Holden A Minute
In his Wednesday column, Mike Holden talks about Manchester City's spending and its implications on Financial Fair Play...
Sore losers barking up the wrong tree
And so it begins again. Another cycle within a cycle. The next wave of people crying foul over Manchester City's spending as the club sits on the brink of its first league title since 1968. At first, it was Everton fans screaming longest and loudest. Then it was Arsenal fans. Now it's the turn of those who follow Manchester United. Can anyone detect a pattern?
Naturally, the argument is that City have "bought the title" but can anybody name a team that hasn't needed a period of 'accelerated expenditure' (in the language of Garry Cook) to land the ultimate prize since the Premier League started in 1992?
Even Arsenal acheived their initial success on the back of a net spend of around £25m between 1994 and 1997, during which time they broke the British transfer record for the first time since 1971 with the signing of Dennis Bergkamp. Three years appears to be the necessary period of sustained transfer investment before a title can be expected, the only thing that ever changes is the scale of the money involved.
United fans, though, have cultivated a cunning take on the situation with talk of 'organic spending'. And now it seems many of those who have spent the last 20 years rebelling against the corporate might of their club by refusing to buy replica shirts are as proud as punch about the club's business record because it gives them some vague sense of moral high ground.
What they conveniently prefer to overlook is that United underwent a period a heavy transfer investment themselves between 1988 and 1991, spending six times the British record transfer fee on new recruits at a time when Old Trafford crowds (the primary source of revenue in those days) had dipped below 30,000. Nobody ever really explained where that money came from.
But that doesn't matter now. As we all know, football began in 1992 and some are going to great lengths to explain that what City have done is somehow different, that competitive balance is being compromised in a way that it never has before, that UEFA's Financial Fair Play initiative represents a sure sign that things have gone too far.
Sadly, those assuming the role of political activist on behalf of United and other global brands have got the wrong end of the stick entirely. Their cause is akin to Swampy campaigning against a new burger chain on behalf of McDonalds.
I've no doubt that some good will come from FFP - it goes without saying that all football clubs should be de-incentivised from gambling on their very survival - but like the Premier League's new parachute payment structure, which mockingly convinced hard-up Football League clubs that less is more, it is UEFA who will benefit most by further safeguarding the big names that matter to their competitions.
The aim is to ensure that they retain a firm grip on their notion of competitive balance through the distribution of television money, shutting the door that currently leaves them at the mercy of further Black Swan investors like Sheikhs Mansour and Abdullah Al Thani (owner of Malaga). In the meantime, the real hardships, that have been caused by the authorities, continue to be suffered the further down the food chain you go.
To better understand how football has changed over the past couple of decades, one might refer to the most talked-about chapter in the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics in which authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner highlighted the startling similarity between a Chicago drugs gang and the standard capitalist enterprise.
So skewed is the distribution of television money in favour of those towards the top of the pyramid, the incentives for anyone to get to the next level are becoming more and more tantalising yet ever more elusive. Needless to say, the foot soldiers on the streets are killing themselves in their attempts to kill each other.
'The beautiful game' that Stuart Hall refers to when recalling a youth spent watching Peter Doherty playing for City at Maine Road in the 1950s is now much closer to 'the game' as it's referred to in The Wire. The last ten years have been a bloodbath. Administration is part and parcel, like gunshots in the Baltimore projects, and all to ensure that the Avon Barksdales of this world stay firmly in control.
If, as expected, City clinch the title on Sunday, it will no doubt be portrayed as a significant power shift in Premier League history. But as injustices go, it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.
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