As much as we might not like to admit it, money runs football. Not just in the darker corners of the game, either. Finances can make or break a club and will be the underlying factor in many decisions by owners across the game. It is considered greedy and uncouth to be motivated by money and the prospect that it dominates a sport loved so dearly by so many is an uncomfortable one.
It does though, of course. Football clubs at the top of the English game are businesses. They are run by business people. They also suffer from the bizarre concept of being treated as if they are a public service. The continued notion that they owe something to the fans is understandable, yet it is fading in relevance. A natural side effect of increased monetary wealth is a change in the way that fans are treated.
That much is obvious in a multitude of areas, but it is noticable most jarringly on the pitch, where performances often show priorities that suggest financial – rather than sporting – motivation. Fans want trophies, they want to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience like that of Wigan Athletic’s 2013 FA Cup win. But winning the occasional trophy no longer matters to clubs near the top of the English game. Avoiding relegation, or even achieving a marginally higher league position, is so financially beneficial that it appears several rungs higher in the priority order for many clubs.
European football, particularly the Champions League, has always been a bit different. The incentives for the club’s ‘brand’ and hard cash rewards have made it a lucrative enough prospect.
The injection of yet more wealth into the Premier League could see this change. Money received from Premier League football now supersedes even the revenue that is available from the Champions League. In a finance-driven industry, this would immediately see a shift in the way that the respective competitions are approached.
It raises a question of football clubs, then. Just how far are they willing to go in prioritising their accounts ahead of silverware?
We have seen it impact the domestic game, and it won’t be long before English clubs are wondering whether progressing in European competition is worth risking their Premier League position for. Leicester continue to be the freak exception to the rule in this respect.
For the strongest teams, winning the Champions League will remain the pinnacle. For many of the rest, the increased financial rewards for Premier League success could make it harder to justify the demands of European football.
The prestige of taking on the continent’s best must overcome the desire for additional financial security if Premier League clubs are to treat European football as anything other than a distraction.