Monday, February 22, 2010

Players’ Wages

Why are players paid so much?

You hear it all the time: “£150k/week for playing football? Nobody should be paid that much money for kicking a ball around.”

Well I would question why they are not worth that money and I do not actually begrudge them a penny of it. I know it is lots of money and I know that others work harder, do more important jobs or have more highly developed skills but that is not the point here. Of course carers, servicemen, firefighters and so on deserve to be paid more and, compared to them, footballers are paid far too much but their wages are not linked in any way to those paid to our footballers and they never have been even if they were broadly at broadly similar levels back in 1952 or whenever.

So who is to blame here? In fact is there any blame to be attached at all?

Think of the cliché that states “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. It is those who pay the wage that choose to do so and it suits them very well to make that decision. A footballer can ask for any astronomical sum of money that he can think of but nobody has to pay it to him and if an employer should decide to pay £150k/week to a worker then how many would turn it down?

These grossly inflated wage figures, because they are grossly inflated make no mistake about that, arise in the modern game because football has wilfully created a free-market bargaining process that it can no longer control; Dr. Frankenstein has lost control of his monster.

In this country this came about as a result of a decree imposed externally from the European courts as a result of the Bosman Ruling and an internally made decision to grasp the nettle as represented by the cash from televising football.

Bosman first. He was a player for a Belgian team who would be called a journeyman in this country. He was a largely unheralded player who had come to the end of his contract and who wanted to change clubs. His current club would not allow him to go, he took it to court, won and players had freedom of movement at he end of their contracts enshrined as a right by law.

What did this mean in effect? That the balance of power shifted permanently from club to player. Where a club once had to pay a fee only when they initially signed a player they now had to pay just to retain one they already had too. Clubs have been and still are reluctant to stump up cash in big single payments and so sought to avoid doing so. Let me explain…

Imagine Player A getting signed for £1m to play alongside Player B. Player A may have negotiated a wage of £10k/week for himself. New contracts nearly always pay more than older ones so Player B, although equally as good a player, will probably be earning less. Eventually the contract of Player B will be up for re-negotiation. “Player A cost £1m upfront and will have earned another £2m by the time his 4 year deal is up. He will cost £3m overall. So I want a £1m signing fee and £10k/week too because I am just as good as him.” And who could blame him?

The clubs do not want to pay him that £1m at all and so agree a higher wage in lieu. Maybe half of that £1m added to his wage and a 2 year deal instead of a 4 giving him a net wage of £15k/week. And so the spiral begins and is reinforced and tightened with every transfer that follows.

The clubs could just say “no!” but they do not because if they do not pay the wage then a competitor will and if that happens then they lose their man. And so it goes on until superstar players are on £150k/week and that in turn drags up the wages of the make-weights and journeymen until even relatively mediocre youth teamers arrive at training in their Ferraris.

So why do the clubs pay it? Partly because they can and partly because they have to because if they do not then they lose the player, their team is weakened and ultimately they face relegation at which point their ticket to the gravy train as represented by TV money is invalidated.

This is where the clubs have nobody else but themselves to blame. It is the PL clubs that have have elected to keep nearly all of the TV money for themselves whilst passing precious little down to the lower levels. This means financial disaster for relegated clubs who then find that their income and expenditure balance is completely skewed against them. Those clubs then slash and burn budgets as best they can but they still operate at a completely different financial level to the clubs lower down and those clubs are then trapped in the inflationary spiral as they attempt to negotiate contracts (similarly affected by the Bosman Ruling even if the effects are not as drastic at that level) with their players.

So that is how the high wage deals evolved and how they spread throughout football. The players may be criticised as being greedy and maybe they are but if that money did not get spent on their wages and transfers then does anybody really think that it would mean that admission prices were lower or that facilities were better (facilities are pretty good these days, by and large, anyway)? Of course not. The examples are there in our modern game of those who are in football purely for its investment potential and it is them who would be riding into the sunset trailing a wheelbarrow over-flowing with cash behind them.

Quite honestly I would prefer that money going to a player, because if it ends up in Singapore, Dubai, the US or Russia then our doctors, nurses, soldiers etc still won’t be getting the benefit of it. Then again like I said at the outset their wages and those of footballers are not linked in any meaningful way at all.


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