The Gold Rush
In June 2009 Aston Villa club captain Gareth Barry moved to Manchester City for £12 million, bringing to end the speculation and uncertainty around Barry's future. City's ambition and direction had won him over and given the fact he is now a league champion it seems like he made the right decision for Gareth Barry. He had been a great player for Aston Villa and after many years of loyal service on the pitch he was now ready to move on and deserved to do so. The reputed salary of £120,000 a week seemed almost irrelevant given such persuasions. Equally, when Steven Gerrard was on the brink of joining Chelsea the possibility of future success with the club he loves convinced him that he belonged in Merseyside red. He duly put pen to paper and signed a new deal worth an estimated £140,000 a week. A great player at the top of his game getting paid what he deserves. Enough said.
The romantic in me wants to believe that such deals have nothing to do with money. The cynic in me tells me otherwise. Indeed, I have to get the calculator to work out how much £140,000 a week is per annum. The digital display assures me that it is a lot. I am forced to reflect that I have been so used to such figures being banded around I have begun to normalise such salaries and financial transactions, as though this was a game of monopoly. How on earth, though, did we get to these mind boggling levels in the first place?
To put things into context, in 1992 when Alan Shearer signed for Blackburn Rovers, the £3.6 million deal broke British transfer records. Today, he is still the Premier League's all time top goal scorer (260) holds the joint record for most Premier League goals in a season (34) and is a three time golden boot winner - just to mention a few of his many accolades. 16 years later Robinho completes a £32 million transfer to Manchester City, signing on for around £160,000 a week. He gifted them 15 goals for 41 appearances in his first season and in his second season he scored 1 goal for 12 appearances in all competitions. How times have changed.
Income from broadcasting rights has changed the landscape of English football. With war chests perennially over flowing, a culture of transfer brinkmanship developed, in which clubs offered more and more money to ensure they got their man. According to recent published figures wages soared by 201 million in 2010/11 to almost 1.6 billion and account for over 70% of revenue, a 14% rise, which is deeply concerning when revenues rose by only 12%. On anyone`s abacus this is a serious deficit. Surely a lot of people have been rubbing their hands gleefully for some time, though if those are the economic conditions, one cannot blame the players for taking their market worth. If you create a gold rush then eventually people are going to come along and stick their pan in the river. Before long there will be crowding on the bank. Such is life.
Only elite clubs with huge commercial arms can seek to offset the cost of paying headline wages and even those, (particularly Chelsea and Man City) might find still the implications of Financial Fair Play a big ask. This will also be tough for clubs outside of the top six. Consider our beloved Villa. At one point it was reported that 88% of our revenue was being spent on wages. We might be the 5th most successful team of all time in the Premier League rankings yet we don't have a lot to show for that in recent silverware. We do have a recent history, however, of spending stupid money on bench warmers and clod hoppers. In terms of the cost in gold, we are right up there. We also have a wealthy benefactor who has pumped around £200 million into Aston Villa Football Club.
Bored yet? Probably - that's because we have stopped talking about football. Remember that business about 22 men, a field of grass, some white posts and a ball? Whatever happened to that? Well it might make a comeback yet. In 2008 the world went into the start of financial collapse owing to irresponsible banking and mismanagement of financial markets. In layman's terms, good old fashioned greed helped open up the gates to economic hell. As a result we are in the grip of a double-dip recession; public services are being stripped down to the bone and everyday house holds are feeling the pain. Clubs are part of economic society and are feeling the strain too. This will force transfers and wages down, with clubs unable or refusing to pay what they once did. I think we are already seeing the shoots of financial sensibility dictate transfers and wages. Villa for one are now cutting cloth accordingly and spending wisely.
Though what of the elite clubs? If yours is run by an Arab dynasty or a Russian oligarch you might think you are safe and that you can win everything until kingdom come. Unfortunately, FFP is about to spoil that and stop exorbitant and unrealistic spending. G20 clubs will need to reconsider. Perhaps this is why Bale has stayed at Spurs and Chelsea are being linked with £10 million deals for the likes of Moses, have shied away from blockbuster buys for the likes of Hulk. Will Man Utd's big summer signing be Leighton Baines? People may see this as ridiculous and expected the gravy train to go on forever. It won't. FFP is happening and clubs will need to get in line.
FFP is FIFA's first real attempt to get their footballing house in order. Long overdue as well in my opinion. With big clubs recording huge losses you don't have to be Einstein to realise that it cannot continue unless we want a league where only the club with an Arab dynasty or an oligarch behind them can actually dream of winning anything. In both sporting and economic terms that is unsustainable as a whole. I do not want to see my beloved Aston Villa either a) going to the wall in a bid to keep up or b) just making up the numbers because we do not have the money to compete. The inevitable question, of course, is this: have we actually been part of a sporting competition over the past 15 years or is this just veiled sporting entertainment?
This question is easy to answer in the NFL. I have remained a big fan of American Football for some years, partly owing to the level of fairness and sporting competition. Nowhere in sport is revenue and finance so equally shared. Moreover, every franchise has a salary cap and as a result every ball club has a chance to make it to the Super Bowl. Wouldn't it be great to start the season knowing that you had, in financial terms, an equal chance to win the Premier League as the other 19 teams; that it was fair across the board. Until financial equality exists and clubs are restricted in what they can spend it does not matter who Villa hire as manager. We will not challenge or win the title in a league where the chequebook wins. The monopoly and strangulation of our game must end if Villa are to challenge for silverware.