The economy of entertainment – are footballers worth the money?

With the country still in the grip of Recession, argues that players’ extortionate wages are a drain on their clubs and could well trigger their demise

With fringe squad players like John Utaka making £80,000 per week, it is little wonder Portsmouth have been threatened with a winding-up petition

With fringe squad players like John Utaka making £80,000 per week, it is little wonder Portsmouth have been threatened with a winding-up petition

You may, or may not, have noticed, but since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 a global financial crisis has been raging. For just over 18 months the news that has reached our ears is consistently ‘how much money we owe’ and ‘by this year our debt will have reached far too great a percentage of our nations’ GDP’. 127% by 2017 I believe is a recent quoted figure.

Many of you Premiership football fans might have seen the recent news headlines regarding the financial situation down at Fratton Park, home of Portsmouth Football Club. Well, to update you, until recently they haven’t been able to pay their players wages for December. ‘Yawn,’ you might say! These poor players won’t be able to drive around in their Bentley’s and gas-guzzling Range Rovers with a surplus £200,000 in their banks. Prompt a discussion this might. In an age of financial restriction and global recession, are footballers really worth their pay cheques?

Portsmouth could take a look at to whom exactly they owe their money for December. Owing John Utaka the equivalent of £80,000 per/week, as the Sports blog on The Times recently highlighted, to lounge on the bench or in the reserves, might raise a few eyebrows. Wages seem to have exploded to dizzying heights over recent transfer windows. Players are literally making big-money multi-million pound/euro moves between countries to take, as Alan Hansen stated, ‘a king’s ransom into retirement’.

The Madrid newspaper ‘x’ hinted last August that Real Madrid would pay Cristiano Ronaldo a whopping £183,000 p/week on top of the hefty £80 million pound transfer fee they paid to Manchester United to prize him to the Santiago Bernabeu. Speculation revealed that Sheikh Mansour was willing to offer Kaka, then of AC Milan, a meagre £500,000 p/week to bring him to his beloved Manchester City in the 2009 January transfer window; a move that the brilliant Brazilian and former European footballer of the year subsequently declined, vilifying him as an icon in an age of financial superfluousness. All that just to kick a football you might say!

As the Times Online recently revealed, the Premiership has had more than its fair share of ‘flops’. There is no better place to start than with recently relegated, although somewhat high-flying Newcastle United. Don’t even go there! Since sacking Bobby Robson in September 2004 the club has gone from mediocre to abysmal – leaving aside the recent and much-welcomed revival. Infamously the fight between Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer at home in front of over 50,000 avid fans highlighted the state of the game up north. Bowyer was justly fined six weeks’ wages for his part in the debacle, totalling a whopping £300,000! Is that really conduct that one would expect for an employee of a business earning £50,000 p/week?

Kieron Dyer earned £75,000 p/week on his contract at Newcastle, during which he spent a significant amount of time injured. Whilst he was doing that, Kaka was winning both the Ballon D’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year titles for £69,000 p/week at A.C. Milan, one of the world’s biggest clubs! Newcastle were practically paying him to drive around in his Bentley! Albert Luque, the Spanish winger signed from Deportivo for £9.5million, spent his two years falling down the offensive pecking order. For this, Newcastle paid him £55,000 p/week. Joey Barton is the classic headline grabber, who similarly earns over £50,000 a week, for which a few of those he spent in prison! Michael Owen, although extremely unlucky with injury, earned a colossal £100,000 p/week, with which he used a large proportion to put fuel in his helicopter and be chauffeured from his home in Cheshire to training and back every day. I mean, seriously, did Graeme Sounness think that money would be recovered in shirt sales?

The entertainment that the sport and the players provide to the British public cannot be underestimated. Jeff Stelling’s, what can only be described as, ‘antics’ on Gillette Soccer Saturday every weekend is not without its value. We all tune in for the weekend’s live games and Match of the Day on a Saturday. Football, from grassroots to international level, plays a big part in our lives. Many of us do await June 11th and the start of the world cup with eager anticipation!

The problem that has emerged is that money begins to take the edge off success. Players sign these mega-money deals with clubs so that they can’t physically expect to earn any more money because they can’t physically improve as a player – so why bother? Newcastle United is the classic example. Traditionally, a player begins at a young age on a small contract, he continually plays well so he breaks into the first team and renews his contract with a better deal, then signs for a bigger club earning more money and with that, hopefully, bringing more success. You play well, you get a better contract, and you earn more money! That is how it should work.

Instead, what is happening is average-to-good players in France, Spain, Italy or Germany are scouted and brought over to England for substantial transfer fees to bolster the squads so that clubs have enough depth to cope with the intense fixture list. They are subsequently offered lucrative deals and ultimately cannot cope with the quality and intensity and become a drain on a clubs finances and become disinterested. Portsmouth has a handful of African stars brought over from France to rake in tens of thousands only to pop up with the odd goal now and then. I’m sure Leeds fans remember Seth Johnson’s contract that rinsed the club of any kind of wage structure. Dimitar Berbatov and Emmanuel Adebayor both swapped London for Manchester, or should I say, London for ‘a few more noughts added to your bank balance’ as Terry Venables put it.

I’m sure Man. United fans will agree we haven’t seen enough out of Berbatov! Giorgios Samaras, signed by Stuart Pearce for £6 million, and Alfonso Alves of Middlesbrough earned roughly £35,000 p/week only to disappear into obscurity. This is still an awful lot of money that is largely, as Alan Sugar aptly put it, ‘pissed up the wall on wages’. A week is only long in politics! There are a few exceptions. Fernando Torres is of course excellent, Robin van Persie has bags of ability, as does Michael Essien. But the list of those who have ultimately failed is phenomenal in comparison, yet the money they earn is practically the same. How does this work?

Proportionately though, they do pay the same income tax as the rest of us, which our debt-ridden economy will happily receive as a contribution to sewing up the gaping hole left by ‘the bankers and their bonuses’. An economy that has lost £600 million p/day since the beginning of the cold snap on December 18th! We all await our gas bills that promise to bear an extra £70 to compensate for the 540 million cubic tons of gas that we as a nation have used per day since then. A recent Facebook group that I was invited to join proposed that ‘Soldiers should earn a Footballer’s wage’ – a reaction to the ‘important’ role that they are playing in a war that was begun seven years ago by a politician whose party shortly, hopefully, will be going out of power. Maybe we should rebrand it to ‘Footballers should earn a Soldiers’ wage’!


  1. 15 Jan ’10 at 5:29 pm

    Michael Samuelle

    All you Man City fans who hate on Samaras are idiots.. typical Premier League fans… the guy was barely given playing time and certainly wasn’t given enough time to adjust to the Premier League.. you were expecting immediate results from a 21 year old

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  2. 15 Jan ’10 at 7:38 pm

    Terry Doggett

    Good article Tom. Seem to have it in for the Toon though. What about Liverpool and the players Rafa seems to think are Premier League quality? Does any PL club have a sustainable wage structure? Arsenal and the Villa might just about be viable but even Man U with their massive income can’t go on with the loans that the Glazers took on to buy their latest toy.

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  3. 16 Jan ’10 at 11:55 am

    Taff the Daff

    Lots of good stuff in there. Worth a mention for Man City’s biggest waste of money. £140K a week for a player who cant be bothered. Real Madrid knew what they were doing. Cardiff for the Premier League this year. I’d love to see a Welsh team there but fear for the Bluebirds with Ridsdale in charge after he sent Leeds into oblivion.

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