So the Premier League’s new squad cap rules come into play this season and the headlines make for good reading if you are an England fan, or indeed Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. A lovely little phrase is present with the Premier League’s wording, one to lure us all and make us feel like the game is no longer being commercialised and raped beyond all levels of decency. That phrase is ‘home grown players’. It feels like the equivalent of John Major’s ‘warm beer and evensong’ doesn’t it? I bet some big hitting lawyers have earned some big hitting fees definining that innocuous and friendly sounding phrase. Far from it being a reference to illicitly made, but generally harmless narcotics, it seems like it has been selected to appease and encourage all football supporters who fear for the future of a game geared soley around a club’s ability to pay for talent.
The wording of the rule is interesting:-
Every Premier League club has a squad of 25 and that number is capped. Of these 25, 8 must be ‘home grown’. Sounds great doesn’t it? But what is the definition of ‘home grown’. Well that is simple enough. A ‘home grown’ player is ‘one irrespective of age or nationality, who has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or Foootball Association of Wales for a period continuous or not of 3 entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday or the end of the season in which he turns 21′. Does it remind you of the rules attached to meat classification – reared n the EU but slaughtered in the UK’. Clubs will be able to supplemement their squads with additional players under 21 (defined as under 21 on 1st of Jan in which the season commences). Changes to the squad list of 25 may be made during the period of the Transfer Window. Clubs have to declare their 25 players by the end of the Transfer Window (ie 31st August) and then again by the end of the January Transfer Window.
So don’t be fooled. ‘Home’ refers to the club not the country, I am pretty certain Luis Boa Morte is ‘home grown’. Granted the system should and probably will encourage clubs to invest in more young players in order to beef up their squads, especially once the injuries set in and European football takes its toll. But think about why this rule has come in. Just think about who will really benefit from these new rules. Clubs can’t put a system of wage or salary caps in, it is after all against the free market, free wheeling Sky fed model and besides players and agents would be up in arms heading for Terminal 5 quicker than you could say ‘Robinho’.
Premier League chairmen preside for the most over businesses that have a fundamental broken model. Far from the ‘Broken Britain’ that we keep on hearing about, we all know that we definitely have ‘Broken Football’. Everything changed in 2003 when the ‘rags to riches’ ‘ entrerpreneur’ Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea. Most people know that Roman’s wealth is massive, although many wonder if it has been truly earned through hard work and innovation. Suddenly the old guard of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were playing catch up. There was a new force on the scene and one which was going to become successful, after years of mediocrity. Chelsea had entered the big league and so long as Roman’s money was there, they would be taking up one of those precious ‘Champions League’ slots, the ones which make the clubs all the money and vitally, get them all the ‘brand exposure’ that they both need and crave. The stakes had been upped, and it seemed the only way clubs could compete was through spending more and more money. And it was. But to spend big, you had to have the cash or at least the access to the cash. Both Liverpool and Manchester United changed ownership in a bid to match Roman’s Blues, although the choice of owners was questionable to say the least. A few Americans who knew little about football and even less about English football leveraged the clubs with massive debts, something which both clubs and their fans are suffocating from right now. Wily old, privately owned Arsenal stood and watched, and primarily because they have always been prudent and because they have a single minded, myopic, but ultimately a brilliant talent spotting manager, spent less. But they won little in the process. The relationship between success as defined by winning the League or the Champions League and available cash has never been so close. However, the storm clouds of debt were gathering, and even Roman could see that this ‘football drug’ had it’s downside, declaring that he wanted Chelsea to be self sufficient in future and the money he had put into the club was only ever a fully recoverable loan.
These owners and charimen knew that things had to change, they simply could not afford the spiralling debts incurred by the ever increasing wage demands players and agents. Has anyone analysed the inflation multiple in players’ wages since 2003? In an age of transparency, we should be able to know the actual wages all players earn. Indeed, what professional class has salaries quoted in weekly amounts rather than monthly amounts nowadays. How very flat cap and working class!
And then BANG, 5 years after the Roman, along comes Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the Abu Dhabi United Group, and now owner of Manchester City. The bar was raised again, and raised smack in the middle of the global financial crisis. 19 other Premier League chairmen were looking down the barrel of an Arab gun. The Abu Dhabi United Group did not rely on leveraged debt, they had cash and plenty of it. Cash for gold, black gold.
So you see, these new rules are nothing to do with helping the English (or Welsh) national teams do better (and Scotland and Northern Ireland not at all). They are all to do with money just as they always are. Limiting the squads to two full teams not only limits clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea from ‘warehousing’ all the talent and thus choking the supply to their rivals, it also limits the cash the second tier have to spend. Allowing clubs to boost their squads with younger and therefore cheaper players, or more accurately players who cost less in wages, utimately means that the ‘Broken Football’ model gets some new life and potentially a new direction. Is this a good thing for football ? Yes, I think it is. After all Richard Scudamore, Premier League chief, said ‘ it is to protect the viability and sustainability of the clubs’ . But these new rules and their cosy language are there to do just that. Nothing more, nothing less. If England’ s team benefit great, but don’t be taken in by the language, the spin and the branding of these changes. Home grown? I think not.