It could only happen in football. Barefaced cheek or ‘more front than Sainsbury’s’ how we would describe it. Only in football.
I have long-held the view that Uefa’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations are not going to achieve anything beyond making the rich clubs positions in the Champions League more secure. Laudable though the aims are, sensible even, as with everything in football, FFP has become a hotchpotch of rules and disallowables whereby a £200m loss can be viewed as a marginal failure to meet the rolling targets. And in any case, so long as £200m becomes £180m next season, there is no reason to worry because the loss is heading towards break-even so everyone is happy.
Except the agents.
And one of them has decided that enough is enough. Break-even equates to FFP – and all the domestic equivalents – curbing his ability to earn money since there will be transfer fee stagnation at the very best. Heaven forbid he might have to get a proper job. Never fear, Dupont is here. The man who made Jean-Marc Bosman a household surname, has flicked his peek-a-boo roots, re-applied the white stripe across his nose and proclaimed himself the dandy highwayman who will save the day. That previous ruling saw the seismic power-shift from club to player, contributing significantly to the salaries on offer now and the rampant transfer fee inflation in the past two decades. There was a balance to be had, you had to look quickly to see it as we ploughed past it at the speed of light.
Uefa probably thought that getting the EU to sanction this scenario was enough but they had not reckoned with the greed of Man. Or to what depths football agents will stoop to ensure that they get paid beyond leaching from players salaries. 20% of an ongoing wage? If the players are stupid enough to pay it, that is their lookout, I suppose.
It rather puts Arsenal’s hopes in a different light. FFP is the saviour, the moment the club was going to see its sensible business model bear fruit. But in football, commonsense is a commodity in short supply, heavily outweighed by greed. Most likely, Arsenal will not be able to compete with Manchester United in the foreseeable future, even with a dramatic shifting in fortunes. Their revenues continue to far outstrip Arsenal’s and most likely, always will. As a result they will always be able to top any wage offer made to a player in a direct competition between the two clubs. Even then the underlying problem will be signing the players in the first place with the respective spending power diverging. This Summer will see if Arsenal are in the next tier down; will they spend the cash available or are the philosophies which curtailed the transfer dealings whilst Ashburton Grove was being built, now so ingrained that they are the club’s natural way of thinking?
That is FFP at its basest level for supporters; transfer spend. And to be honest, that is all the average fan cares about in those terms. Can Arsenal build a squad through purchases, mixed with existing and younger players coming through. Too often the demand for spending is reduced to soundbites, wanting players we know the club cannot afford to sign. Arsène was absolutely right in last Summer’s window, replacing van Persie with one player was impractical, two have more or less sufficed. That has turned a perceived weakness – reliance on one player – into a strength with a number of scorers contributing to a similar goals tally. This time around, demands are made to sign a player who will cost the same as last year’s total spend. They strike me as fanciful as the notion that the squad does not need strengthening.
Arsenal have promulgated a theory that the Promised Land is around the corner. We do not know what the transfer budget is, the issue clouded because (rightly) Arsenal will not announce their budget and it is a sum of money mixed with contract renewals. The received wisdom is £70m is available, an educated guess from other sources. The power of the internet is identified with the ready acceptance of this amount. Whether it is true or not, we shall see. It is believable because we want it to be true, the club permitting the perception of wealth with new commercial deals which we are told are front-loaded with cash. A dangerous backlash awaits if this proves to be a false notion, you can see it coming.
Jean-Louis Dupont argues that football will restrict owner investment. There are plenty who show that the investment models lead to the competitive imbalance he rails against; Manchester City with their unholy losses to Malaga where the failure of their wealthy owners to pay bills has led to a Uefa ban. Arguably, Kroenke (and by extension, Usmanov) are pointless club owners; Arsenal could be owned by anyone so long as they followed the current business model, with problems only arising if it failed. If Uefa’s nemesis is once more successful in his fight, Arsenal will once more find themselves mired in a fight against overwhelming wealth. What then for either major shareholder?