For the last week almost, I’ve been writing an article on Platini’s proposal to get rid of debt in football. The article was mostly done on Sunday as I lazed around my living room basking in the labor day weekend. Then, as you all know, the transfer window shut, nothing happened with Arsenal, there was huge fan fallout, and I felt compelled to write the piece I did yesterday about how we all need to put our egos to bed and let Arsene get on with the managing of the team for us.
But something else happened on Monday, a proverbial left footed rocket across the bow of the good ship EPL — the ripples of which are still being felt. Sometime over this weekend, Manchester City changed hands and as soon as it did, their new owners, the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG), signalled their intent in the transfer market. Brushing aside former world powerhouses Chelsea, they swooped in and signed Robinho for £32.5m. When that happened, I said to my friend “I bet they just made him the highest paid player in the EPL.” And yesterday, it turned out to be true. According to the Mail, ADUG is going to pay Robinho an astonishing £160,000 per week. Frank Lampard is probably binging on pie over the knowledge that his playboy billionaire can no longer make him the most ludicrously paid sports star in England.
The thing that’s really shocking, though, is that ADUG tabled seemingly dozens of bids all at once for some of the biggest names in football. Ruud van Nistelrooy, not nearly in his prime any more, is one name that came up but other names include Huntelaar, Eto’o, and Berbatov. Supposedly, they bid for them all in one day! How much truth there is to all this, we don’t know at this point but we do have Al-Fahim (ADUG’s head) in his own words saying that he thinks £135m January bid for Christiano Ronaldo is not out of the question.
Ronaldo has said he wants to play for the biggest club in the world, so we will see in January if he is serious. Real Madrid were estimating his value at $160 million (roughly £90m) but for a player like that, to actually get him, will cost a lot more; I would think $240 million (£135m). But why not? We are going to be the biggest club in the world, bigger than both Real Madrid and Manchester United.
He’s not stopping there, either. Next year he wants to pair Ronaldo (not the fat one) with Ronaldinho, Torres, Fabregas, and Lionel Messi. Why Kaka isn’t mentioned yet, I haven’t a clue; maybe Football Manager 2008 is missing Kaka?
Obviously, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw these quotes because they relay both a naivete and an arrogance that will not serve him well. Saying that you’re going to tempt Manchester United’s resolve in January with a bid for Christiano Ronaldo is, well, just plain ignorant. Next summer? Yes, Ronaldo will be on the table and yes it will cost something like £100m to get him. But I can’t imagine what Ronaldo’s value to Man U will be in January. It’s the home stretch, they’ll be playing for Champions League trophies and they will need their best player to help them to win. He’s not transfering out in January. Sir Alex Ferguson will take a pen to Ronaldo’s skull and physically kill him before he lets him go in January.
Similarly, his proclamation that Manchester City is going to be bigger than Man U and Real Madrid is naive. Chelsea have proved that to some extent. Chelsea, remember, claimed they were going to be the biggest club in the world by 2014. Two years in to their plan and they aren’t even the biggest club in England. So, it looks to me that for all intents and purposes Manchester City’s new owner is a blowhard who doesn’t really understand football, football fans, transfer rules, or really how anything works in the EPL. Again, that’s a huge sigh of relief.
Still, while I’m relieved that he’s a moron, I’m very nervous because I do think that his money will have a massively disrupting influence. Since there will always be mercenary footballers out there (Robinho) Man City will always be able to disrupt deals. Like they just did. Man City just pulled a Chelsea on Chelsea and to me that was the biggest shot across the bow. The club who, up until Monday, was able to lure players away with outrageous salary promises, who were able to buy players for double the transfer fee that rival teams like Arsenal had offered, was nipped by the new guys on the block, at their own game.
In a sense, my Platini article foresaw this. Basically, in the article I argue that Platini’s right that debt is bad and that debt will be the undoing of many of these teams but that his plan to basically cut them off from what is keeping them afloat would only accelerate the inevitable: some rich guy will pay off the team’s debts and the team will keep going. Face facts, Manchester United is too big to be relegated or go into bankruptcy. No, they have too much operating income to have that happen. Sure, they are swamped with debt right now, but if someone came in and bought the team and thus cleared the books, all that income that’s going toward debt suddenly is profit. Liverpool is in the same boat, which is why we’re hearing rumors again that Dubai International Capital (DIC) is in to buy Liverpool off their two dottering old clowns.
No, I wrote, just let it happen on its own, there’s no need to go messing with the rules, just let Man U and Liverpool collapse on their own. Hell, this year Liverpool was a Kuyt hair away from getting kicked out of the Champions League and without that £30m payout, they would have been (technically) insolvent. As soon as that happens, some smarter rich Arab (who’s been waiting for the right moment) will step in and buy the team.
At least that’s how I saw it all going down. I just didn’t expect it to be Manchester City, on Monday.
So, what’s the answer Mr. Laissez Faire? Well, I’m not really sure. Here in America we have a love/hate relationship with salary caps. On the one hand, they have done a pretty good job keeping the NFL a fun, fair league to watch. But on the other hand, they are simply a mechanism to keep wages artificially low, which is unfair to the players. If the owners want to bankrupt their team overpaying people and the fans aren’t complaining (Chelsea) why should government get involved? It’s competition after all. There isn’t a “goals scored cap” on the season, so why a salary cap? On the other hand, salary caps work… That’s three hands. Hmmm… maybe the third hand is the invisible hand of the market!
In the end, I don’t know the answer: I don’t feel comfortable just leaving it up to the Michel Platini’s of the world but I certainly don’t want to leave it up to the Al-Fahim’s of the world either. There has to be some way to obtain a balance in the Premier League because the 800lb goriila in the room has finally woken up and I’m afraid something will need to be done to calm him down.