The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel has written another screed in a long line of screeds against Financial Fair Play, this time castigating Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham for writing Richard Scudamore asking for FFP proposals that more closely reflect UEFA’s guidelines. Essentially, the clubs wish for clubs to break even over a three-year period.
The hero of Samuel’s piece is the late Jack Walker at Blackburn Rovers, the businessman who first purchased his boyhood club ahead of the 1990-91 first division. Samuel writes:
All you need to know about the latest proposal for financial fair play in the Premier League is that, if the rules were passed, Venky’s catastrophic takeover of Blackburn Rovers would still be permitted. Jack Walker’s title win, however, would not.
Yes, he could have bought the club just the same, but Walker would not have been allowed to do much of worth with it. He would not have been able to invest at a level that could bring quick success; he would not have been able to challenge the established elite effectively.
Samuel provides this anecdote and a handy bit of character assassination (he castigates UEFA for appointing the financially-ruined Dexia’s resigned chairman Jean-Luc Dehaene as “chief investigator and chairman of the Investigatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body”, and Ivan Gazidis for being a political mountain climber) as evidence for his claim that FFP is merely a means for established clubs to shore up their stranglehold on domestic titles.
This is about exclusion, not fairness, and the established elite do not like the idea of another Sheik Mansour coming along. They don’t like Roman Abramovich buying the best players, either.
And, if they can rope in enough dopes who see the plan simply as a way of saving money and cutting expenditure, this naked self-interest may carry the day. So far, only Chelsea, Manchester City, Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa are against it and 14 votes are needed to alter the rulebook.
Samuel’s critique of FFP however fails to address the core issue the regulation attempts to address: transfer fee and wage inflation. Consider the Swiss Ramble’s 2010 take on Jack Walker’s legacy at Blackburn Rovers, for example:
This limited financial support has impacted upon the club’s financial status, though it was always Walker’s wish that the club would become self-sufficient. To be fair, if we look at the club’s recent profit trend, they are more or less there, even though Walker could never have foreseen the explosion in transfer fees and wages (despite having to some extent lit the touch paper himself).
Samuel’s only mention of FFP mitigating transfer fee and wage inflation comes in the scare-mongering assertion that drop in player wages will result in free agency clauses being triggered around the league, meaning smaller clubs will apparently lose their best players.
Except most other teams facing the same financial constraints would struggle to match the wages of FFP, and big four clubs only have so many spots on the first team and the benches to fill. As for his claim that the biggest, established clubs will have the biggest “transfer pot” as he puts it, he neglects to mention that FFP would ideally lower transfer fees across the board for all clubs, at the top and bottom of the league, whilst leaving most revenue streams (save for incoming transfer fees) untouched.
FFP might lower the sell-on cost for clubs trying to earn money on their younger prospects, but it also would eventually lower the cost on annual amortized transfer payouts as well. Presumably, the financial wiz’s at Arsenal, who have depended on selling players to reap the financial awards, were aware of this when they wrote their letter.
As for the fear that clubs will attempt to raise ticket prices to maximize revenue under spending constraints, there’s a reasonable critique, but the increasing income from outsized domestic TV rights deals would surely offset the need to raise prices to extortionate levels. It’s also the case that many clubs have already turned to maximizing commercial revenue via commercial sponsorships as another potential avenue.
The idea here is that yes, there will no longer be Jack Walkers in football. However, even Jack Walker’s fleeting success at Blackburn helped fuel a transfer/wage explosion that has made football practically unsustainable for all but the richest clubs, either by limitless investment or high revenues. This however does not mean Blackburn or indeed any other club will never again win a Premier League title, just that the winning will require both sound financial management, good player development, and very intelligent scouting and savvy investment.
As, some might say, it should be…