Friday, 23 May 2014

Singing the Blues (again) and why FFP has nothing to do with fairness

The god that is Vincent lifts the trophy
The domestic football season is almost over, but oh my goodness, what a season it’s been!

More open than any for years, with three teams in with a chance of claiming the Premier League title until only a matter of days before the concluding round of matches.

As a City fan of 40 years (this year!) and counting – I am, of course, utterly delighted: not just with a second title in two years, but a first ever double, having lifted the League Cup in March.

And I got to be there on both occasions and I screamed myself daft – great catharsis – and I’m still feeling the sheer joy. Hey – thats football for you.

Fortunately too, for health reasons, the final day of the season wasn’t as nerve-shreddingly tense as 2012.

The season was not just about City, though.

Goodness – how I wish I was a betting person and had thought to put money on a Madrid derby for the Champions League final.

And no look back at the domestic season would be complete without recognition of David Moyess achievement in finally getting Everton above Manchester United in the table.

 Chris Hughton
It was also good to see Arsenal win the FA Cup – not because I have any sort of issue with Hull or Steve Bruce (in my days as a pro sports hackette, I interviewed him, and he’s a decent bloke), but because it helped stuff some of his words back down José Mourinho’s over-sized gob.

Banter is one thing – the utter lack of respect he shows on a regular basis is quite another. And as for his “19th century football”, I’m no fan of Allardici’s style, but Chelsea can hardly claim to be an unrelenting a joy on the eye.

On the subject of respect and talking to managers, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to all those I seem to have jinxed this term by taking their pictures.

After photographing an event at Westminster for Show Racism the Red Card early last December, Steve Lomas and Chris Hughton have lost their jobs, while Alan Pardew seemed to go into meltdown a short while later.

West Ham fans may – or may not – be interested to know that I also photographed Sam Allardyce.

I should add that, as far as that evening was concerned, all were completely charming, as were all the people I came into contact with.

Ashton-under-Lyne's very own Gordon Taylor
And a special mention for PFA boss Gordon Taylor. Back when I was a sports ed, he’d give me the time of the day and would take my calls, yet I’d never met him face to face. It was a pleasure.

Of course the season also ended with news of UEFA’s sanctions against those European clubs judged to have fallen foul of the new financial fair play (FFP) rules.

The two biggest clubs affected were City and Paris St-Germain – champions in their respective countries for this term just gone.

Now it is, I should point out, entirely coincidental that both clubs are currently owned by swarthy Middle Eastern types. After all, UEFA has frequently illustrated just how seriously it treats racism rearing its ugly head anywhere near the beautiful game.

Steve Lomas, Sir Trevor Brooking and Sam Allardyce
After all: that was about money. Or more importantly, about not upsetting big business when it sponsors the game.
Now the thing about FFP, in theory at least, is that it’s supposed to avoid any more cases of clubs living so far beyond their means that they go bust as a result.
Which is a perfectly laudable aim.
However, neither City nor PSG are living above their means.
You can object all you like to those clubs being owned by foreigners, to those foreigners being Middle Eastern, to owners being richer than Croesus, to the state of football in general or to the moon being made out of cheese, but it doesn’t change the simple fact that the owners of those clubs are wealthy enough that they’re not likely to go broke any time soon, no matter how much they spend, and certainly not as long as the oil is flowing.
Rachel Yankey
Indeed, in City’s case, the entire Etihad Campus project is seeing a massive regeneration of an area of Manchester that has been derelict since the massive deindustrialisation of the 1980s – and not just with facilities for the club, but also for local people, including housing.

And – hardly unimportant – a shed-load of new jobs, with a commitment that close to 100% will go to local people.

All that's without mentioning that it represents a long-term, sustainable model for the club, by creating a world-class academy along the lines of that at Barcelona.
None of this suggests that Sheikh Mansour is about to pull the plug and run away, leaving the club to die because he’s got bored.
The problem with FFP – and casting aside cynicism for a moment, let’s just say that it really was meant to stop another Portsmouth – what it actually does is go a long way to closing the door between an existing European elite and those who might aspire to join it.
It’s a little like the UK and US rabbiting on about protectionist policies – after using the very same approach to initially build their own economies.
Alan Pardew surprises SRTRCs own Ged Grebby
In terms of domestic UK football, there is not a single winner of the English title for a considerable length of time that has not had to buy players.

If you want to talk of ‘buying titles’, then Blackburn and Jack Walker are a perfect example.

Manchester United and Chelsea have spent considerable sums – as have Liverpool – including on wages (infographic here that might surprise you).

After the ‘golden generation’ of Fergie’s Fledglings, United have frequently brought new talent to the club – and broken the British transfer record in so doing.

And then there’s the idea that Arsenal don’t spend money – that they ‘do it right’ – a rather romantic perception that is actually rubbished by looking at the facts.

Having won the title in 1988-89 and 1990-91 under George Graham, the Gunners then endured a bit of a drought.

Arsène Wenger took over the managerial hot seat in 1996 after the 14-month reign of Bruce Rioch had been followed by the brief caretakerships of Stewart Houston and Pat Rice.

Speaker John Bercow, Rachel Yankey and Gordon Taylor
The previous year, under Rioch, the club had made the marquee signing of Denis Bergkamp for £7.5m. The following year, Patrick Vieira was brought in for £3.5m, and in 1997, Emmanuel Petit joined for £2.5m and Marc Overmars for £5.5.

Adjusting for inflation, that’s £12,581,338.70 for Bergkamp, £5,733,350.00 for Vieira, £3,972,000.00 for Petit and £8,738,400.00 for Overmars.

In 1995, the English record transfer fee was £7m – paid by Manchester United to Newcastle for Andy Cole – until that Bergkamp deal.

Arsenal went on to win the title in 1997-98, 2001-02 and 2003-04. They continued to be both a buying and a selling club in that period, including, in 1999, spending a new club record of £11m to bring Thierry Henry to north London from Juve.

It doesn’t, for instance, mention the £42m deal that brought Mesut Özil to Arsenal last summer – not least because the British record has been smashed out of sight by the fees paid to English clubs by Real for, first, Ronaldo and then Gareth Bale.

By 2000, Barça were willing to stump up £32m for Overmars and Petit combined, a week after Luis Figo had left the club for Real for £37.2m. At the time, other top fees in global terms were Hernan Crespo – Parma to Lazio for £36m – and Christian Vieri – £31m to move to  Inter from Lazio.

Those figures also illustrate just where the market was pushing up transfer fees most.

Now none of this is intended as a ‘dig’ at any club.

But it shows quite clearly that the reality is that no club that challenges for domestic titles in the UK – let alone wishes to challenge in European competition – is likely to do so without substantial spending.

It also illustrates one reason why Arsenal have failed to win another title for some years.

If one really wanted to look at financial issues, perhaps one should ask why UEFA has managed not a whisper as a club such as Manchester United was bought in a way that places it in greater risk.

One could, if one were so inclined, consider the role of agents in creating transfer inflation.

My solution to that would – in UK terms at least – to have PFA-appointed reps available to help any player needing help with any form of contract negotiations.

It would go a long way to cutting out the culture of agents shit stirring to make money for themselves off the back of the talents of any players in their stables.

But since that seems unlikely to happen in the near future, remember this: spending money that you have is worth a £50m fine.

Abusing young, black players because of the colour of their skins comes in at £8,270.

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