Over the past few years, the Premier League has become an attractive place to play football, not only joining Spain as one of the top two superpowers of football alongside the Primera Division, but also offering players a greater monetary incentive to move to England than anywhere else. In 2008-09, English top flight clubs spent more than £1.32 billion on salaries – more than Serie A (£930 million), La liga (£800 million) and the Bundesliga (£684 million). That relates to earning on average 65% more in England than Spain, which considering Spain is at the very least on a par with the level of quality of the Premiership, it doesn’t reflect greater value for money.
Players are amply rewarded for their services, hence a great influx of foreign talent at almost every club, and at all ages. However though the wages on offer remains an attractive proposition for foreign players to come here, the high wages being paid already has made trade amongst Premier League clubs more difficult.
On average Premier League side’s spent around 67% of their revenue on wages in 2008-09, an indication of many clubs spending beyond their means in recent years (highlighted by the fact Arsenal spent only 46%). And with players already in possession of lucrative contracts, it requires a substantial investment to buy from English clubs.
It’s pretty clear a number of Man City players are available for purchase (primarily Stephen Ireland, Craig Bellamy, Roque Santa Cruz etc.). Players, that generally over the past few years, if available, would have been snapped up by other Premier League clubs in an instant, but now find themselves stalling at a club where they’re unaware if they will be given any real game time next year. Who no doubt have attracted the interest of other managers, who would happily welcome them into their squad with open arms, if not for the cost.
It’s hard to imagine Ireland and Bellamy wanting to move anywhere they will earn less than the £80,000 plus they are already on. And though, in an ideal world, the lustre of first team football should be more of a priority to players than money, it’s understandable, as for anyone in employment, to grimace at the notion of earning less. So for clubs to buy them they must be willing to at least match what they are already earning.
However following the trouble other clubs such as Portsmouth (whose mistakes could haunt them for years) and West Ham have had to deal with recently, primarily because they had accumulated a wage bill that could not be realistically maintained, clubs have learned a bargain in the Premier League is hard to come across, because you are not just investing in a hefty transfer fee, but also extravagant wages.
Clubs have been more reserved this time round in the transfer window, rather than follow in the footsteps of those in charge of West Ham, who at the time foolishly left themselves in a position where they had the likes of Kieron Dyer, Freddie Ljungberg, Craig Bellamy, Lucas Neill etc. all earning £70,000, more or less. It should have never appeared viable for what is a generally mid-table team to believe they could pay players that much with no financial repercussions, and therefore were forced to take extreme measures to stay afloat.
Even Newcastle made a similar error of judgement, buying big names that were passed their best, like Kluivert and Viduka, but have now adopted a more cautious approach, so far, second time round. They realise what other teams have hopefully begun to realise, that if they continue to overspend like previous years (maybe with the exception of some foreign owned clubs whose financial future is no clearer than a crystal ball), the Premier League could suffer the same plight as Italian football did.
Their own transfer market experienced a huge boom almost a decade ago, following the successful exploits of Italian teams in European competition, particularly in the 1990s, and the knock-on effect of the financial recklessness that ensued is clear to see. Fiorentina, a giant of Italian football at the time, nearly went bankrupt, and Italian teams have suffered to replicate (with the exception of Inter Milan last year) the same success of Spain and England in European football in the last few years. Furthermore, the top clubs in Italy find difficulty in competing financially with English and Spanish clubs when the best players in the world become available, more likely that they would find themselves having to fend off the advances of a Barcelona or Chelsea.
So a relatively quiet transfer market is a good omen, with clubs appearing to realise that tightening their purse strings is more important than appeasing supporter’s desire for signings. That no matter how enthusiastic owners are to see their clubs succeed, a football club must be treated like any other business, and with plenty of examples already showing how it can go wrong, there is no excuse for clubs to fall into the same trap.
Written By Darren Doherty