Filed: Tuesday, 28th April 2015
I've read and enjoyed the recent spate of articles by Geoff Toates.
I've even agreed with most of the content, although I haven't commented. But I can't agree with his latest.
Were I to reduce the article to a single sentence, it might come out as "If the Davids sell out to a billionaire owner, he won't be able to throw money at my club, like what happened at Chelsea and City". How have either of them been good for the game or have promoted competition?
Geoff brings in the German League quite early and says that it is a one-horse race. But Bayern have won no less than 10 of the last 15 Bundesligas, a record that vastly pre-dates the arrival of Financial Fair Play. In fact, unless I've mis-counted, they've won 22 out of the last 40.
There are no mega-rich billionaires who have bought into the Bundesliga, altering the landscape; Bayern simply ARE the dominant force of German fußball. Yes, they distort their landscape, but only in the same way that Real and Barca, between them, do in Spain.
England is fortunate in that we have had, until the last couple of decades, a highly competitive league. The first Premier League season was 92-93; we, with typical West Ham timing, had managed to get ourselves relegated the previous season, of course! Abramovich bought Chelsea just before the 03-04 season.
That The Other United dominated the pre-Abramovich decade is more coincidence than money. Whilst the financial gap between the top two divisions has steadily become a gulf, it wasn't that great in the early years. United, lest we forget, had not won the title since 1966/67. It just so happened that Ferguson (appointed November 1986), who had been more than once "two games from the sack", finally got things working as he wanted that year.
In the 11 campaigns before the arrival of Big Money, United won eight times, Arsenal twice and Blackburn once.
However it wasn't until the fifth year that Arsenal even managed to finish as high as 3rd; they were 10th in the first season. The mix of clubs in the top five in the first five years includes Arsenal only three times (once each 3rd, 4th and 5th) and Liverpool the same (4th twice, 3rd once). Geoff's perceived "duopoly" of United and Arsenal is less than convincing.
Manchester United generally won comfortably. Their smallest win in the first five seasons was by four points, their loss to Rovers by just one point. But their dominance of the early years was one of those things that has always happened from time to time.
Before the Prem, Liverpool dominated, Wolves did it (sort of) in the 1950s. Go back to the 1920s and 1930s, Huddersfield and Arsenal did it.; go back to the 1890s and it was Villa and Sunderland. I kid you not, go on, look it up! It may be worth remembering, here, that only a quarter - exactly one quarter - of the 92 league clubs have ever finished top of the top flight.
Simply, the financial gulf between the biggest clubs and the rest was far more narrow then. Money could be a factor - Jack Walker basically bought the Premiership for Blackburn. His limited money was enough to bridge other gaps. Just the once. How Geoff manages to mention him in the same sentence as Abramovich and Etihad Inc is surprising, because Sir Jack was a financial pygmy by comparison. In today's world, he would be no more than a David, or an Assem Allam.
Football was a fairer game before the millennium. Finance was not the only thing that mattered. It wasn't even the most important factor. We could all hope. Yea and verily, even us 'Ammers! Who were, then, regularly scoring a single-figure finishing place.
In years 6-11 of the Prem, it's two to Arsenal, four to the Reds. If they don't win, they finish second, except for 2001/02. Arsenal beat Liverpool easily by seven points, with United ten points behind. Behind those two, it remains unpredictable, though. Far more so than in recent years.
Leeds, in the days before the meltdown, were regularly in the top six or seven. Villa and Newcastle were there also - has anyone ever considered them as "wealthy" clubs? We were there a couple of times, Ipswich also. If you take the whole of the first 11 years, you can also include the likes of QPR and Norwich.
Who did turn up, freshly fresh and newly new, in years 6-11, was Chelsea under Ken Bates. Regular top six finishers; 4th and 6th twice, 3rd and 5th the other two times.
Then Abramovich came along; that's why he bought them. Suddenly there's a billionaire owner, chucking money at his new toy. He was, quite literally, a game changer - a league changer. Alongside that, of course, the finance gap between the top two divisions, and the gap between those that qualify for lucrative European, started to grow and become somewhat self-perpetuating.
The first decade of the Prem was a different world. It was still possible for an owner of relatively modest means to buy a title. That Man Utd dominated was partly down to the fact that they undoubtedly did have financial clout. But that clout was not an anomaly as a result of acquisition by a mega-bucks owner. It was a part of the whole rich history; dare I say it, the historical bran; of the club, and (through gritted teeth) the astute leadership of a brilliant manager.
The world has changed. Football has followed, albeit slowly, the path of globalisation, of accretion, takeover, monopolisation. The clubs that have the clout are the richest ones. Is that because, like Arsenal, they are prudently managed and year on year continue to do well domestically, to qualify for lucrative European competitions? Or is it because the super-wealthy have bought them and spent a pittance of their fortunes seeking success?
"Does it matter?" might be more to the point. Football has gone with the world. The richer clubs keep being more successful, keep getting a bigger slice of the money pie, however much bigger the money pie grows. That's one of the consequences of globalisation.
Does it make football more competitive? Of course it doesn't. No more so than the biggest companies getting richer, gobbling up successful smaller companies, going global to avoid tax, and so on, makes the world fairer or more competitive. But this this is not a political or economics site!
Take away FFP, as Geoff suggests. Let the owner spend his money as freely as he wishes because it's his money. If Warren Buffett or the Sultan of Brunei decides to buy into QPR, or Millwall, or Barnsley, does that make football fairer, more competitive?
Of course it doesn't. All it means is that you've another club that joins Chelsea and Man City, throwing money at buying success. There's no "pedigree" or fan base involved; it's purely a question of whether the owner is willing to fork out...
Money buys success which generates money. Success generates money which buys success. If the two walk hand in hand (which they often don't), hurrah if you've an investment in the enterprise! So if you're a fan of a club that has a new, wealthy and, above all, successful (non-FFP) owner, lucky you.
For as long as the new owner remains interested, anyway. What happens if they get bored? If they're not successful? Or if they simply decide there's not enough return on their investment? Business may be a free for all. Football may be big business. It does not follow that football is just a business like any other.
If Tesco folds (£6.7billion loss, anyone?), I can shop at Asda's. Or Aldi, or Lidl, or somewhere. Not Sainsbury's though. The Sainsbury's local management were extraordinarily and unjustifiably rude to me in a store some years back. I now flatly refuse to shop there.
So some rich bugger (Geoff and all his billions!) comes along and bankrupts my club, wipes them out of existence. According to the Davids it was almost... Where do I shop now? Not at Sains.. Spu... Ach! You know what I mean! Never at Spurs. Do I start supporting Fulham, Brentford, Orient? I can get my groceries from another grocer. Where do I get my football from?
I don't, of course. Football is NOT just another business.
If there's little enough to praise the footballing authorities for, they can at least be applauded for attempting to curtail imbalance here. Football is far more than just numbers on a spreadsheet, a profit/loss account, somewhere to shop. People are emotionally involved with clubs; often irrevocably tied to clubs; in a way that they are not involved with any other non-sporting business you might care to suggest.
It is NOT "just another business".
FFP is not the death of competition, it is a legitimate attempt to prevent runaway finance from stifling competition. I use the word legitimate deliberately. The EU have not challenged FFP, as far as I'm aware, even though they decided that footballers' contracts contravened EU employment laws (hence Bosman transfers). The EU must also see something in it.
Unless you are to the right of Thatcher when it comes to Free Market economics, FFP is not a wholly negative thing; not even a bad thing. Even the home of capitalism, America, has salary caps and draft picks in its sports.
FFP, certainly, is not an unalloyed blessing. It is likely to preserve the current status quo. No more is it, though, as Geoff would have it, an unmixed curse. Remove it, and the Chelseas and Citys simply accelerate further away from the rest in a financial race that, ultimately, hardly anyone can even enter, let alone be competitive in.
FFP is a clumsy instrument, if increased competition is its sole aim. On the other hand, if you've a couple of dozen nails to bang in and no hammer in sight, would you not use a spanner?
And is increased competition the sole purpose of it? What about the simple survival of clubs? We have seen many go to the wall in the last decade. Most have managed to bounce off it, but how much damage have they suffered in the process?
The importance of Financial Fair Play is surely not so much about who can win, as who can exist. Without FFP we will see many more cases of Leeds, Portsmouth, Stockport. With it? We will, I hope, see less. It seems to me that the primary purpose of FFP is not about competition, but about the very existence of football clubs.
Neither City nor Chelsea fans have anything to fear. If their owners choose to sell, they will extract full value from the buyers, and the new owners will damn well protect their investment. Further down the ladder? Few can can cheerfully write off a half-a-billion+ investment. Very many more can do that for half-a-million. It's the fans of the club that pay the real price, though.
Does FFP promote or hinder competition? Either way, it's a secondary function.
In certain respects, it may be seen as unfair. Overall, though, I do believe it does help to make football fairer. You might need to go look this one up, Dear Reader, but FFP is the equivalent of the Cold War SALT treaties. It doesn't cure the problem of runaway... money, in this instance. But it does, at least, try to rein things in.
Without FFP, West Ham will never catch up with the top five clubs, except by Russian Roulette. The advertising, the investment, the bums on seats, the casual support, all will always flow to towards the more successful clubs. No-one can do anything about that.
With FFP? West Ham will never catch up with the top five clubs. What FFP does; in terms of finance and, ultimately, of competitiveness; is to slow the increase of the gap. If you grow £1million and £5million by 10 per cent every year, then in 12 years, you have (approximately) £3million and £15million. In relative terms, the gap is the same, five times. But in real terms, the gap has trebled.
The big powerful clubs will become bigger and more powerful with FFP. They will grow bigger and more powerful more quickly without it. Had FFP been introduced in 1992, Man Utd would, likely, be the English Bayern, by virtue of the combination of the historical brand, of success, and of astute management. Arsenal would not be the only English Dortmund, though. And Chelsea and City? They couldn't have happened. Would English football be less competitive?
With FFP, we cannot reasonably hope to consistently challenge the richest clubs. Without it, we can only hope to challenge them if we're the lucky ones, the ones who are bought by a ridiculously wealthy owner.
Football should not be a game of Russian Roulette. Spin the barrel, stare at the death of your club. Swear because you didn't get the silver bullet (or perhaps the silver empty barrel) of a rich, committed, successful owner, because you never had the chance to spin the barrel and take your chance. Only he who is rich can play, always with the risk of 'brains' (clubs) being splattered on the walls.
Is that what sport is for? Is that why we fans follow our clubs?
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
12:14PM 28th Jul 2009
''Nice to read a bit of positivity instead of all the doom and gloom merchants, well done!
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