Has Football Lost It’s Soul?

In July 1996, Newcastle United paid £15 Million to Blackburn Rovers to obtain the services of boyhood Newcastle fan, Alan Shearer, at St James’ Park. The deal smashed the British Record at the time, almost doubling the £8,5 Million paid by giants Liverpool for Stan Collymore the year before. At the time, the deal shocked the foundation of British football, with The Magpies splashing out the type of cash unimaginable to the general public.

Fast forward 21 years to 2017 when Paris Saint Germain threw £198 Million at FC Barcelona for Neymar Jr and in just over two decades, the economic structure and system of the footballing world had not only changed, it had been completely shattered. Why did the “workmen’s sport” morph into the most lucrative game on the planet?

When LTV met with representatives of Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur to establish The English Premier League at the start of the 1990s, even those pioneers of the modern English game could not have predicted where the game would go. Television Rights and Sponsorship deals were the foundations of a system which has attracted the richest billionaires from around the globe. When Sheikh Monsour (Net-Worth of $30 Billion) bought a majority share in Manchester City in September 2008, he eclipsed Roman Abramovic (Net-Worth of $12 Billion) to become the wealthiest owner in football. The success of City has given rise to an influx of multi-billion Dollar investment in football teams. None more than the Qatar (State Owned) Sports Investment Group who in 2011 bought French side PSG. With a net worth of around $338Billion, the PSG owners have become notorious for splashing cash and luring players, coaches and staff with exorbitant amounts of money.

At the outset of the 2011 Football Season, UEFA introduced the new Financial Fair Play Regulation to curb the ridiculous sums of money being spent in Europe. Clubs were now only allowed to spend £3.9 Million more than they earned per assessment period and total losses of only up to £35 Million were permitted if clubs had owners who could cover such amounts. The UEFA President at the time, French legend Michel Platini, believed that the new system would cut out what he termed “financial doping” and would drive clubs to be more sustainable, levelling the playing field. However, the system has proven to be flawed and easily manipulated with bigger clubs finding ways to adjust financial figures in order to escape any real repercussions.

Manchester City and PSG are the two most notably fined clubs due to indiscretions with fines imposed after posting a combined loss of £149 Million for the first two seasons assessed andUEFA investigating that not enough of their costs could be attributed to a new training complex and youth development investment.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of the system is that the punishments do not do enough to adequately deter clubs from manipulating the system. With fine amounts which are a fraction of the club’s owner’s wealth, the benefits from breaching FFP far out-way the punishments involved. Until UEFA is wise and brave enough to implement on-field bans and competition restrictions, the feeling is that European powerhouses such as Barcelona, Manchester City and PSG will continue to operate in a way which further elevates themselves and distances them from the chasing pack.

From “Més que un Club” across the stands at the Camp Nou to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the tunnel at Anfield, football (and it’s clubs) take on a bigger meaning and role to the fanatics which follow the sport. A form of identity and a sense of belonging come with the pledging of allegiance to the club you support. With that, football club’s take on a responsibility to uphold the traditions and ethos which form part of their mission. To the purist of fans, how the team performs on the field is only matched in importance by the way the club is managed, financially or otherwise. How many fans can truly get behind the way their teams are run?

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