Yesterday was a significant day in the (English) Premier League – £135 m spent by football clubs in one day, bringing the spend in the January transfer window to in excess of £200m – tens times what it was last year. Significant, however for all the wrong reasons. Indeed is this the last hurrah before the UEFA’s new financial rules come into play in 2013?
Januray 31st 2011 was the day when the English Premier League broke all bonds with its fans, who have clearly become the least important constituent in the football universe. Sitting way back in stands, we peer at the antics of a bloated game, one which cannot produce a credible national team, despite pouring obscene amounts of money into a whole host of distinctly average players. It all starts with the owners. Nowadays these fall into 3 broad groups.
- The rich individual – think Roman Abramovich at Chelsea (wealth quoted at £8billion) and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his Abu Dhabi United Group at Manchester City. These people are often quotes as businessmen, yet there is often controversy surrounding their wealth. In the case of Abramovich it was gained in a very short period of time when Vladimir Putin broke up a communist, state owned economic system into pieces and bestowed it piece by piece on a number of favoured friends, the oligarchs. Over in Abu Dhabi, well it is a tale of black gold, oil.
- The US based business conglomerate who may use debt to leverage the purchase, think the Glazers at Manchester United and Gillette and Hicks formerly of Liverpool who basically got it wrong and had to sell out to fellow American John W Henry of New England Sports Ventures.
- The rest, usually business men, whether they have made money in the pornography industry, sportswear or intensively farmed battery chickens, but ones who will find competing with the mega rich, just a little bit too, well, rich for them.
Yesterday saw the redistribution of a fraction of one Russian oligarch owners ‘wealth’, into an owner of a sports goods empire, via New England Sports Ventures. When Roman Abramovich decided to part with a mere £50m of his easy money,in return for Fernando Torres, he passed it to John W Henry at Liverpool, who flicked over £35m to Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct and Newcastle United for ‘England sensation’ Andy Carroll. I wonder if that money just goes to pay off some of the debts that Newcastle have accrued down the years? Either way I am sure it will be pretty useful to Mr Ashley. Along the way, the usual cuts would have been taken by the agents, even more money would have been put into the overpaid player’s pockets and who knows, maybe us tax payers will have gained a few quid towards our debts.
These amounts of money are nothing short of obscene. They show that the game at the ‘top end’ is nothing more that a bloated and rotten borough. In these troubled times, when pretty much all of the people who pay to watch the games via entrance fees or less so via a Sky Sports subscription, are facing an age of austerity, this sends out a message that the game has become nothing more than an effete and irrelevant sideshow, a circus. As crowd numbers fall off, the owners literally fiddle. It is yet to be seen if a fire has started, but the mood out there amongst the fans is starting to turn against their ‘heroes’.
Whether you wake up today as a Newcastle fan, a Liverpool fan or indeed a Chelsea fan this morning, you anger or elation may be short lived and the gloss may wear a little thin. Indeed, you have to ask whether the late, great Bill Shankly would ever utter his famous saying, ‘some say football is a matter of life and death. I say it is more important than that’, nowadays. Perhaps he would simply say ‘some say football is a matter of money. I say it is a matter of too much money’. I would like to think the great man would have something to say about the mess our once beautiful game is now in.