After speaking to Michael Hortin on the radio the other day, it has become very clear indeed that football is due to change.
Just as we are seeing on the High Street, businesses will go bust and only the very robust will survive. I fear some EFL clubs may go the same way and, if they don’t, we’ll see clubs run very differently indeed. We are already seeing it now; Danny Rowe released by an uncertain Ipswich, Shay McCartan released by Bradford (who have let go 10 of their 11 out of contract players). We have seen a number of our squad depart too, perhaps more than we would have under usual circumstances.
The point here is football is going to change; hopefully for the better. I liken the situation to an unsightly blackhead which has now been pinched by the pandemic and won’t ever be the same again. Hopefully, much of the bad will come out and football can be left to heal. How do we go about that though? How does football look to readjust in the EFL? What do we even mean by the EFL anymore? Are we just League One and League Two, with the Championship basically a Premier League 2? The gap between us is huge and the clubs in the second-tier are desperate to be part of the gravy train, so should we be looking at the 48 clubs that make up the ‘real’ EFL?
I have had some time to mull over the discussion with Michael, Chris Ashton and Thommo, as well as having the good fortune to have some points clarified to me by Clive, which helped convince me on the wage cap issue. Clive has had a look at my thoughts here and added a few comments of his own for you, which will come in italics at the end of each bit.
I was initially sceptical of a salary cap, mainly because I felt there were ways around it; signing on fees, appearance bonuses and that sort of thing. I saw a salary cap as being a white elephant, a smokescreen which didn’t do exactly what it said on the tin (a bit like B&Q own brand timber stain). I feared it would look like a rule but wouldn’t actually be one, like financial fair play rules which allow a rich owner to pump as much into the club as he wants.
I put a video out to my patrons coming out against the salary cap and saying how I felt it wouldn’t work, only to receive some clarity around the proposed rules. Signing on fees would be counted towards the cap, as would other bonuses and payments. Getting around the proposed cap would not be easy at all, which does make it a more palatable suggestion.
I would look for some clarity how a team like Sunderland could be integrated into our division if they came down in successive seasons. Plus, I think the vote on actual figures (£1.5m and £2.5m in L2 and L1) might be affected by who is in the divisions at the time. If we lost Sunderland, Ipswich and Peterborough and gained Barnsley, Luton and Charlton, then the push to move the cap north of £3m might not be as hard. I have a few issues with bigger clubs not being allowed to spend the money they legitimately generate, but as mentioned by one of the guests on the show it would make them more financially viable should they be promoted, as they might have actually turned a profit in our division. It could be a great leveller.
“Although £2.5m and $1.25m have been mentioned as the caps for L1 and L2, 75% of clubs in each division need to vote in favour so it’s possible that in order to get that percentage the eventual caps will likely be higher,” Adds Clive. “It’s very possible that even at the Championship level we will see salary caps and squad limits introduced. The aim is that there will be as simple as possible regulations across the EFL.”
Financial Fair Play
My point on the radio show was around financial fair play and how we interpret that. I have always had an issue with clubs that spend wildly beyond their means to falsely elevate themselves to a position they could not sustain should the money pull out. I believe that applies to Fleetwood, Forest Green and Salford, as well as the likes of Rushden and Darlington in the past. Surely, the lessons have been learned by many, but sadly not everyone. Could Forest Green Rovers adequately sustain Championship football, even if they buy their place there? No. The restrictions when you get into the second tier do not allow rich owners to lavish money on their team (ask Chansiri) so there is this ceiling for those over-inflating transfer fees and wages. Sure, Fleetwood might go up this year and everyone would talk about how well they’ve done, but have they, really? They’ve got a bigger budget than us on around 2,800, how? A rich benefactor. What happens when he pulls the plug? They go to the wall.
In that instance, how is it fair they can artificially inflate market rates whilst the likes of Rochdale and Wimbledon cut their cloth accordingly? We talk about sporting integrity, but L1 and L2 don’t count much of the time. For me, the FFP rules need to be a hard and fast rule for everyone; if you don’t make the money, you can’t spend the money. None of this rich owner sponsoring his own club either; I have no issue with an owner sticking his name on the shirt, nor an investor, but it should only be to a value they could get elsewhere. That means if we wanted to have ‘Clive Nates’ on our shirts, then the fee he could put in would only be equal to another deal previously on the table or matched elsewhere in the division. I suppose, in essence, I’m advocating a sponsorship cap, but only for owners using it as a loophole. Commercially, clubs should be allowed to generate what they can, but by fair means, not foul.
I play Grand Theft Auto a lot and the economy there works two ways (I suppose like FIFA’s FUT mode). If you want to earn money, points or whatever, you can play for it, work for it and get your rewards. Or, richer kids can just buy the points and make all your hard work irrelevant. The latter shouldn’t be allowed in the modern game. Not because of jealousy either, but because it inflates the market for everyone else.
“If as expected salary caps are introduced across the EFL, the SCMP regulations in L1 and L2 and FFP in the Championship will fall away,” adds Clive. “In L2 they have served some purpose but in L1 they have been irrelevant.”
Thommo argued quite passionately about having a squad of 22, two players for each position, and limiting teams in League One and League Two to that. You’d be able to add young, homegrown players to that too, but you couldn’t have more than 22 senior professionals. Thommo also argued there should be one transfer window, at the beginning of the season, and that is your lot. I can see why that sentiment might be in place, but I’m not sure I agree entirely with it.
Firstly, the squad limit. We saw that as a well-run club, we had a small squad last season (2018/19) but were on a bigger budget than most. That’s perfectly fine, but clubs should be allowed to spend their budget how they want. If the salary cap is (for argument’s sake) £2.5m in League One, then a club should be free to have 16 professionals, or 26, as long as it is within the spending limit. That’s part of the game, isn’t it? Different approaches either paying dividends or not? If everyone is allowed a maximum budget, then the size of the playing squad should not be an issue.
I suppose part of the argument is to force younger players through; we see players dropping out of academies all of the time and into the lower leagues, but if the squad limit didn’t apply to the Premier League, it would make little difference. I do believe a strategy to ensure a certain number of homegrown players is a good idea, especially as ‘homegrown’ doesn’t mean the same as ‘club developed’. A ‘homegrown’ player is someone of any nationality who has been trained by their club or by another club in the same national association for at least three years between the age of 15 and 21. That would cover almost all of our squad. The club developed rule is different, it allowed us to have Lee Frecklington on the bench, but not Jordan Adebayo-Smith.
“Our preference would be for salary caps but if that did not pass we believe squad limits would help to some extent,” adds Clive. “It appears however that both could be introduced. I understand your argument but a benefit of squad limits is that it stops club stockpiling players and that in itself will help push player wages down with greater supply and lower demand for players.”