The Premier League appears to be falling apart, the financial model it is founded upon no longer fit for purpose. No-one could have predicted or legislated for the shutdown of football and of large swathes of the economy, but it has revealed the thin ice of massive cash flow that it has skated on for so long.
Its clubs have huge amounts of money coming in, but going out almost as quickly. Instead of building their business on solid rock, they have been built on the hot air of money lust. Fine as long as the money flows in, but now cash reserves are running out fast. Five clubs are shockingly already putting out the begging bowl for government money less than four weeks after the last game.
So you can, at least in theory, see why the league – on behalf of the club owners – asked the players for a wage cut to allow them to survive, given the majority of costs to clubs are wages, saying they want to”protect employment throughout the professional game”. The PFA – itself headed by an egregious money hoover – has told them to do one, they’ll not be getting their hands on its members’ money, thank you very much.
There was already widespread disgust at some of the attitudes within top-flight football. It too often looks venal, greedy, irresponsible, immoral and actually quite crap at business. Those five clubs already claiming not to have enough money to pay all the non-playing staff wages (even though those wages are often very low, with the vast majority of clubs not even prepared to pay the Living Wage) despite all being owned by billionaires who could pay those wages easily, has brought this offence and discontent to a head. This is what it has come to has it? This? Really? All despite being gifted up to £160million of free money just last August. To put it in fashionable jargon, the optics ain’t good.
Meanwhile, multi-millionaire players, mostly in good conscience, are considering what percentage of their humongous wages they can scrape by on and for how long. Wages which are largely responsible for the fragile finances of clubs in the first place. Wages which the Premier League heralded as their great achievement. Turns out it is their downfall. The money first and last approach which has seen income to clubs balloon, and wages inflate to incredible levels, has merely created a fragile financial ecosystem which will bring down the very regime which created them. That, I think, is called karma.
In a twist of paranoia that so often comes with big money, the players so mistrust their greedy grasping employers that they’re not letting them dictate what happens to their wages. And you can see their point. It seems they’d rather not bail out the billionaire club owners and would rather help the NHS directly. They’re right. That politicians should be trying to put pressure on them was always going to put everyone’s back up. Others who bathe in football’s milk and honey need nailing to the wall and shaking down too, but footballers shouldn’t be surprised, nor feel hard done by, if they’re the focus of attention when they’re very publicly being made richer every day for not even playing football. Try having no money and no income at all right now; that is to be truly hard done by.
Oh yes, what a wonderful world the Premier League has made for us all, where millionaires are asked to bail out billionaires who in turn are being bailed out by public money.
The stench of the decay of decadence is everyone’s eau de cologne today.
As Rory Smith has recently written, everyone in football mistrusts everyone else. The Premier League curtain has been pulled back and has revealed a Bruegel painting of hell, only with everyone dressed in gambling company sponsored sportswear.
Rampant wage and transfer fee inflation was always going to bring about the puncturing of the Premier League financial balloon at some point, but coronavirus has radically speeded its demise. We cannot support its existence anymore. Their castle is built on our shifting sands and when this is all over, the tide of public opprobrium can wash it away.
We must hand control of the First Division, for that is what it really is, back to the Football League from which it was wrenched in 1992. We must reunite the game under one organisation and with an entirely different, far more modest, egalitarian financial structure, governed by the FA for the good of the game and for the good of the people who support it. The Premier League has failed on both accounts.
This might seem extreme but frankly, we’re already in such a horrible, perverted, immoral situation that something sensible and modest is bound to look unusual. But if we take anything away from the coronavirus crisis it is that things can change and change fast. Everything that seems permanent and normal can quickly be overthrown and replaced. We see it happening every day. That should worry the Premier League gravely. They built something that is in ruins. They are mistrusted by all and rightly so.
They should give the keys to the league back to the Football League, when the pandemic has passed, or be forced to do so. Their way is the old way, the pre-coronavirus way, when greed was good, when the only thing better than money was more money. That led to where we are now, and it is not a good place.
But before we invent a new People’s Model for football, we need to establish what we want the future to look like and I’ll outline that in my next piece on Wednesday.