In June 2003, Roman Abramovich took control of Chelsea Football Club and took the football world to a whole new level. With the unrivaled financial muscle that was made available to spend in the transfer market, Chelsea became a dominant force linked to transfers with jaw-dropping sums.
Never before had football seen anything like what was to develop from the summer of 2003. In the summer of 2002, Manchester United signed Rio Ferdinand from Leeds United for an English record in the fee of £30million, and along with the signing of Ricardo for £1.5million, their total spending for the summer was £31.5million. In the summer of 2003, Chelsea’s total spending came to over £100million, following the new era under Abramovich. Since then, football has spiralled out of control. Billionaires from around the world have taken control at many English and European clubs, transfer records have been smased with the likes of Ronaldo costing Real Madrid £80million and players like Wayne Rooney on wages of £250,000 a week. Football has rapidly changed from a sport to a business.
A lot of column inches in this country are taken up by reports of players not renewing contracts due to disagreements about wages, it seems now everyone wants to be the highest paid at their club. Player power is at an all time high as some players are prepared not to play and pick up a pay-cheque in order to wait for their contract to expire so they can pick up a lucrative contract elsewhere. Is this a lack of loyalty? Of course it is. There is no, or little, loyalty in the game anymore. Players are more interested in their bank balance than returning the same love and dedication that their current club’s fans show them.
Football professionals in England seem to forget they are role models to the future generation of the sport. Players who think they know loyalty should be brought back down to Earth and take a look at Joseba Etxeberria. Etxeberria, the man who signed for Athletic Bilbao as a 17 year old, retired after 15 years service to the club, and signed a one-year contract extension where he would play his final season for free as a gesture of appreciation to the fans that showed him their appreciation.
Etxeberria is a prime example of loyalty, and unfortunately, I can’t see that happening in the English game. With all these record-breaking transfers and wage packets, players have become hypnotised. Players have been mislead into the understanding of the philosophy of football. They have forgotten the sole reason why they worked so hard for a career in the sport – because they loved to play the game. This has become a problem which has evolved ever since the big money transfers and huge wage packets that clubs are offering players. A problem which is extremely close to being unrepairable, unless the governing bodies of the world introduce a solution that can restore the damage.
The FA already run a voluntary salary cap in League One and League Two, where clubs in those divisions are limited to spending no more than 60% of their income on players’ salaries. Maybe now is the time to introduce a ‘don’t spend more than you earn’ attitude into the Premier League. This would be a great benefit, as without these caps, there is a risk that teams will overspend in an attempt to be triumphant now at the expense of long-term stability.
Just look at what happened to Leeds United and Portsmouth. Could the FA impose a points penalty to clubs for over-spending on players’ wages? A fair thought, but an idea which doesn’t seem realistic to introduce until a way is found in cutting players’ salaries to an amount where the league can still remain competitive. The trouble is this league now attracts the world’s biggest fat-cats who treat this sport like a game of Football Manager.
UEFA are introducing a ‘Financial Fair Play Rule’, in 2012, where clubs will not be allowed to spend more than they earn on transfers and wages. If clubs are found to have breached this rule by the 2014-2015 season, they could be excluded from European competitions. This is a step in the right direction. This is a positive step in developing youth infrastructure, and taking off the pressure on big salaries and transfers. Perhaps the FA could implement a similar rule where clubs could face a ‘three-strikes and your out’ policy, starting with a fine, a points penalty, and ultimately relegation. The trouble is that the Premier League now attracts the fat cats in the world who treat the Premiership like a game of real-life Football Manager. Football is not a sport anymore, it’s a business. Until these rules, or some similar, can be put into practice quickly, the game of football that we all love will continue to spiral down a black hole.