Sorry, Wayne, but the Premier League needs a salary cap
A cap on salaries would save the clubs and make for better matches across the Premier League
HOW would you like to earn £26,000 a day? Let's face it, very few people would turn down the sum Wayne Rooney is reportedly paid by Manchester United. He earns in 24 hours what the average Briton gets in 12 months.
But the days of Premier League footballers earning quite such mind-boggling amounts could be numbered.
Yesterday, the 20 Premier League club chairmen met to discuss the introduction of new cost controls. The meeting ended without agreement - the fifth time that has happened. But there's still every chance that something will be agreed in time for next season. And here's why they need to sort it out.
Premier League wages rose to £1.6bn in 2010-11, a large factor in clubs making cumulative losses of £361m. Manchester City spent 114 per cent of their income on wages, Aston Villa 103 per cent, Chelsea 84 per cent and Sunderland 77 per cent. You don't have to be a financial genius to work out that the status quo is unsustainable and the Premier League club chairmen know it.
Various solutions have been put forward. The BBC's sports editor David Bond believes a break-even rule, similar to the Financial Fair Play regulations introduced by UEFA, stands "the best chance of winning universal approval" when the chairmen next meet, possibly before Christmas. Under this rule, clubs would not be allowed to spend more cash then they generate.
While this might help football get its financial house in order, there is a much better option - a salary cap. It would not only cut costs, it would help make the Premier League more competitive.
Before big money took over our national game, top flight football was wonderfully unpredictable as any number of teams had a realistic chance of winning the title or finishing in the top four.
Seven different sides won the old First Division championship in the years 1967-73. The unfashionable west London team QPR came within 15 minutes or so of landing the title in 1976, while Nottingham Forest won the 1977/8 title in their first season following promotion from Division Two, a feat also achieved by Ipswich Town in 1962.
In the 1974/5 season we even had the novelty of Carlisle United reaching the pinnacle of English football after the first three games.
Since the Premier League started in 1992, only five teams have won the title. In the current season, we're still only halfway through November and already Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, the only teams to have won the Premier League since 2004, are comfortably ensconced in the top three positions. Does anyone seriously expect them to be dislodged come May?
The introduction of a salary cap would help create a more level playing field. Teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and the two Manchesters would still have an edge on the basis that they are teams with great traditions that top players would prefer to play for. But it would be easier for smaller teams to hold on to their best stars, as they used to do in the past.
That would mean a more competitive top flight, with quality spread more evenly through the league and better games for spectators.
The argument that the Premier League would lose the "best players in the world" if a salary cap was introduced - and that, consequently, spectators would turn away from the game - is a bogus one.
For a start, the very best players in the world today do not play in the Premier League: Lionel Messi plays for Barcelona, and the man who scored arguably the greatest goal of all time for Sweden against England this week, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, plies his trade in France.
In any case, although the average stadium occupancy rate in the Premier League is four per cent up on last season, there are signs that supporters, in a time of austerity and expensive stadium tickets, are beginning to turn away from the Premier League.
"Tickets for Manchester United games have been going on general sale, while Arsenal fans well down the waiting list have been offered season tickets," says the BBC's Ben Smith. "Tickets are still in demand, but no longer like gold dust. Cost-cutting by hardcore supporters is beginning to show itself if you look closely enough and the chasm between the fans and their heroes grows by the day."
A salary cap would keep spending down and enable clubs to reduce ticket prices.
Of course, free-market zealots will oppose salary caps on the basis that they're a restriction of the free operation of market forces and an insidious form of "socialism". Yet salary caps are the norm in leading sports in the US - that bastion of hardcore socialism - including in American football, where seven different teams have won the NFL Championship in the last ten years.
The salary cap in the NFL hardly rose between 2011 and 2012, meaning teams having to work that bit harder to get the best out of their players. "With the cap remaining flat, it's critical for personnel departments to constantly replenish the talent pool and for coaches to fully emphasise player development," sportscaster Michael Lombardi wrote this summer. "Change is a part of the new NFL, and constant change is the result of a cap that does not increase."
If only we had some of that "constant change" in the Premier League. Britain takes America's lead in so many other areas – it's time we copied their football salary cap, too. ·