Two million quid is not cheap; it’s obscene

Sarah Winterburn

Paul Scholes believes Paul Pogba is not worth anywhere near £100million.

He’s right. No footballer is worth £100million. But then, what is any footballer ‘worth’? And how do we arrive at that figure? This time of year brings the ludicrous nature of football’s high finances into sharper focus.

My starting point in this debate is that modern football is now financially insane and immoral; I’ve also realised that I’ve become numb to it, and that I shouldn’t have.

In football, we talk about huge amounts of money as though it is chump change. One, five, 10, 20 million, 100 million. We say these numbers without any cross-reference to what that money could achieve in what we might call real life.

In football, such huge figures are meaningless and are seemingly plucked from thin air and assigned to random individuals. There is nothing to prove that the amount paid for a player is cost-effective or not; there is no relationship between his fee and income he might generate and no ruler to judge value. If you try to invent one, you can’t.

Let me illustrate.

Arsenal have signed Rob Holding for two million pounds from Bolton. He’s an England Under-21 player who has had one senior season under his belt. So is two million a lot, or not?

You don’t know, do you? Of course you don’t.

I sodding well don’t know, either. But I do know it’s a hell of a lot of money in the real world. Yet I know it’s nothing in the football world. However, football still exists in the real world, even though it appears to be on a different planet. So how and why is he so expensive?

In the real world, two mill buys you a lot of labour. It’d pay for about 80 workers on the average wage for a year’s work.

You could buy about 15 Porsche Sport 911s.

You could buy six cottages and 91 acres of land in Northumberland. Or you could buy about 20 perfectly decent terraced houses like this one on Teesside. Houses where you could live a nice life, full of love, joy and ordinary misery.

Is one Rob Holding the equal financial worth of any of these things? He’s not. As soon as you introduce a transfer fee into the real world, it looks obscene. Because it is obscene.

When poet Charles Bukowski said “money is p*ss” he could have been talking about Premier League football clubs. It’s something to just hose out of yourself with little regard, a by-product of your existence.

Will Crystal Palace ever be able to prove that Andros Townsend was worth 13 million and not 18? Or was he really worth five?  Can Burnley justify the £1.1 million they paid Charlton for Nick Pope? Should he have been £750,000 or £5 million? Was Sadio Mane cheap at £34 million or was he over-priced by three, eight or 23 million?

You don’t know. I don’t know. Nobody knows. And nobody knows because it’s all made-up nonsense, divorced from reality but sold to us as perfectly acceptable and normal. We’re so inured to the big money spent in football that we all really do think two million is a small fee.

But as soon as we take off our football hat, take a deep breath and get real, all these numbers are absolutely f**kin’ insane. We’ve stopped thinking about football money as real. It’s just numbers in a game. Except it isn’t. It’s real money. Real money that could have a positive effect in the world were it redistributed properly.  This level of football is a fiction factory, but it doesn’t feel like heaven.

1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day…meanwhile in the Premier League.

UNICEF estimate 22,000 children die every day, due to poverty. Take a moment to grasp that. 22,000 kids. Dead. Every. Single. Day. That’s about five times the population of Middlesbrough every month. Dead. Dead because of being poor…meanwhile in the Premier League.

750 million people don’t even have access to clean water. Something that a little investment could easily fix…meanwhile, in the Premier League.

And that’s not even the half of it.

Surely, we can’t just accept this kind of grotesque outlay on mere footballers. We have to make a moral stand against it at some point, even if it is only to express disgust at the money being spent in this way. We have to shame football for where it’s ended up. It didn’t used to be like this. Football wasn’t always Big Money’s favourite attack dog.

People will always say it’s the free market; that it’s supply and demand. Anyone with a basic grasp of economics (A level grade E 1979. Thank you Stockton 6th Form College) can see it’s not, but even if it was, it’d still just illustrate what an utterly venal and despicable system football has defaulted to. That so much money is available for a club to buy a footballer in a world where 22,000 children die every day in grinding, unremitting poverty. I’m sure Paul Pogba would rather be transferred for free and the £100m spent keeping children alive.

I know we all feel powerless about this stuff, and I’m sorry to dull your pre-season buzz, but what if it was you or your children who were dying in extreme poverty? Those kids are not far away. Just a short flight. Them and us, we’re all the same. All pink and red underneath. So, there but for the grace of God go all of us.

We are supporting a terrible immorality by not speaking out against this grotesque waste of money. A waste that we’ve become blind to. This is a matter of choice, not of inevitability. It’s not a moral working out of the clever v the stupid. God, no. It is simply an economic apartheid, sold to us as meritocracy, by those who grow fat on its riches.

That’s an uncomfortable truth and speaks to our incredible ability to ignore mass suffering, merely in order to get a Champions League place, or win a trophy or some other petty thing. What are we thinking? We’ve been brainwashed.

Life should have a far greater value than a transfer fee. But, right now, footballers are far more important than millions of poor people because the poor, the starving and the sick can’t play football, due to being poor, starving and sick and they don’t have image rights to sell, or brands to endorse.

Long term, the only way to stop this transfer fee and wages madness is to express your disgust of it at every opportunity. To stop celebrating the expenditure of these ridiculous sums, and in doing so begin to create a culture that is grounded in the real world, which understands the real value of money and what it can do. Non-football people already do this. They see these fees and are slack-jawed in amazement.

£100 million for a footballer? Two million for a footballer? Come on, it’s time for a serious reality check. We can’t go on like this.

John Nicholson