Wagering On Despair

As of 2010, the average yearly salary of a Premier League footballer stands at approximately £1.46 million. Considering performance related bonuses aren’t taken into account; it’s safe to say that the true figure lies a lot higher. In any case, it’s more than double the £676,000 average of 2006, and more than treble the £409,000 average of 2000. Nobody in football is under the illusion now that there is a force somewhat more powerful than inflation at work here, and indeed it raises a number of interesting questions concerning the financial wellbeing of football clubs and players alike. But first and foremost, just exactly how has this wage problem spun so rapidly out of control?

Well, for the longest time in football meritocracy still prevailed, as it was understood that the elite players were paid the highest wages, with other players earning decrementally in accordance with that player’s ability (or lack thereof). However, arguably this is no longer the case, and problems have been arising across the game with increasingly bold agents, because the moment that one club surrenders to the request of such one player, suddenly dozens of others will want parity for their clients. As a result, the matter escalates and very quickly gets out of hand.

This issue of ever increasing player wages should be considered nothing less than desperate for two overriding reasons. Firstly, it’s a sure fire way to cripple any football club financially. Indeed for any club where spending is linked to revenue, the only way to justify increasing a player’s wages is by raising ticket prices for fans. Whilst it is fair to say that the club will also receive a certain amount of money through sponsorship and television deals, in most cases it simply won’t cover the kind of £20,000 a week pay rise the likes of Lucas Neill and Shaun Wright-Phillips have been hankering for. You need look no further than the likes of Bradford City and Leeds Utd – who were still paying the wages of ex-players years after they’d left the club, because of their surrender to vastly-inflated wage demands – to see what can happen. In both cases the team’s overzealous wage bill sent them down the trapdoor of English football, where they are currently being followed by Portsmouth for exactly the same reasons.

The second issue to consider is that we’re rapidly reaching the point at which footballer’s have more money than they can spend, and the natural conclusion of such lucre is that they are rendered painfully out of touch with reality. Upon recently signing for Aston Villa, midfielder Stephen Ireland aptly remarked upon the shocking culture clash from Manchester City. Where he claimed young players to be “coming in with £10,000 watches on their wrists and walking around as if they have played 200 Premier League games.” Without a doubt this is an image far removed from what people such as Stuart Pearce, the former Man City youth coach and England international, might remember from having to fit sessions at Wealdstone FC in between training as a plumber. In fact it was only fifteen years ago that Steven Gerrard was making £20 a week cleaning John Barnes’ boots at Liverpool – arguably a more character building experience than expanding one’s rolex collection.

The bottom line is that it is not the duty of a club to unnecessarily supplement a player’s income. Premier League players have always been remunerated handsomely, and deservedly so, but current levels have become both excessive and wholly unnecessary. Inevitably the most deserving players will always make that supplemental income and distinguish themselves through personal sponsorship deals. In fact I would even hasten to add that there’s nothing wrong with footballers commanding transfer fees of £30-40 million and upwards. That way, they are able to enhance their own reputation and prove their worth, but at the same time that money gets reinvested into football; whether it be on buying new players or improving a club’s facilities.

Surely it’s about time that that football teams acted in their own interests, spending money on filling their stadiums, rather than simply lining wallets of mediocre squad players.

Tom Wilson


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