Time for top footballers to stop asking for more? And getting it?

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So I was listening this evening to the excellent 5live report on Arsenal’s finances, a discussion with some knowledgeable men present: Martin Keown, former Liverpool MD Christian Purslow, Jeremy Wilson from the Telegraph and Nigel Phillips from the AST. It’s a great listen and I urge you to have a crack if you’ve not done so already (not sure if it’s available overseas – it seems not).

It’s a discussion that comes at a time when Rangers, Portsmouth, Port Vale, Darlington and others are struggling with the weight of debts, and overall, for all the faults and the perceived lack of ambition at Arsenal, it’s hard to disagree with the fact that Arsenal is a well-run club. (I can’t begin to summarise everything it covers – so I’m just plucking bits out).

But one thing struck me, and I’ve already had a mini-rant about it on Twitter. That thing is player wages.

One of the first stats wheeled out in the piece was that Arsenal’s wage bill is now double what it was in the Invincible season of 2004. That is staggering. I know it’s not specifically an Arsenal thing – it’s far worse elsewhere – but it does lay bare the principle reason why clubs struggle now to compete: wages.

This season, Wenger has been criticised for not spending and for distributing the club’s money rather too equitably in some instances to players who do not deserve it. The board has been criticised for not pressuring Wenger to spend and being aloof/distant/in absentia, and the players at times have taken stick for their performances. None are or should be free from scrutiny for those things. But the real reason why clubs are struggling and money is ‘tight’ is that, year-on-year, players keep asking for more. And clubs feel they have no option but to pay it.

The old argument used to be that a player’s career was short, and that he deserved a crack at top wages until he was 35 so he could retire with enough money to start a business or run a pub or something. Now though, we are talking about players who earn millions a year and who will never have to work again.

Look, I know the reality: that’s market wages. If I was offered double my wages, I’d take it too. If you stand up to your players or their agents, your players will move on. And I am not criticising Arsenal players over any others here, because at the top level they’re all the same.

But surely, it has to end soon? For how many more years can wages rise in the way they are currently rising? At a time when the country – and much of the continent – is flat broke, is this sustainable? And what can be done about it?

Rant over. In the meantime, I point you once again to the 5live special, and for some additional food for thought, The Swiss Ramble is (as ever) worth a look on Arsenal’s finances, as is this piece from @behnisch.

But all these new revenue streams, these increases in prices for fans and so on, it’s mostly all down to burgeoning player wages. It’s got to stop.

And erm – up the Arsenal!


Arsenal since about 1979. Thick, thin and all that.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. 11 cannons

    Difficult to see how though. In the absence of a salary cap, the richest clubs will always be able to gazump others with astronomical wages. Nasri is a perfect example. And Adebayor before him. A player puts in a good six month shift in their penultimate contract year and levies potential suitor clubs’ interest against their current one for increases. They don’t get them, or get their head turned, and they leave.

    And even with a salary cap there are other issues. In American sports the salary cap effectively means that once a player rises to the max they have to get shifted in order to create room under the cap for other players. If you have say, a group like the Invincibles you eventually have to break it up, cap or no, because their value decreases with age while their wages continue to increase. There is too much player movement in this model for my taste, but then again, the game has changed. There just aren’t that many one or two club players out there any more.

  2. East Lower

    I understand that. But without even considering a salary cap, how can player wages keep going up at the rate they are? There’s no more to be made from ticket prices, tv money – some from commercial. But it’s at saturation point.

  3. Jeff

    If it’s at a saturation point, then the problem has fixed itself.  I don’t know if I like salary caps in principle. The market should be able to iron itself out.  I do like the UEFA requirements for balancing the books (financial fair play), to limit non-football-generated revenue corrupting the market.

    But if a sponsor wants to sink a billion pounds on stadium naming rights – so be it, and well-played to the players who will make off with the loot.        

  4. Jeff

    I am so looking forward to the match in the morning.

  5. Anonymous

    Here’s a question East Lower…totally agree that things have gotten out of hand but which is worse, ridiculously outrageous amounts of money being earned by average (or worse) players or even more ridiculously outrageous amounts earned by the best ??? I don’t know what Barca pay Messi but he’s worth every penny. Similarly if we have to pay RvP 150k a week I won’t find that remotely as offensive as knowing that the likes of Almunia is earning 50-60k a week. That is frankly scandalous.

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