Page last updated at 23:15 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 00:15 UK

Football clubs must 'think long term'

By Ben Shore
Business reporter, BBC News

Aston Villa's John Carew(left) challenges for the ball
Aston Villa's off-pitch qualities have been noted by a business think tank

Aston Villa are top of the Premiership, Manchester United 13th and West Ham languishing in last place.

It doesn't quite ring true does it, even this early in the season?

But the league table in question is based not on footballing performance on the playing field but the performance of the owners and boards of the 20 Premier League clubs.

So how were these rankings arrived at and what exactly are they telling us about the Premier League?

'Next generation'

Mark Goyder, of the business think tank Tomorrow's Company is the man who decided Stoke City, for example, should come above Liverpool. He claims it's about something called "stewardship".

"Stewardship means handing something on to the next generation in better shape than you inherited it, and not just the next quarter's results," says the Arsenal fan.

1. Aston Villa
2. Arsenal
3. Wigan Athletic
4. Everton
5. Blackburn Rovers
6. Stoke City
7. Birmingham City
8. Hull City
9. Burnley
10. Bolton Wanderers
10. Sunderland
10. Wolverhampton Wanderers
13. Manchester United
14. Manchester City
15. Chelsea
16. Fulham
17. Portsmouth
18. Tottenham Hotspur
19. Liverpool
20. West Ham United
Source: Tomorrow's Company

This, of course, strikes at a huge worry for many football fans; that their clubs are simply viewed as assets by owners without regard to their long term viability.

Tomorrow's Company describes itself as a not-for-profit research organisation which seeks a future for business "which makes equal sense to staff, shareholders, and society".

Using this template Mr Goyder says we should not be looking only at league position and which players are bought and sold.

Equally important, he says, is looking at whether boards "focus on management continuity, youth development, improved facilities, and the club giving something back to the community."

In compiling the rankings, five criteria were used to judge club boards.

These include whether the board is putting the club first - is it using the club to make money or does it act to ensure the club continues to prosper in the future?

'Clarity of purpose'

Also important is the issue of "long termism" - for example, is there a strong youth policy, has the stadium been improved, and is the debt level manageable?

Another measure is about issues of clarity of purpose - who makes the decisions, can the board be trusted not to meddle in team affairs?

Burnley fans celebrate promotion
Boards must be as passionate as fans

And, something which often taxes the patience of supporters, does the club listen to and respect its fans and local community?

The final criteria is about passion and whether the board is obsessive about doing the right thing for the club and football more generally.

These rankings may well provoke some rather heated debate and doubtless some of the clubs towards the bottom of the league will protest they have been unfairly treated but the point is not simply about football, it's about UK plc.

Not just tactics

Following the collapse of the banking system there has been a lot of thinking and debate about why boards of companies allowed risks to be taken that ultimately threatened the survival of such big names as RBS and HBOS.

In February of this year the Treasury asked Sir David Walker, a former financial regulator, to look at corporate governance in the financial services sector, his final report is due out in the Autumn but in his preliminary report released in July Sir David uses the phrase "stewardship" often.

And this is because it's a phrase which describes not the tactical decisions made on the trading floor but the long term strategic decisions that the board must take in order to safeguard the future of the company.

Mark Goyder hopes one day all companies will be given a stewardship ranking alongside their share price, but such an index seems a long way off and so, like all football fans, he'll just have to carry on dreaming.

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