There seems to be for the first time a serious debate on introducing salary cap restrictions a la NFL into the Premiership. This comes on the heels of a strengthened TV deal that would generate £3bn to be shared by all 20 clubs towards player transfers and wages.
The bottom line is that increasing and out of control wage demands have eaten into that pie leaving clubs with less to spend. In 2011-12, the Premiership made about £2.5bn in income but it spent 70% of that on wages, up from the 62% paid out in 2001-02. It obviously comes as no surprise clubs like Arsenal and Man Utd are for putting brakes on as they see City and Chelsea’s owners underwrite the existence of their clubs with wads of cash thrown their way.
This of course, will weed out the players who want to excel in the top echelons of competition from the money obsessed ones who are sure to be spirited away to the likes of PSG, Anzhi Makhachkala, CSKA Moscow, and the Chinese League. Critics of this proposal will trot out the age old argument that Wall St also uses to retain talent by giving out their employees outlandish sums as bonuses.
Do you want your best and brightest to go to Singapore or to Australia? Will it make the Premiership less competitive? In a rebuke that really hurt, Lucas Moura left for PSG because Man Utd could not compete with the escalation in transfer fees and wage demands. That warning aside, however, the contention also assumes that there are no inherent strengths in the most watched league in the world.
With the rest of its peers excluding the Bundesliga, in economic decline, the Premiership benefits from players leaving those leagues desiring like minded competition with an assured paycheck in the pocket. Tradition, playing style, developing homegrown talent, managerial philosophy become more important drivers and each club will have a better chance to showcase their selling points with wage inflation held equal.
There are other upsides. If there are clearcut guidelines to wage expectations then clubs need only to wrangle on transfer fees. As well as shortening time and effort spent on counterproductive negotiations over contract extensions.
A brake on runaway wages is a long overdue correction from the days since George Eastham’s mutiny against Arsenal for refusing him a pay raise following the abolishment of the maximum wage in 1961. Greater transparency rather than limitless amounts might be more desirable as Didier Drogba and Nicholas Anelka are finding out in Shenhua Shanghai where the club is embroiled in a feud with the principal investor threatening to back out if his shareholding is not increased.
What the Premiership needs to decide if they are serious about salary caps (14 of the 20 clubs have to approve for it to take hold), is how much to cap the salary increases at, say a blanket 10% or whether it is a more case by case determination on expected performances, inflation, or profitability by that club.
Arsenal for example would come off best on an individualized basis not just because of its self sustaining model but because it also has a number of squad players in its ranks with fairly lucrative mid tier salaries who get raises despite making few appearances because of loss of form or injuries. Nicklas Bendtner makes a shocking £55,000 per week despite the fact that he has not played for Arsenal for over a year. This is the reason why Arsenal despite its glass ceiling on top wages continues to be saddled with the fourth highest wage bill in the league.