A Professional Game Run By Amateurs

Arsenal should be embarrassed by the admin error that led to Arsene Wenger naming only six subs against Bayern Munich. But this sort of thing happens all the time in football...

Last Updated: 13/03/14 at 15:51 Post Comment

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Football is big business. You'll have heard that before, no doubt. The sentiment is regularly expressed and accepted as fact. Just look at the numbers involved.

Those vast transfer fees are now spiralling into - count them - nine figures. And there are the wages that'll make a banker blanch. Whether it's the updates on Manchester United's share price on the New York stock exchange or Wayne Rooney's paycheck measured in nurses and soldiers rather than pounds, it all feeds into the notion that football is important and, crucially, uber-professional.

But you don't have to hang around too long in this game to enjoy a delicious reminder of the unspoken truth about 'professional' football. Essentially, football is amateur. Just this week, Japan international Ryo Miyaichi was flown out by Arsenal to take part in the Champions League last 16 tie against Bayern Munich only for the club to belatedly discover he was ineligible. The match went ahead with the Gunners one man short on their substitute bench.

That little anecdote raised a chuckle in the press box and provided a bit of humour on social media sites. But this is Arsenal; the premier club in the thriving metropolis that is this country's capital. The question is an obvious one: If that's Arsenal, what on earth is going on elsewhere?

After all, it would be inaccurate to characterise this as a rogue mistake. These tales of incompetence litter the history of football and they aren't going away. Back in 2010, Internazionale were the champions of Europe - by definition, the club at the pinnacle of the game. But they still managed to overlook the fact Diego Forlan was ineligible for the Champions League, unsuccessfully attempting to register him in favour of talented youngster Luc Castaignos.

Or how about the story of Fabio Capello calling up a certain Andrey Semenov to play for Russia last month, only for the football authorities to have to admit that the player he was seeking was the Terek Grozny star of the same name rather than the Lokomotiv Moscow youngster. Cue lots of embarrassing backtracking and one baffled but disappointed young reserve team player.

As for Capello's former employers, the Football Association, English football's governing body didn't inspire confidence this year when they accidentally registered Will Keane rather than his brother Michael for an England Under-21 game against Wales. "We had an admin error," said coach Gareth Southgate, who could just about be heard over the noise of the brush sweeping it under the carpet. Three Lions led by donkeys.

Back in the Premier League, Ian Holloway's summer travails at Crystal Palace were an exercise in incompetence. French defender Florian Marange arrived in mid-August only to find himself off the 25-man Premier League squad list a fortnight later. Talk about forward planning.

But Palace's problems strike at the heart of this matter. This football club in south-east London might well be a household name with a proud history. But what it is not is a huge business. Like most football clubs, it is run by a handful of individuals muddling through and making big decisions - decisions they aren't necessarily any better equipped to deal with just because the numbers suddenly have a few more zeros on the end.

Like the Wizard of Oz with his smoke and mirrors, this is the truth that the football hype machine is happy to cover up. For while football itself is big business and the total market for the game is vast, having expanded exponentially, in terms of individual clubs, it remains small time.

For example, in the 2011/12 Championship season, only Leeds and West Ham had a turnover in excess of £25million. To put that into context, the average Sainsbury's superstore was turning over more than that well over a decade ago. Your average football chairman is effectively taking on a similar financial responsibility to that of a supermarket boss in charge of a solitary Tesco shop - and the football chairman has fewer employees to deal with.

Of course, it may well be that the manager of that Sainsbury's in Slough is also an incompetent figure - a David Brent-type making administrative mistakes on a daily basis. But Wernham Hogg mockumentaries aside, the glare of publicity is unlikely to fall on such characters. Thousands of nit-picking supporters and a robust media ready to pick up on every error are not a problem for office managers in the provinces

This is football's own peculiar problem - ordinary administrators thrown into an extraordinary world. Clubs with quite literally more money than sense. Fly Ryo Miyaichi to Munich even though you haven't checked he's on your Champions League roster? Yeah, why not. In football, as you can see, these things do happen.

Adam Bate - follow him on Twitter.

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es, these stats are right. Rio Ferdinand definitely had a better debut than Fernando.

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