Sorry, Wayne, but the Premier League needs a salary cap

Nov 16, 2012
Neil Clark

A cap on salaries would save the clubs and make for better matches across the Premier League

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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.

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The salary caps work in the US because there are no leagues in competition with them whereas if a player in the Premier League decides he is not being paid enough he has the option of moving to Spain, Italy, France, Russia, China etc. The NFL is a monopoly which is why they are able to implement a salary cap.

A salary cap won't keep prices of tickets down it will just mean the owners will get a bigger cut. There's no evidence that the salary caps in the US have reduced the price of tickets to the average fan. See the NHL for an example of this.

We all want the league to be more competitive. One way is to reduce the size of squads allowed (except for players 21 and under perhaps) as this would mean teams like Man City & Chelsea could not stockpile top class players. Also only players under 21 should be available to be loaned as again it would stop the big clubs acquiring players and immediately sending them out on loan and also loaned players should only be allowed to go a lower division.

Any player who is over 21 and not in the squad (and can't be loaned) would not be allowed to play unless he was either released or transferred to another club - see Wayne Bridge who gets well paid by Man City but has been loaned to three clubs in the last few years. Also the club would be fined for every player over 21 who is not in the squad unless the club states he is injured and therefore cannot play and would not be allowed to play for a fixed period of time (say three months).

A salary cap is not the solution to football's supposed financial ills. And of course, if we have a salary cap for football, why not one for TV presenters, actors etc?

Salary cap AND the even distribution of TV rights monies. Every televised game generates business for football in general, so that broadcast fee should go to football in general, not just the clubs on screen.

+1 to Steve's points about the exceptionalism of US sport. Furthermore, don't forget that with salary caps come collective bargaining agreements and work stoppages, which are a nearly annual occurrence here.

Two additional ways to achieve the goal of leveling the playing field: 1) Bring back the sharing of match day receipts, a practice that existed until the 1980s and helped smaller clubs stay competitive with teams that play in massive grounds, and 2) Require that teams pay no more than a given percentage of turnover--say 60 percent--toward player wages.

That is how TV rights work in England at the moment

Most likely so. The league players's salaries should be controlled so that some of the pounds cater for other related individuals that help the premier play on. If a Britons earns what a Manchester United player is paid a day then even the government must step in for the sixth time now to balance the payments books. But the pay will inevitably go up.

Utter nonsense. The period you mentioned is the only period ever where the league was so unpredictable and it was largely because of teams being run on a financial knife edge and thus being unable to sustain successive challenges (plus the distractions of Europe).

A cap would also do nothing to help the quality of smaller teams as players would simply leave for bigger leagues. If anything smaller teams would lose the ability to hang onto mediocre players even as they will move to bigger teams to replace the real stars who will move to Spain/Italy/Asia. If you put a cap of £50,000 a week then all you are doing is ensuring that those who could earn more leave. You might well end up closing the gap between top and bottom, but you will be doing it by changing the Premier League into what the Championship is now, you will also kill off any chance of European success.

Sharing match day revenue would help, though I would prefer a system where half of match day revenues are put into a central pot and distributed to all 20 clubs at 3.5% each with 20% being given to clubs at lower levels and 10% given out pro-rata to clubs who employ (and play) British international players.

What are you on about? The government has never stepped in.

No it isn't. Money is distributed partly based on finishing position each year and also in relation to how many matches are televised involving that team.

Restricting a company to spend in relation to turnover is not only illegal under European law but also massively out of step with how the rest of the world operates.

Many companies have investment cycles that mean they spend more than they earn in some years in order to build the company to earn more in the following years, this is perfectly legitimate.

Linking it to turnover would also prevent a club who theoretically had money saved from using that money on wages.

It would force a club who's turnover reduced by a large amount in a single year (Finishing 5th, relegation) to have a firesale.

Finally it would allow a club to overspend massively on wages (and commit to overspending in future years) if they sold a good player (which is ioncome for only one year)

the 2 fat guys that run eufa platini and fifa have the same idea of making clubs spend what they earn through the gates to support the club. splendid idea, hope it come off.