So the transfer window has finally shut, and to be honest my feeling is along the lines of ‘don’t let it hit you on the way out’.
Not sure what the rationale was for introducing one, or more pertinently, who is profiting from it. It is of course great for the less interesting sports writers to compete with each other for scoops, in an elaborate game of pin the tail on the donkey. Never before have I read so many ‘exclusive’s’ that I had read previously elsewhere.
Around Europe, selling clubs are left with inadequate time to secure replacements and buying clubs are either left empty handed, resort to encouraging players to force transfers or the calibre of last minute trolley dashes to make Dale Winton weep for joy. Of course this is in part due to the brinkmanship that negotiators on both sides try to employ, but as the massive wage disparities between clubs continue to grow, players can be ‘encouraged’ to behave poorly at relatively short notice. It is entirely accurate to criticise Arsenal’s board for their at times naive negotiating approaches in the face of player power, and the way Van Persie manipulated the club to his personal advantage suggests that somewhere there is a decision making vacuum. However, the fact that Arsenal are one of the most valuable, popular and richest clubs in the world, as well as having some of the highest ticket prices on the planet, and yet still cannot begin to compete on wages with four or more teams in their division suggests that sustainability is going out of top level football.
The combination of hoarding and market manipulation by the rich is increasingly endemic in our society as a whole, to the level where occasionally legislation steps in, and in football this guiding hand is represented by UEFA’s prospective Financial Fair Play controls, the effect of which should start to be seen over the next 18 months or so. Cynics will suggest that, as with most legislation, there are loopholes to be exploited, but this doesn’t reduce the value of the endeavour.
Drawing on the knowledge gained in his economics degree, Arsene Wenger has long been making pronouncements on the imminent deflation of the European football economy, and this transfer window has been a perfect illustration. While Roberto Mancini continues to discard toys from his pram with every major transfer concluded not involving Manchester City, his club have discarded a perennial 15-20 goal a season scorer Emmanuel Adebayor for the princely sum of £5m to a potential domestic rival. In addition to this, they are believed to be paying in excess of £80,000 per week in his wages over the next two years. Or in other words, about £8m. In total, for a return of 34 games and 15 goals, Adebayor will have cost Man City a net £50m in transfer fee and wages, despite his 18 months of being loaned from the club and recent transfer to Spurs.
This is primarily because of their own totally artificial inflation of the European wage market – because nobody other than the four or five other richest clubs in Europe can afford to match the wages they are paying their reserve players. As I have mentioned before, Manchester City have spent approximately £850m on recruitment and contracts for playing staff alone in the last 5 years and 3 months. Chelsea, even after their early profligacy under Mourinho and Abramovic, have still racked up a bill of approx £500m in the same time period. This at a time when the world economy is in a slump, the UK has lurched from banking crisis to double dip recession, and Spain, Portugal and Greece continue to have major concerns about their viability as part of the Euro. Elsewhere we have seen AC Milan forced to sell their two best players, the Italian champions Juventus forced to take Nicklas Bendtner on loan to replace the departing Del Piero, and everyone in France bar the oil-funded PSG cashing in on their stars.
Bar the oligarchs and oil barons, the only really significant spenders have been the usual well run business powerhouses of Man Utd and Bayern Munich, and the primary beneficiaries of the utterly rotten Spanish TV deal, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Even the Spanish giants have visibly tightened their belts a little, with each manager probably ideally wanting to pick up one more defender than they have. By far the biggest single indicator of the broken-ness of the transfer market, however, has been the massive increase in player loans. As the larger clubs continue to stockpile players like any other resource, and continue to pay them more and more, they cannot get rid of unwanted assets unless they essentially give them away at far less than their accounting value or lease them to others at a subsidised rate.
When Milan, Juventus and Liverpool, with 14 European Cups between them, including three in the last decade, are having to sell top players to balance the books or rely on loan signings to make up squad numbers, we should all be alarmed about where the game is going.
The primary objective of Financial Fair Play is to bring things back into the realms of clubs spending what they earn. This in turn should reward long-term development and planning, giving opportunities to young players, innovation and good management. This would be a welcome break from the recent short-term assembling of interchangeable groups of mercenaries seeking glory and pay-checks, with little knowledge of or identification with the clubs they represent. It will also discourage the likes of Portsmouth, Leeds United, Glasgow Rangers and others mortgaging their futures for a sniff of immediate glory. If it wasn’t for John Henry, we may have even seen Liverpool teetering on the brink of insolvency a mere five years after their European cup win. And lets us not forget that Abramovic only had the opportunity to buy Chelsea because they had spent themselves to the edge of the abyss.
If only Uefa could match its proactive stance on this issue in the areas of tackling racism, homophobia and corruption. Still, it could be worse…Cecafa in turmoil as Kenya fights Uganda to host Challenge Cup