by Tony Attwood
Imagine a criminal justice system in which people who commit a crime get a wrap over the knuckles but get to keep the benefits of their crime. We might think that is not much of a system, because in the end the crime is rewarded. But it seems to be what is happening with football.
And not surprisingly given such a system those who spot the loophole in the rules have the chance to do what they like.
In order to make use of this loophole a club has to be willing to simply face down any criticism, and has to have the resources to take on the authorities. If they can have the backing of a compliant mass media that will maybe run a story for a day or two and then ignore it, then so much the better
So to start with, consider a club that is very well to do, and which has a willingness to act in ways that suit the club’s own approach, no matter what the rules say.
Now of course bravado of that type is ok, but when rules are broken there will be punishments, so the club has to have the financial ability to take the punishment in order to push on for the greater reward, as well as brushing any criticism aside.
To see how this works, imagine a situation in which someone breaks into a house and steals £100,000 worth of property. He knows he there is a fair chance he will get caught, (although there is a chance he won’t). If he is not caught that’s a bonus; he expects to be caught and budgets for that because the rewards of the crime far exceed any punishment.
Now that might sound ludicrous, but just consider the situation with football.
A club might break FFP or domestic football rules because they have spent too much, or because they have broken the youth transfer rules. The sort of thing of which Manchester City (financial), Chelsea (youth transfer) and Liverpool (schoolboy transfers) have been found guilty.
They are all punished, but if the punishment doesn’t really affect them, they might make a fuss, but they will know that they are doing fine, because the punishments are so small. Of course they won’t say that is what they think (laughing at the judicial system is never a good idea, even Man C know that). But really they have kept all the gains and had moderate losses.
In short, breaking the FFP and child transfer rules are factors that might get some publicity, but in terms of punishment hardly affect the club.
Let’s see how
Imagine a punishment in which the club doesn’t play in Europe for one year. Sure, it loses money, but the fact is it is already channelling vast amounts of cash into the club through nefarious means, so that hardly matters.
Also it doesn’t compete in Europe for a year. OK, but it is still competing in English competitions, and in one way it is better off because it is not distracted by the need for playing those extra games. The players are less pushed through playing fewer games. True some players might not like to be with a club outside of Europe for a season, but the winning of domestic trophies is a certain consolation.
So what’s happened? Well hardly anything. Domestic trophies are won, and after a year out of Europe they come back in.
Now think of clubs that break the youth rules, either with UK transfers or those involving a network of clubs across Europe. They don’t have to return the young players from whence they came. They keep those players and see them into the club’s system if they are good enough. And if they are bringing in players wholesale, then what does a one year ban on youth signings mean? Nothing.
As a result we might suspect that teams that break youth rules and FFP rules can become major forces in football. The punishments they get are either irrelevant, or helpful (in that a year out of Europe helps them prepare for the future.
And since the media in the UK does not criticise the clubs that get caught by the rules – either never mentioning the case (as happened with Liverpool’s schoolboy exploits or just mentioning it at the time but then leaves it, then there is no long term damage.
Instead the team of players that clubs that break FFP rules build, becomes almost world beaters and those that break youth regulations very quickly build up their youth side. Indeed breaking the youth regulations can mean that the club doesn’t have to break FFP, as it has so many youngsters coming through.
Now let’s consider three clubs that have of late been caught out either breaking FFP or youth rules. We might think of Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool.
What is interesting is not just that they have done very well in the League of late but that they have been achieving record numbers of points.
Looking at the winners of the Premier League right the way back to when it started in 1992/3 when Manchester United won it with 84 points, and searching for the clubs that have won the league with the most points we find…
|Liverpool||2019/20||82 -107 points|
|Manchester City||2017/18||100 points|
|Manchester City||2018/19||95 points|
Of the five seasons where the top teams have won the league with the most points three are the last three season, and one more could be this current season. Only one of the seasons with the highest number of points has come from an earlier period in the Premier League. That shows the difference between the top club and the rest is widening.
And what of the clubs? It may be that the fact that the three clubs that have broken the regulations recently are also the three clubs winning the league recently, is a mere coincidence. We must each of us decide.
For either this is a coincidence or clubs are breaking the rules in order to win the League, and getting caught is just an occupational hazard. In short…
If you want to win the League, break the rules. It really doesn’t hurt much.
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