By Matt Wrafter.
Talk to any Arsenal fan and they will tell you that money is ruining football. They will tell you that Arsenal are doing things the right way, and all the big-spending clubs around Europe are not. They will tell you that if these clubs didn’t have the luxury of the millions being pumped into them every year, then Arsenal’s trophy cabinet would be riddled with European Cups and a lot more Premierships.
Although that view is slightly exaggerated and not entirely based in fact, it does have a point. Footballers cost money. They cost money to acquire and then to retain. Some clubs are wealthier than others, for whatever reason, and as such can afford better players, and can afford to keep them. Is this fair? The simple answer is: it depends.
If you look at a club like Manchester United or Real Madrid you see clubs that are able to buy the very best players around, but they have acquired their wealth and status over the years through building up a worldwide fan base, which allows them to earn money through TV revenue and merchandise sales. Money also comes from smart transfer dealings and trophy winnings. This is the perceived “proper” way of making money. Clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea or PSG, however, earn money almost solely through large investment from ambitious and carefree owners. These three clubs have relatively small fan bases in comparison to Man United or Madrid, and have no large history of success. Because of wealthy owners (arguably lacking any footballing knowledge) they can simply buy who they want to buy and compete with the best of them. Other clubs of the same stature who aren’t lucky enough to be taken over by one of these ‘megabucks’ are left straddling behind, with no hope whatsoever. This does not seem fair to me, or most Arsenal (or Everton) fans.
This is not to say I am against investment altogether. It makes perfect sense to invest a few million into a club in order for them to develop and progress, and as such earn more money. But the sheer amount of cash being pumped into clubs like City doesn’t seem to make any practical sense to me. How will they ever earn that money back?
A football club, in England anyway, is primarily a business. But the spending habits of the major clubs just don’t seem to make sense. Speaking of the 2010 calendar year, UEFA said the aggregate loss of Europe’s top clubs was €578m. Some 65% of income was spent on average on salaries, and 47% of clubs reported losses. In the Championship last season, every £2 a club made, £3 was spent. I just can’t see this happening in any other form of business. Why a football club? Do they not care that they are losing huge amounts of money every day?
Manchester United is one of the biggest football clubs in terms of fan base and revenue in the world. They make millions every year from merchandise and TV revenue, while they consistently sell out one of the largest football grounds in Europe. They win trophies and have a relatively healthy transfer history. They have had their fair share of big money flops (one Veron comes to mind), but deals like the £1m signing of Cantona and the £80m signing of Cristiano Ronaldo are hard to ignore. They may be in huge debt, but this is because of the controversial Glazer takeover, nothing to do with the club’s unhealthy spending. Man United are a club that have retained their success the right way; they have earned their money, and coupled with decent but not over-the-top investment from different owners down the line, have been able to remain at the top of the footballing world.
Manchester City, however, are a completely different story. Compared to United, the blue half of Manchester are a relatively small club, with no huge previous successes and no massive international fan base. They have the highest net spend of any Premiership club since the league’s inauguration and can now buy almost any player they wish to. This luxury is as a direct result of carefree investment from a wealthy foreign owner, and they have not earned their success (future success, which will arrive sooner rather than later) at all. This is the wrong way to become a football force, and, hopefully, the Financial Fair Play rules will crack down on them and disqualify them from European competition.
Chelsea sit atop the net spend table of Premier League clubs with a figure of £504,965,000, with City closing the gap after gathering a net spend of £491,877,000 Manchester United, by far the most successful club in the league’s history, sit considerably behind in 4th (£182,560,000), Liverpool (£226,935,000) in 3rd, and Tottenham Hotspur (£178,332,500) not too far behind in 5th. This table may be an indication that success isn’t always synonymous with money, as Liverpool and Tottenham have never won the Premiership, and neither have City. Arsenal (£21,216,000) & Blackburn Rovers, the only two clubs other than Chelsea and United to win the league, both sit near the bottom of the table, with Blackburn being one of only two clubs (the other being Norwich City) that have spent less than they have received in the transfer market (-£3,723,000). But this list ignores player’s wages and the quality of the cash spent. City wasted away millions on second-tier players in past seasons before finally being only able to attract the very best players to the club more recently. The transfer market is continuously rapidly inflating, so much so that a player sold for £5m in 1995 could well be sold for over £30m in 2011. However, the net spend table shows worrying figures for City & Chelsea fans who attempt to defend their clubs by insisting that “United have bought success for years”. And that’s ignoring the fact that some of United’s greatest players have come very cheap, or in the case of the likes of Giggs, Beckham and Scholes, for free. [i]
It seems that the Financial Fair Play rules are going to arrive just a few years too late to save the Premier League. City are spending all around them with figures that no other club can possibly hope to keep up with, and decent, financially healthy sides such as Arsenal are going to be left behind. United may be able to keep pace for a while, their worldwide popularity keeping them going, but isn’t it just a matter of time before the Red Devils simply cannot keep up with the spending of wealthier teams? When the next Messi or Ronaldo comes about, how can United possibly hope to compete for him in the transfer market when City can just splash out £100m with a £400k a week contract to boot? United will find themselves looking directly towards their youth system, but will be challenged there by more clubs than before; 10 years ago Arsenal’s scouting network and youth academy was enough to keep them at the top. Nowadays almost every club has realised the merits of a system such as theirs.
City may become a double-edged sword and a blessing in disguise, excuse the clichés. With City simply outspending everyone, every other club will have to look to their youth to progress. As such, maybe City’s large spending will be the ironic downfall of big spending itself? Maybe in 10 years’ time, football will revert back to the development of youth, and the Ajax’s of the world will once again rise to the fore. Until, of course, City offer their stars £750k a week.
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