significantly.
He said: “There’s a couple of reasons why they’ve fallen down to fourth but it isn’t so much their performance, it’s more the [impressive] performances of their rivals.
“Real Madrid and Barcelona are doing really well and growing some of their revenues and agreeing new deals.
“But in the next couple of years the factors that will see them pushing back up there will be the new Premiership TV deal, the new AIG sponsorship deal - which is higher than their previous deal – and they’ll also see the full benefits of the extensions at Old Trafford this year.”
Deloitte director Paul Rawnsley agreed, pointing out that where the list is based on revenue and excludes transfer fees, value added tax and other sales-related taxes, Alex Ferguson’s side still make more profit than any other club.
“Manchester United may be in fourth position this year, but with the completion of their stadium development we can expect them to move back up the list in 2006/07.
“It is also notable that United remain the most profitable club football operation in the world.”
Despite Spanish dominance at the top of the list, no other Primera Liga sides feature in the rankings whereas United are joined by fellow Premiership sides Chelsea (sixth), Arsenal (ninth), Liverpool (10th), Newcastle (13th), Tottenham (15th), Manchester City (17th) and West Ham (19).
Italy provides four clubs, Germany has three and there is one club each from France and Portugal. Rangers, meanwhile, represent the Scottish Premier League in 18th place.
Television rights have become increasingly influential on the list and with a newly-agreed deal set to take effect in England next season, there could be an even greater accent on Premiership clubs in future money leagues.
Switzer said: “The Premier League’s recently concluded broadcasting deals may see English teams contribute half of the top 20 clubs in 2007-08.”