With financial problems devastating people from all walks of life across the globe could the credit crunch actually be something that helps save the game from self destruction?
For too long now the game, like society as a whole, has been living to excess and trying to push the financial envelope to the limit and things will surely begin to change in the face of an economic downturn that will affect football just as it has across other industries and multinational companies.
Obviously the credit crunch and looming recession will hit the smaller clubs far harder and more painfully than the fat cats in the Premier League but changes will surely begin to be seen across the board.
Think for a second about the concept of a credit crunch and how the world of football has been applying the same bad accounting methods as national banks and individuals have done for decades. Of the 92 football clubs in the UK I think it would be fair to say that only a handful are actually making more, and I mean physically making profits as opposed to being ludicrously overdrawn.
The recent decision to adopt points penalties for clubs who go into administration was a good move and one that could have helped if applied similarly outside of football. Obviously, if I was a fan of Leeds (last season), Luton (this season and last), Rotherham and Bournemouth (this season) I would be gutted that my team was starting with a massive deficit; however, I think that any football fan would agree that the measures were necessary to wake people up about the way they were running their clubs.
It is inevitable that more teams will go out of business in the coming years and whereas these clubs have been lower down the divisions it would not surprise me if a Football League club went out of existence in the coming years. The clubs who have over the years been wise with their money will endure, I think of the likes of Crewe Alexandra who have cleverly built on an academy system and sold off players for big money and reinvested into the club rather than go for broke and spending big.
In the coming years maybe squads will go from being chock a block with 30+ players — the lions share being internationals rather than kids from the local area — to being more streamlined and geared to include more academy players. Something happened in the game in the last twenty years or so that seemed to suggest that a team needed far bigger squads. It never really made sense and seemed to just be a case of spending for the sake of spending. An average league season may have increase by say 5/10 games for a Champions League team, but yet they don’t use their top players for early FA Cup games and Carling cup matches so it evens itself out, however whereas teams were managing with 20 man squads in the 1980s now Premier League squads rarely have less than 30 players (Manchester United currently has a first team squad of 42!)
Also, it is worth mentioning that money doesn’t always buy success, and maybe it is a sign of a more talented manager and chairman if they can get the most for their limited budgets. One only has to look at the likes of Hull City who have begun this season fantastically as Premier League new boys. Phil Brown’s side spent the least of the three newly promoted clubs and invested just over £6m in new players in the summer, whereas West Brom and Stoke City have spent £19m and £10m respectively. Yet it’s the Tigers who sit in the top three in arguably the best league in the world.
Maybe it’s time for top tier footballers to take pay cuts and to stop the spiraling obscene increases we see every year. Whilst it is unlikely to happen in much the same way as Turkeys will never vote for Christmas, can you imagine how refreshing it would be if Ashley Cole, possibly the second most hated player in English football (after a certain Joey Barton of course), called a press conference to announce his decision to accept a contract that was in fact less than his previous one? It could even be a fraction less, but the fact that it would be less would be groundbreaking. A few years ago Inter Milan were struggling with debts and some of their high earners took a pay cut and this news was warmly received by the fans.
There’s seemingly limitless spending in the game around the word, but those especially in Europe have to stop or at least have some grounding in financial reality. The looming recession will hit football fans hard, so it would be a touch perverse if the game continues to offer crazy wage packets to players, and clubs themselves waste millions on players who barely make the bench whilst supporters can barely afford the inflated season ticket prices.
Whilst it would be churlish to believe that something as severe and wide reaching as a recession can ever be a good thing, it could in many ways give the game of football a big reality check. In the long run it could be a beneficial thing for the game; the worry is of course how clubs survive the interim period between the credit crunch and the hopeful stabilization of the world’s economy.