How to Fix Football

You’ll be searching for a long time before you find anyone who will offer much sympathy for the so-called Super League project. The plan, by 12 of Europe’s wealthiest clubs, to break away and form what amounted to a closed shop drew huge backlash and was abandoned in a matter of days – though, per Spanish court documents, no team has formally withdrawn.

For anyone who loves football, the Super League idea was callous, anti-competition and some-thing to be snuffed out at birth. That doesn’t mean, however, there wasn’t the semblance of a point buried amid the avalanche of nonsense.

Both Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Andrea Agnelli of Juventus declared that the Super League was the only way forward, lest the game risk bankruptcy. While someone could per-haps have told the Italian that no-one forced him to hand Cristiano Ronaldo a €31m contract, we’ve seen the root of their point in a post-Covid world.

Barcelona and Inter’s financial problems are well documented, and for both Super League found-ing members their issues are self-inflicted – but the damage goes beyond that. Agnelli has pre-dicted that European clubs – not just those 12 – could lose around €8.5bn.

One might be tempted to say that clubs should simply learn to live within their means that argu-ment is not sustainable in the face of state-owned clubs.

Spending over the summer, even in the cash-rich Premier League, plummeted – except at Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

Owned by Qatar and Abu Dhabi respectively, those two clubs simply do not operate in the same financial realm as even Europe’s most powerful. Former Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi famously declared upon selling that he – a mere multi-billionaire – couldn’t hope to compete with petro-dollars.

With UEFA relaxing Financial Fair Play rules, PSG were able to spend €60m on Achraf Hakimi before handing out huge salaries to Gini Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Sergio Ramos. City broke the British transfer record by spending £100m on Jack Grealish and were willing to raise that by 50 per cent again with a move for Harry Kane.

You don’t have to be Perez or Agnelli to think that clubs with the heft of a nation behind them spending with abandon is not a good thing.

The idea the Super League clubs – including City it must be said – came up with to curb this phenomenon was a salary cap, albeit s a misguided one based on revenue. Inevitably, it is this wrong-headed solution that UEFA is considering for FFP reforms.

It’s believed that the governing body will propose new rules meaning salaries cannot exceed 70 per cent of revenue, with a ‘luxury tax’ for those who flout that. City and PSG can afford to pay any such tax, or raise revenues with sponsorship from Qatar or Abu Dhabi. The Super League sides already have Europe’s largest revenues and such a limit would ensure their hegemony forev-er.

But what if we took the Super League clubs at their word? If we took their one good idea and took it to its logical conclusion?

American sports fans will be familiar with the concept of a salary cap and how it’s applied in the NFL. For 2021 all 32 teams have a hard limit of $182.5m on salaries.

No-one would suggest that could simply be ported over wholesale to Europe, but unlike most European top flights the NFL is highly competitive – Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots are the only team to win more than one Super Bowl since 2010.

Perhaps, rather than basing salaries on an individual club’s revenue, a cap could be brought in based on the income generated by a league as a whole. Take that, allocate half to player costs, di-vide it among the teams in the league and set the salary cap that way.

For 2019-20 the Premier League had a combined revenue of around £4.5bn. Using this system that’s a salary cap of £112.5m, which is more than all but five clubs currently spend on salaries. Those five are, of course, the Super League founders, minus Tottenham.

Such a plan would still bring some disparity – the Premier League’s TV deal means it brings in far more revenue than other leagues – but would mean that clubs wanting to pay big salaries had better make sure their league as a whole is strong. You want a Super League? Build it at home.

This article was from a past issue of Soccer 360 magazine. Click here to subscribe to future issues.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: