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All in the (risky) game

As the transfer window opens, Tony Schumacher wonders if football will fall from its lofty financial perch

Written by . Published on June 22nd 2011.

All in the (risky) game

IMAGINE waking up in the morning, wandering down a few flights of stairs, opening one of your fridges - not one of the four wine fridges, or the special one you have just for beer, just one of your normal ones.

You pour yourself something refreshing from your integrated drinks chiller and wander out of the kitchen, pass the terrace that looks out onto your Mediterranean styled garden and go into the room that has an inside cliff face with built in waterfall. You enjoy your 12 -seater steam room , and adjust the mood lighting in your swimming pool before popping out onto your sun deck to relax in your  half acre back garden.

They are dependent on the
whim of one man to keep the
dream alive. Should another
bauble catch his eye, the
fall would be spectacular

Now, if you didn’t have to imagine that, you are either a Bolivian importer or a premiership football player. Because the above two paragraphs were inspired by the description of the house Fernando Torres (remember him)  has for sale in Woolton. I left out the bit about the steel panic room, on the first floor, coming in handy when he is in the box with the ball.

300176_6_PropertydetailsimageA quick dip?The house is on the market for £2.75m, or 13 weeks pay for Nando. I’m guessing he’d be open to offers, although I doubt he will be in a panic to sell. You don’t tend to get too many Prem players holding up housing chains. 

One shouldn’t begrudge him his wages; at least he is a World Cup winner, when he looks around the dressing room it must surely be disheartening to know that Lampard and Terry earn more than you.

This isn’t a dig at Chelsea by the way, I could have picked almost any club in the Premiership and found a similar story of excess: Jermaine Pennant forgetting his Porsche in Spain anyone? Or maybe Wayne Rooney blowing £1,500 on two dodgy looking escorts for a ten minute discussion.

Nor, for that matter, is it a dig at players earning so much, after all, they are just getting what they are given. Players are just riding a whirlwind of excess, basking in a bonanza that makes the fall of the Roman Empire look like an episode of Shameless,, and who can blame them?

There once was a time when people went to the pub before a match and not during. Clubs were owned by local businessmen who were gruff and didn’t speak to the media.. These businessmen would take players into a room and tell them how much they were going to be paid and if they didn’t like it? Well tough.

Back in the 1990s, I had a mate who broke into an old first division reserve team, he excitedly told me he was earning £300 a week and that he had his eye on a second-hand Vauxhall Calibra (ask your dad).

People of my age get misty eyed about those days, forgetting that the football was, essentially, rubbish. Okay, teams like Liverpool and Forrest won the European Cup, but that was only because the European teams were, on the whole, even worse.

300176_3_PropertydetailsimageSunny WooltonI’m guessing if you could play that 1980s Liverpool team against today’s they’d get hammered, even with Poulson playing in centre midfield. But football was different back then, it was played by lads called Terry, whose only knowledge of escorts came via watching William Woollard on Top Gear.

Sky came along and changed all that, but not entirely for the worse. We got better players, better football, better grounds and better coverage. To get us to buy Sky, Sky bought football. The 1992/3 season saw the birth of the Premier League. Sky’s first deal for broadcasting rights was £320 million for five years’ coverage, a staggering amount. But not that much when you take into account that last year the top four clubs’ wage bill alone stood at £550 million. If we add transfer spending,, around £400 million for the same period, we are left with the fact that almost a billion pounds has poured through four clubs in the Premier League alone. It makes you pine for the good old days of Sky’s paltry first deal.

While we make new holes in ever tightening belts football seems to undo the top button of its trousers and belch like Mr Creosote. Deloitte’s tells us that Manchester City spent 107 per cent of its revenues on players’ wages in its chase for glory, but even assuming that it achieved the promised land of Champions and Premier League success, the money it would bring in would still not cover the clubs outgoings. They are dependent on the whim of one man to keep the dream alive. Should another bauble catch his eye the fall would be spectacular.

Maybe Manchester United have the right idea:  tie up your money in enough debt and the banks will never let you fold. As Robert Maxwell was fond of saying: “Owe them ten thousand and they’ll make you bankrupt, owe them ten million and they are scared in case you go bankrupt.”

Although, given what happened to him, it’s probably not what Manchester United fans want to hear. And we only have to look at the soap opera that overtook Liverpool last season to realise how close a top team can be to going under.

So let’s look at some worst case scenarios. Imagine if the father of football, Mr Murdoch, decided he was paying over the odds; iif one day he sat down and thought, “Every house already has Sky, I could maybe increase my profit margin by reducing what I give to football, either way, if ESPN beat my bid and get the rights, they still will have to broadcast on my network, what do I have to lose?” So Murdoch cuts his bid by 30 percent, and ESPN think, “Well if he has we can,” and they cut their bid, where would that leave us?

UrlAll about ballsMore likely is that the European Union flexes its muscles again and pushes down Sky subscription charges. Many clubs rely on getting top dollar just to service their debts, borrowing on projected income for years to come. If that money didn’t come where would that leave Everton, Sunderland, Newcastle and rest? If football was a high street it could be tumble weed rolling around, not overpaid players.

Whether we like it or not, football is walking a tightrope, gambling that the money from Sky and foreign owners will keep pouring in, this impending transfer window will see top clubs gobbling up young English players like a game of hungry hippos in an attempt to beat UEFA’s new rules. Talk of a wage cap is dismissed as illegal and you can bet teams of accountants are already finding ways to circumvent the Champions League rules, about wages and club turnover, due to arrive in a couple of years time.

Should football fall from the tightrope who will be the winners? Hmm... I wonder what odds I could get on Blackpool winning the Premiership in the next ten years?

Follow Tony Schumacher on Twitter @tonyshoey

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