Will Arsenal and Man City make wages ‘Messi’ without a cap?

In an age of austerity for the rest of us while footballers’ wages spiral out of control, there has been repeated calls for a more sensible approach within the game.

On the surface, Financial Fair Play (FFP) was supposed to reign in the spending of clubs but its implementation was farcical, its aims less than honourable. Suddenly the world faces the prospect of a £1m-a-week footballer. Things are about to get messy.

The relaxing of FFP and increased revenue from television and commercial deals means there is more disposable cash for the top clubs than ever before. There was dismay when Wayne Rooney became a £300k-a-week man when he signed his last contract extension.

It wasn’t that Manchester United fans didn’t rate the striker; the problem was an imaginary line had been crossed. For a long time, Premier League fans saw £250k as the weekly ceiling for top players. Even then those that earned it, such as Yaya Toure, faced criticism. Any hopes that FFP not taking into account bonuses would lead to a slow levelling of the weekly wage have recently been dismissed.

Lionel Messi stands in an elite group of two, the other being Cristiano Ronaldo, that can make any demands to a club trying to secure their services outside of Spain. In an unlikely switching of financial policy, it was Arsenal that emerged first as a potential home for Messi.

As reported in the Daily Star, the Argentine would prefer a move to London should he ever come to the Premier League. Another belief is that he admires the Gunners’ style of play.

The rumour gained enough traction for a group of Arsenal fans to suggest setting up a weekly Direct Debit for £1, believing this would easily cover his wages and costs with the amount of supporters interested. If this novel approach was adapted it would mean every time the player pulled on the shirt, he would be literally playing for the fans.

Not wishing to break the stereotype of the Premier League’s big spenders, Manchester City have decided to join the party. The Sun broke the news the club is in talks for a £800k-a-week deal, amounting to £40m a year. With Barcelona apparently prepared to forego the £250m buyout clause and settle for £120m.

The figures involved make it all sound like mere fantasy. However, it might not be so implausible. From a financial aspect City certainly have the backing and Arsenal are renowned for balancing the books in an admirable fashion. Neither clubs would entertain the idea unless it was relatively risk free.

The idea that Messi wants to leave no longer sounds farfetched. His nose has been put out of joint by Barcelona’s preference to deal with Neymar’s contract first. Perhaps the hierarchy at Camp Nou were worried the rumours linking the Brazilian with a move could be true. Assuming Messi would never want to leave was a mistake. Messi’s impending trial for tax evasion in Spain has soured his experience further; making a move offers him a fresh start.

Such a large jump in wages (he currently earns £500k-a-week in Spain) should prompt the authorities to examine their current rules. For a long time fans have asked for a wage cap to be put in place. This writer has previously spoken out against caps in European football, they limit free trade, standard business practices and could create a status quo scenario which was the major downside to FFP.

However, the mistake of implementing the original version of FFP has created an economic system in football that sees the clubs take more income from commercial entities and still squeezes fans for every last penny. Extra cash coming into the game isn’t reducing the cost for the working man in the stand, perversely, it’s hiking up the value of match day tickets.

At the moment, early in negotiation, it’s reported City have offered Messi £800k-a-week. That could easily rise. If a cap or new legislation isn’t put into place soon, we will see a £1m-a-week player within the next five years.

The Premier League needs the help of UEFA to enforce a salary cap across all its associations. The only differing values taken into account should be each member state’s unique tax percentage on wages. This would create a level playing field for the purposes of FFP and the fans should be protected from escalating costs.

With a cap in place the excess money the club makes could then help lower tickets for matches and the cost of supporting the team. Then the players would be playing for the fans in a much more ethical way.

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