Why the Premiership could soon become a one horse race every year.
The dirty 4
I've just read an article crafted by the excellent Martin Samuels, who is surely the best football writer around at the moment. I don't agree with all the points he makes, but the letter sent to the Football League that he has uncovered should deeply concern every single football fan.
The Football league are in the process of implementing their own version of Financial Fair Play to the English leagues in an attempt to prevent another Portsmouth scenario (Newcastle fans should also ponder that their name would have been added to Pompey's if not for Mike Ashley's intervention).
When the Premier League chairmen met last month, a letter was presented to them signed by four clubs — Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. The letter from the dirty 4 proposed that existing FFP proposals did not go far enough and that greater limitations should be placed on owner investment. There is a significant difference between owner investment and owner loans and no one wants to see a repeat of the Pompey situation caused by owner loans.
This aim can be achieved without preventing fresh funds coming into English footbal, which has made the Premiership so competitive in the last decade, however at the December meeting David Gill, the chief executive of Manchester United questioned why the Premier League had to serve the needs of oligarchs and oil-rich Sheiks. Incredibly, he went on to add that Manchester United were focused on the health of the competition. He further added that he would like to see UEFA financial fair play proposals implemented to the letter and even get UEFA to regulate their strict application. No ulterior motive there then! A limited number of clubs including United have to comply with the existing FFP rules anyway, but under GilIs proposal all of the Premier clubs would be similarly hamstrung, even if they hadn’t qualified for Europe.
If Gill is so concerned about the health of the competition and clubs well being I find it strange that he has never insisted on clubs being debt free before being allowed to buy a player. Is it fair that Chelsea and Man City, who are effectively debt free would be able to spend less than United and Arsenal, (who until recently were indebted to the tune of £1 billion between them and are still heavily indebted)would be able to spend far more on transfers than Chelsea or City. We all know how much it is worth financially to qualify for the Champions league and yet both Arsenal and United have been allowed to do so year after year despite being millions of pounds in debt.
Let's examine the dirty 4 and examine their motives:
The current regulations and proposals ignore indebtedness, so United's only Achilles heel isn't a problem and Gill’s agenda is obviously against Chelsea, but even more so against Man City. The new proposals if implemented would make United by far the most financially powerful club in the Premiership, not the richest, but under the terms proposed they would be able to use all of their financial clout, whereas clubs like Chelsea and City would have to operate with one hand tied behind their backs.
Their insistence on running a tight ship financially is commendable, but impractical. Wenger moans they can't compete financially, but the combined wealth of their shareholders gives them more financial clout than anyone, but whether it is through lack of commitment or some other motive, they refuse to even try to compete with the top clubs in the transfer market.
Having already moved to the Emirates and secured long term finance on the stadium, they would probably benefit more than any other club if this proposal goes through. By agreeing to this they have conceded the title to United for the foreseeable future, but the upside is that it would greatly enhance their chances of achieving a top 4 finish on a regular basis, something that is looking increasingly less likely at the moment.
Levy is a tight fisted so and so and anything that reduces costs is going to get his support. FFP rules do not include revenue spent on financing a new stadium and if the Elite 4's plans go through it would greatly enhance Spurs chance of regularly achieving a top 4 spot and the ensuing Champion's league riches, while valuable transfer funds are diverted to building a new stadium.
I don't think Fenway trust their managers in the transfer market and after the way Dalgleish and Rogers have spent £150 million of their money who can blame them. With the owners wary of spending big money in the transfer market and with several hundred millions earmarked for stadium rebuilding, the future is bleak without the riches of regular Champions league football. This proposal represents their best chance of getting back into the top 4 again.
So far, only Chelsea, Manchester City, Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa are against it and 14 votes are needed to implement the rule. I can see Everton, Sunderland and Newcastle (Plus West Ham once they move) also being in favour as it would favour teams with big grounds and the capacity to improve their revenue streams. I don't see how it would favour the smaller teams who dream of doing a Blackburn under the benevolence of a rich benefactor.
If Gills proposals had been taken up 10 years ago Man united and Arsenal would have continued to dominate the Premiership as they had done for the previous 10 years and in reality United would have probably won every single title in the past 6 years given a faltering Arsenal. It would have beeen worse than Scotland and whether or not you agree with what has happened at Chelsea or Man city it has undeniably made the Premiership more exciting. Since 2007 just about every title race has gone down to the wire.
The balance is just about right at the moment and as Leeds showed a few years ago just chucking money at a club doesn't necessarily buy success, also don't forget that but for a last gasp winner last season Man City would only have had an FA cup success to show for their massive investment.
David Gill should be careful what he wishes for; banning outside investment would effectively make the Premiership a one horse race if the dirty 4 get their own way. That would make the Premiership far less valuable as a spectacle, bring in less TV money and make United less competitive in Europe.
Hopefully, the massive windfall from the new TV deal that is on the horizon should work against the dirty 4 but true football fans everywhere should do everything they can to let their clubs know that they do not want this rule passed at the next meeting of the chairmen. Make no mistake if the dirty 4 get their own way the Premiership will be finished as a spectacle.
More by this Author
10 common sense tips to improve your strike rate on the horses, along with some lesser known tips from racing writer Mark Foley, AKA Statman.