It’s great that the Football League has adopted the Financial Fair Play regulations that UEFA will be enforcing on the clubs above them and in top divisions across Europe. Well, sort of. It seems incredulous to me that such a rule has to be brought in to curb the excesses of teams. While we know that financial prudence is seemingly not a requirement to run a football team, surely Football (or in fact, Business) 101 contains the words “spending more than you bring in is not a sustainable strategy.”
As a fan of American sports, I’ve always been fascinated by the unique foibles that their leagues contain. Strictly defined player spending limits are enforced on the teams and spending above that is either prohibited or punished with a tax. With Leagues One and Two volunteering to restrict wages to 55% of turnover, it makes me wonder whether a salary cap would work at the top level.
Adding to the 25 man squad limit (in England) would be a hard cap. Squads would be forced to spread their resources across all of their players. Add a layer of ‘developmental’ players whose wages wouldn’t count against the cap (for example, aged under 21 with less than 30 senior appearances). Suddenly, financial doping is eliminated, massive biases of talent are reduced and the league becomes a more equitable place. Teams are less likely to keep players they won’t play and those players will be asked to be stars at smaller outfits.
Unfortunately, such a utopia will likely never happen. Unlike the NBA or the NFL, there are plenty of European destinations that will open their chequebooks for talented, hungry exiles from the Premier League. The usual arguments of trade restraints would also be cited. Promotion and relegation would also be interesting – obviously different tiers would have unique caps and teams moving between them might have difficulty in fitting under their new restrictions.
The textbook example is Newcastle who arrogantly didn’t think relegation would apply to them and as such, never put a wage reduction clause in their players’ contracts. If that happened in a cap environment, you would see a massive renegotiation or fire sale in the North East just to jettison the high earners from the wage bill.
There’s a chance that prospective owners wouldn’t invest in British top level clubs as they can’t buy the league. Would the likes of Sheikh Mansour spend so much on Manchester City if he realised that his total playing staff costs were set by the league office? Would that necessarily be a bad thing though? Not for some xenophobic reason with a cap but to prevent the stockpiling of talented players that would make the league better and more competitive. Players like Michael Johnson could be loaned out to recover from injury and compete for a place on his return.
Obviously, salary caps are something of an American invention. Major League Soccer is a convoluted mess of a cap, with loopholes and reserve lists and designated players. All of this is to protect the major tenet of the league, which is decidedly un-American: Prevent an open market. The re-entry and supplemental drafts prevent the teams from bidding on free agents. It’s a smart move in America, where the league is a developmental stage for young Yanks to be mentored by world stars but it isn’t something that would work around the rest of the footballing world.
So, to return to the original question: Could a salary cap work in Europe? In theory, I think so. And I think the vast majority of fans at lower league clubs would be in favour. It isn’t such an outdated notion, when you consider that less than two decades ago, the Bosman ruling was a mere glint in the eyes of European lawmakers. They will be the party that ultimately determines whether this would happen. The usual arguments would be made, that it would be a restriction of trade or a way to prevent the effective freedom of movement between citizens and member states. That’s why it won’t happen and while Financial Fair Play is a step in the right direction, things should be taken further to prevent an impending crisis within the sport.
Is Financial Fair Play the way forward? Or should the free market rule? Let me know on Twitter @Hashistweeting
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