Forget transfers. It’s the player v club battles over wages that are dominating now.

by Tony Attwood

So the drive towards salvation has started as (ignored by the majority of blogs) European clubs try to cut salaries.  What is clear however is that clubs really don’t have any idea how to do this and for every club that is trying to reach reasoned compromises with players over salaries, and fans over season ticket refunds, there are those looking at the small print in contracts to find the way to maximise income and reduce losses.

But salaries were already taking way over 60% of income the last time Uefa took soundings, and it is going to be much more by now, because of the endless inflation in players’ wages.

It will be interesting to see what approach the PFA – the union for players in England and Wales – takes.  Not all players are members, for some are members of no union, and others are members of Fifpro, which represents players across the world.   As a result of the current situation, there could be quite a few more joining a union for the first time, and I would suspect some moving from one union to another, depending on who comes out of this smelling of roses.

We’ve talked about Sion in Switzerland before, where around nine players have been sacked for refusing a paycut which it is claimed would reduce salaries by around three quarters.  Reports on what has happened to Alex Song and Johan Djourou differ, but some suggest both have been sacked.  There is also a dispute going on at Dinamo Zagreb where it is said that players were seeing their salaries cut by a third.

The Guardian is reporting clubs in Scandinavia telling foreign players who wish to leave and go back to their homelands during the crisis, to accept cuts of a quarter to a half of their salary.

Fifpro claim that these sorts of actions seen in Scandinavia and Switzerland are spreading, including cuts to salaries of 66% without any discussion with the players or their union.  But in some clubs the players have voluntarily taken cuts in order to help their non-playing colleagues within the club continue to be paid.  Indeed as we reported recently When even FC Barcelona are in financial difficulty, you know there are problems for football

Certainly the feeling throughout Europe is increasingly that the 2019/20 season is over, and the notion of completing the games is impossible.  There is also a realisation that sponsors are being hit just as badly as clubs, and that they have a claim against the clubs for not completing the contracted number of games, while also not wanting to renew because of their own diminished finances.

Some are talking of a two way battle – the clubs not paying out refunds for this season and the sponsors not paying for next season.   If that is the case, there is then another financial hit for the clubs.

Many publications are using the situation to continue old campaigns. The journalistic solution is to buy more players, and/or change the management.  And this is what quite a few blog writers and people who write into blogs suggest.  And it is what Arsenal did last summer.  And what lots of clubs do.  And mostly it doesn’t work.

But we can compare this with Mr Wenger’s approach.  He did the player buying bit at the start of his time at Arsenal, moving out players he didn’t rate (people like Merson), promoting those he did (people like Parlour) and buying in amazingly brilliant bargains (people like Henry).

When Mr Wenger took over Arsenal had finished fifth in the league, been knocked out of the FA Cup in the third or fourth round for three consecutive years, and had Ian Wright as its top scorer, but with his total number of goals in decline (35 in 1994, 30 in 1995, 22 in 1996).

Mr Wenger took us up to 3rd, and took Ian Wright’s goalscoring back to its previous heights (30 goals in 1996/7) and remoulded the team, while introducing players that the journalists had never heard of.

Many of the journalists of the day then moaned about “too many foreigners” and that set the scene from there on.  But what they missed was that the Wenger revolution was not a simplistic “just fix one thing” approach.  It was a multi-layered approach which involved utilising different players in different ways to get the goals (four different top scorers in Mr Wenger’s first four years with the club) as part of a rapidly re-arranging of the entire chess board.

My key point here is that the media never got it, in the way that most of us who were there for match after match did.  And having never got it, they tried to deflect from their lack of understanding with crazy made-up tales.  Consider this…

On 31 August 2003 The Times reported the league match against Man City as containing “the worst 45 minutes [by Arsenal] that any of their fans could remember”. It ended Man City 1 Arsenal 2.

On 8 November 2003 Arsenal beat Tottenham 2-1 in the 11th league match of the season. The Observer in its review called it “another stuttering performance” from Arsenal.

You probably get the point.  2003/4 was the unbeaten season.

Goodness knows who those away fans were on 31 August 2003, but certainly not me.  My friends and I had witnessed a revolution and we were not playing the media’s game.  We were supporting all the way.

So it is now.  Recently the top stories of the day were…

  • Three ways Arsenal can line up with Odsonne Edouard if he completes summer transfer (Football.London)
  • Arsenal fans react to swap reports that could see Arteta land £36m-rated star (The Boot Room)
  • These Arsenal fans are excited as transfer news emerges about one Gunners target (Read Arsenal)
  • Arsenal fans spot what Dayot Upamecano’s brother has done amid talk of summer transfer (Football.London)
  • Mikel Arteta wants Arsenal to sign Unai Emery’s transfer target (Metro)
  • The solution to Arsenal’s midfield problems is staring Mikel Arteta right in the face (Football.London)

It’s as if tomorrow or the next day, we’ll wake up and go to the stadium to watch a game, and find this was all a dream.   Unfortunately, the people who are dreaming are those who write stories like those above.

No, the world is changing, and the media has been left a long, long way behind.  And trying to get football writers to understand either a) change or b) economics, is tough.

One Reply to “Forget transfers. It’s the player v club battles over wages that are dominating now.”

  1. An article in TheConversation tried to suggest that the predicting of Association Football is well researched. And they pointed to:

    A bivariate Weibull count model for forecasting association football scores
    Georgi Boshnakova, Tarak Kharratab, Ian G.McHaleb
    International Journal of Forecasting
    Volume 33, Issue 2, April–June 2017, Pages 458-466

    Reading the Abstract, you can see that the authors are accomplished at this sort of thing. But there is absolutely no hint of the playing field NOT being level. Or even that they looked to see if the playing field was tilted.

    I would imagine the paper pointed to above, looked at EPL data because what is in TheConversation is EPL related. That article, has a heat map of finishing position expected.

    It would appear that their conclusion, is that the best thing is for the EPL to complete the season when the virus is defeated. We are going to delay for over 1 year? Maybe?

    I’ve seen optimistic projections, which might have the virus vaguely contained in say 2 months. To me, that could result in a finished season by the end of July; but I think that requires playing all games to empty stadia. If you want (nearly) normal fan attendance, I think there would be problems finish this season by the end of 2020.

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