By Tony Attwood
Chelsea have so far in this transfer window had a net spend of £152.4m according to the Guardian. Supposing Mr Abramovich was suddenly taken out by a Russian mafia agent, and his funding of the club dried up overnight, would the rest of the Premier League feel moved to offer financial support to get them through these difficult times? Would the clubs to whom Chelsea now owe money for these transfers (which are normally paid for over a four or five year period) feel morally obliged to say to Chelsea, “so sorry for your loss and don’t worry about the money you owe us”?
Somehow I doubt it.
Or what about clubs in the Championship who have to show each year they have lost far more than the allowable £39 million over the last three seasons. Some of these have got around the rules by selling their ground to the club’s owner and then leasing it back – and immediately spending all the money so gained on more player purchases, in a bid to make it into the Premier League. Should the Premier League show solidarity with them, now the losses are escalating?
My clear answer, and I suspect yours as well, would be “no” in all cases. The clubs have been stupid and if they sink they sink. I feel sorry for the fans, and I know I’d be knocked out if Arsenal was wound up because it had spent too much and then couldn’t pay its debts, but it would be Arsenal’s fault.
On the other hand I do disagree when the Daily Mail said, “For some reason we think Manchester United are responsible for Macclesfield Town, but if Tesco kill your butcher with mass-produced loss-leading discount meat, that’s a cheap dinner and capitalism at its finest.”
Although I am not happy if a local butcher goes out of business because of a supermarket, that is the nature of capitalism, and I still have a choice of where I buy my produce because there are a number of supermarkets around. In football I have no choice. I support Arsenal – that’s it.
And yes I know that football competitions can exist within a league that has no promotion or relegation: by and large American sports seem to act in that sort of way. But the tradition in European football has been for there to be a pyramid of clubs with promotion and relegation.
So I see a difference between clubs that have worked hard to stay within the norms of financial behaviour by not spending more than they earn, and the likes of Reading who according to their last accounts, for every £100 of income, spent £226 in wages.
Kieran Maguire, at the University of Liverpool, has been quoted following her investigation into football finances, saying, “You’ve got Sheffield Wednesday sponsored by a taxi company that owns no taxis, which just happens to be owned by the [club] owners. You’ve got Derby County paying £700,000 to Tom Ince’s mum as an academy scout because that doesn’t count to FFP.”
Of course none of this is new, for you may recall Birmingham City under Harry Redknapp spending £202 on wages for every £100 of income. That was supposed to be a dire warning. Reading apparently see it is a viable model.
In fact in 2018/19, at least ten of the clubs were spending more on salaries than their entire earnings. Only Queens Park Rangers, West Bromwich Albion, Hull and Rotherham spent below Uefa’s recommended wage-to-turnover limit of 70%.
The problem is largely the media – if you have a club that is working the sustainable model, you can be sure that local and sometimes national journalists are blaming the board for a lack of ambition. So when a potential owner comes along saying she or he will put money into the club the fans welcome this … and then more than likely the club sinks because these debts are unsustainable.
But without a competitive pyramid, football as we know it will not continue to exist.
In olden times the money that came into the clubs from broadcasting was divided up more evenly, even though almost all of the games shown were of course the old Division 1. Now the Premier League keeps most of its money, clubs spend it, and there seems to be no restrictions on how much they spend, following the ludicrous collapse of the Uefa case against Manchester City (ludicrous because they simply took too long to put Man City on trial).
So what we need is a strict rules on clubs not spending beyond their income, and on the source of the income being legitimate football income. And possibly a salary cap in each league.
The evidence of just how bad things are in the lower leagues was shown by Tottenham H paying for Leyton Orient’s Covid tests. As a result the game was called off. West Ham offered to pay for Hull’s tests. Hull said no, the game went ahead because they needed the broadcaster’s money. This is insanity.
For professional football to continue in England these are issues that really need to be sorted out, and sorted out now. We can assume that clubs will try to get around any rules so the League should have its own independent high level accountants who work through the accounts of each clubs, and there should be very severe points deductions in the current season for clubs that are found to have broken the rules in the season whose accounts for the previous year have just been handed over.
- The home and away scandal: ignorance, or cover up?
- The reason why Liverpool and Man C are ahead of Arsenal.
- How which referee a club gets has a major impact on the result of each game
- The statistical evidence that shows PGMO are biased against Arsenal
- How European football has taken up the fight against clubs breaking FFP