International tournament years are bloody great, aren’t they? Even taking into account the inevitable disappointment of England’s performance, you can’t beat a World Cup. Just a few weeks after the domestic season ends, the tournament begins, which means a month of watching the world’s greatest players perform on a global stage – and this World Cup has, so far, been the best that I can remember. Then, when that is done, it’s just a couple of weeks’ wait until the new season starts again. If you don’t like football, you’re knackered; but if you do, you come up trumps.
But while the eyes of the football world are on events in Brazil, and the media’s attention is directed to whose shoulder Uruguay’s Golden Boy will take a chunk out of next, English football is in an increasingly desperate mess and is sleepwalking itself towards disaster.
It’s long since been obvious that the percolation of money is having a negative effect on the English game. Nowadays, it’s a case of ‘flash your cash or do one’ with those at the top doing what they want, and everyone else having to make do and mend.
The situation was quite succinctly encapsulated by Paul Scholes, who highlighted how ridiculous it is that Luke Shaw, a defender, had just been bought by Manchester United for almost £30 million, and who at 18 years old is now earning £100,000. It’s a fair point well made, but it’s made painfully ironic by the fact that Scholes, and with his ‘Class of 1992’ chums, have just bought Salford City FC and plan to bankroll that club’s way up the Non-League pyramid by financially outmuscling their rivals.
Problems in this country are entirely structural. Football clubs find it extremely difficult to turn a profit, and those that do are almost never successful on the pitch. At the highest level, Arsene Wenger’s prudent policy has been derided as unnecessarily cautious for years, despite the fact that Arsenal are probably the most sustainable football club in the Champions League. Lower down, most clubs struggle just to make ends meet.
English clubs’ way of doing things is back-to-front; putting the cart before the horse; arse-over-tit, or however else you want to put it. Basically, it’s wrong. Clubs spend money offset against potential future earnings, hoping for some on-field success. That’s all well and good for the minority that are successful, but disastrous for everyone else who misses that elusive promotion or doesn’t qualify for Europe. They rely on a rich sugar daddy to bail them out, or end up in administration and at the mercy of someone hoping to pick up a Football Club on the cheap.
Unfortunately, there is nothing in place to encourage clubs to spend carefully and plan for the future. I quite like stats and there’s an abundance of them to back this up – so here’s the point where I bombard you with a few.
By most measures, Manchester City are the world’s richest club, but they were deemed to have broken Financial Fair Play rules last season. In their wisdom, UEFA decided to punish them with a fine. It beggars belief. I mean, which bright spark decided that a fine was the best way to deal with a club where money is no object? Meanwhile, Cardiff City’s Golden Handshake for finishing bottom of the Premier League was to rake in more in parachute payments than Manchester United got for winning it the season before.
All of this is slowly having a knock-on effect further down the pyramid. It was good to see Football League clubs unanimously reject the FA’s hare-brained idea of sandwiching a ‘League Three’ in between League Two and the Conference which would’ve completely destroyed the fabric of the English game; but sadly, the Football League and Football Conference’s own safeguarding methods are a let-down which fall shamefully short in protecting member clubs. Every club owner and director has to pass the ‘Fit and Proper Persons Test’ – again, an ironic name.
Italian businessman, Massimo Cellino, recently bought Leeds United. Initially, Cellino failed the owners’ test, but on appeal his takeover went through. He became notorious as owner of Serie A club Cagliari for being more than trigger-happy with his managers, and, due to a suspicion of the number 17, ripping out all of the number 17 seats at Cagliari’s stadium and replacing them with ‘16B’.
When he took over at Leeds, Cellino sacked and then subsequently reinstated manager Brian McDermott, before sacking him again at the end of last season. McDermott was replaced by Dave Hockaday, who has no say in the club’s transfer policy. Then, in the most bizarre twist of all, Cellino sacked goalkeeper Paddy Kenny the other day. His reasoning, you ask? Because his birthday is on 17th May. If I was a betting man, I’d stick a fiver on Leeds to go down next season!
Further down, clubs are collapsing with alarming regularity. Hereford United and Salisbury City were both thrown out of the Conference last month and seem certain to be liquidated in the coming weeks. Fans’ groups from both clubs have aired serious concerns over the intentions of their owners. Before the end of last season, Vauxhall Motors resigned from the Conference North because they couldn’t afford the costs of being in the division.
The list of clubs to have fallen foul of bad management continues to grow, and it begs the question: why do we persist with a test that isn’t fit for purpose? It offers no interrogation of the structures which clubs put into place.
English football faces a real crisis of confidence at the moment. More people are becoming switched on to the fact that the game is about making money for fat men in suits that sit in directors’ boxes, who throw their toys out of the pram like a bunch of narcissistic, spoiled brats when they don’t get what they want, rather than about the supporters that make football so great.
The attention that the national team needs is understandably in the headlines at the moment, but the problems in our game run so much deeper than that. But then, when there is so little confidence in the authorities charged with safeguarding our clubs, is it any wonder that we’re in such a mess? We can’t continue like nothing is wrong. Clubs can’t keep falling by the wayside, because football is a pyramid. Take away enough cornerstones at the bottom, and the whole bloody structure will collapse.
No doubt, once the season starts again, we’ll all become absorbed in the beauty of the game itself once more, with our focus on campaigns with the clubs we support. But we need to realise that whether we support Liverpool or Lowestoft, we’re all in the same creaking, financially shaky boat, and we’re heading up a shit creek. Unfortunately, we haven’t got a paddle either.
Luis Suarez probably got peckish.