All The Money In The World 2.0
“Forget the Premier and Champions League; we’ve just finished above Real Madrid in the Deloitte’s Wealthiest Club list” said no fan. Ever.
All the money in the world isn’t the same as silverware. I saw the titular film at the weekend and it was very good but very shocking too, and not just because ears where being sliced off. When American-born industrialist, JP Getty said he wasn’t financially secure enough to pay the ransom for his kidnapped grandson, he was asked – given he had ‘all the money in the world’ and estimated at around $1.2bn (more than $9bn in today’s money), at his disposal – what it would take for you to feel secure?’
‘More’ was his reply. You sense that’s the feeling amongst the top football clubs in the world.
But as the rich seem intent on getting ever richer, UEFA are developing FFP (Financial Fair Play) 2.0, an attempt to find ways to curtail oil rich states from buying up football clubs and having no ceiling to what they can, and will, spend to achieve European domination. Until a global league is formed, at least.
It remains to be seen if the new version will be more effective than its previous incarnate but UEFA will need to find ways to stop the shady practices of hiding income in the form of stadium naming rights, loan deals that look remarkably like transfers and hoarding young players.
In the short term, they don’t think salary caps work so want to even the playing field using other avenues. The trouble is, it just unbalances it in a different way. What they want to achieve is something they call competitive balance but it depends on how you view the word ‘balance’.
The ‘clubs not owned by countries’, as they are affectionately called now, but you’ll also know them as the ones with massive stadiums and huge fan bases, have lobbied for rule changes that reign in that seemingly unlimited spending power. But it also favours them incredibly well over the likes of Bournemouth and Burnley; as if they needed any more advantages.
One of them, Manchester United, have just been named the richest club in the world. But like Getty, they obviously don’t feel secure enough just yet, although were happy to flex their spending power by nabbing Alexis Sanchez from their justifiably noisy neighbours.
It’s the eye-watering weekly wages that have caused so much debate. Even an ex-player like David Ginola, with the cash he must have earned in his glittering, not so distant career, says the money is getting silly now. It’s also accelerating quickly too. Only a few months ago, people baulked at £250K a week, but that seems chicken-feed to some now.
Senor Sanchez is not to blame, but he is a classic example of a player the common man can’t relate to any more, but then, at c.£450K per week, that is something even the well-off man (or woman – don’t even joke about it in case people start looking back at tweets from 2012) can’t relate to.
But then I sense that all this is slowly beginning to erode the integrity of the sport, and eventually will see it lose touch with the ‘common’ fan altogether. At least at English Premier League level anyway.
This alienation of the working class that made football so big feels like a symptom of the way that everything these days in the beautiful game ends up being about money. Even when it’s not. And everyone from ex-players to the media push that view.
I’ve lost count of the number of pundits who describe moves like the one Sanchez has made, as about money. Of course, like any of us, he’s not going to turn down that kind of dosh, but what about because he feels he can win more or bigger trophies? If he was truly just a mercenary, why not wait till July and pocket all the cash in signing on fees?
Remarkably, I just read a [Scottish, admittedly] view that Michael O’Neil turned the Scotland manager’s job down because of money. What about because he’s Irish and they’ve treated him well and he wants to give something back? Although if you want to bring cash into it, he was also being asked to take a 30% pay cut to manage another country to his own.
But this money, money, money obsession leads us ever further down a murky path. Now, people have put two and two together and said that, to pay such enormous wages, United must have a good idea what is coming down the pipe in the next TV deal that’s announced.
The previous deal was a-not-to-be-sniffed at £5.14bn but many believe that will be bettered as the likes of ‘your Amazons and Facebooks’ look to get involved. What will ‘your Barcelona’s and Real Madrid’s’ think of that.
The BBC have just issued figures that show that fans in the PL pay about 40% more than elsewhere in Europe to attend matches. The salaries in the PL, incidentally, are now double the next biggest payer (Germany). But it’s the staggering TV deals that count for so much on the balance sheet.
So, what becomes of the ‘people’s game’? And not right now, as it’s probably OK at this very moment, but in ten, fifteen or twenty years when the tipping point has been reached, the same club wins the league every year and players are getting well north of a million a week?
Some people say it’s market forces and fair enough, I get that. The PL salaries are now commensurate with those at the top of individual sports like F1, tennis and golf (as well as team sports in USA) but the difference is that there isn’t a growing and ever-weakening (for the smaller teams anyway) gap between the haves and have nots.
Not sure what he made of it, but one club man, Jimmy Armfield died this week. He captained England a month before Bobby Moore lifted the 1966 World Cup, although injury weakened him and his hold on the full back spot. No substitutes in those days, so he had to be content with a winner’s medal and watching from the stands.
He played at his beloved club, Blackpool, for his whole career although he also could have gone to Manchester United, like Alexis Sanchez. He didn’t, because Blackpool held him to his contract and told him to forget it and United to bugger off.
Not that he could have earned more as the maximum wage was in place (what UEFA would give for that now) and besides, Jimmy didn’t feel the need to agitate for a move as Blackpool were paying his wages and he’d signed a contract.
Times change, of course, but tell me that the way that potential transfer played out (internally and in the media) doesn’t feel a lot better than the way the Sanchez one did.
But the new TV deal will only send things in the opposite direction. Watch how many more players begin winding their contracts down so they get a massive pay day when they go for free. Love and loyalty like Armfield’s has long had its day but the emerging trends are more worrying.
I know they don’t have to, but there are players now who don’t even like the game, never mind love it. Some don’t know their opponents that week, or care that much. They’ll sit on the bench if they have to. We have youngsters falling out of love with the game before they reach puberty.
Look, I’m not so naive. I know money makes the world go round, but if we are going to dole out clichés then isn’t it also the root of all evil?
No one denies its importance in a game that, at the top level, is basically now just a business played on grass instead of on the stock exchange, but maybe it’s gone too far to reverse now. If it has, the gap will eventually become too wide and they’ll cut the ties and close off the promotion and relegation and another step will be taken towards the very dark side.
Although a new entrant into the TV rights game could change all that. Just imagine if an Amazon, Facebook or Google came along and offered to dwarf the other bidders. But with a condition…. For instance, that they’d double the current deal but only if the PL agrees to reform.
What if they then introduced real competitive balance? I bet at least fourteen clubs would vote for that at the EGM.
There’d be a certain irony if Sky, the company who purchased football’s sole twenty odd years ago, is put to the sword by a bigger fish. But there’s always a bigger fish.
If football is to remain the people’s game, maybe it needs a customer-driven force from the business world to set it on course. It sure as hell won’t do it from within.
But if no-one steps in, and the status quo is maintained, what happens when it all starts to crumble as I fear it might; not tomorrow, maybe not even in my lifetime, but eventually? Do the media companies, and rich owners and gulf states, pull out and go and do something less crumbly instead?
English football currently has, or had, all the love in the world. A lot of fans still have a genuine feeling for their clubs and football in general.
But I fear it won’t last forever and maybe not beyond this current generation. Football, whoever that is these days, has to act at some stage; maybe sooner than it thinks. It might have all the money in the world, and it might have once had all the love in the world too, but it certainly doesn’t have all the time in the world to put this right.