Finance

Financial Fair Play: “Big four” are merely protecting United’s interests

If the Big Four get their way....this fellow won't be so keen to be pictured with footballers...

If the Big Four get their way….this fellow won’t be so keen to be pictured with footballers…

They say that Turkey’s do not vote for Christmas, but there is a big danger that England’s Premier League clubs are going to do just that.

Manchester United have been England’s most successful club over the past 20-odd years. This coincided with the club going public, building-up Old Trafford and finally winning the league after 26 years of trying. United can house close to 70,000 people at their ground, they have a “global” brand and their fans have long been addicted to watching the club no matter what. United’s revenue streams are massive and will always give them an advantage.

Can you blame other clubs, in trying to compete, seeking alternative sources of investment? Why should they all lay down and let United get on with dominating football?

United feel threatened by the rise of clubs that have benefitted from what they are now calling “inflationary spending”. In particular, they are pointing the finger at Chelsea, Manchester City and….Fulham.

They have also roped in Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool into their cartel of envy. The idea of Financial Fair Play was supposed to be to protect football from club owners who run their club into the ground by taking money out or putting the clubs in danger. Remember Leeds? But the “big four” (odd to include Tottenham and Liverpool in that list) are championing the restriction of investment into Premier League clubs. There’s some logic in being sensible about the amount of money that inflates clubs like Chelsea and City. If it all goes wrong at both clubs, and the benefactors move on, leaving all sorts of debris behind them, it could be Southern League for Chelsea and Northern Premier for City. That’s a risk they will have to take and that’t why, for most clubs, success is cyclical. Ask United – from 1968 to 1992, they were also-rans.

But is it right for the holier-than-though quartet to insist on such stringent rules that will prevent a benefactor from making a transformational cash injection into a club that transforms them into title-winners? Like Blackburn Rovers, like Chelsea and of course, like Manchester City? Tranforming the argument into the corporate world, would Apple, for example, take kindly to a curb on their spending because Microsoft were not happy about it?

I would imagine Chelsea and City would both welcome some controls on spending, if only to keep the scavenging agents from trying to hike up wages even more astronomically than they are today. And with TV money about to go up dramatically, the clubs will not want the bulk of that going into players’ pockets.

By preventing investors from living their dream – and we all agree that it has gone too far – the Premier clubs are basically giving themselves no chance of competing with Manchester United, and that’s exactly what the Old Trafford grandees want. It’s all about ring-fencing United’s superiority , because there is no way Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool will ever live with United’s revenue generating capabilities. People talk about uneven playing fields, but United’s 67,000 versus a team with a third of the crowd potential. That’s not very balanced.

There’s a group of businessmen behind the “big four” clubs that are every bit as ruthless as the people behind Chelsea and City. The difference is, they are investors in the true sense of the word, whereas Mr Abramovich and the Middle Eastern gentlemen in the background at the Etihad Stadium are benefactors. Two different cultures. Perhaps the fans at Salford’s top club should be asking just how much money is siphoned out of those huge revenue streams!

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