The rumours had been circulating for a couple of days, but few people had been brave enough to give it much credibility. But then it happened. Sol Campbell joins Notts County, on a five year contract with a £40,000 weekly wage. Thirty-four year old Sol Campbell. The tipping point. Perhaps the world has finally gone mad. Predictably, there has been much squawking on the subject of how exciting this is for Notts, but the truth of the matter is that their supporters should, if anything, be scared by this decision, because if this signing is a signal if intent (as some have claimed), then the intention of Munto Finance is to either throw tens – if not hundreds – of millions of pounds into a bottomless pit or to create a financial environment in which Notts County never have a realistic chance of being solvent ever again.
Let us start by taking a look at the figures. £40,000 per week is something like one and a third times the average weekly wage budget of an average League Two club. It is approximately forty times the average wage of a League Two player. It is not the only massive wage that Notts County are currently paying. For all the fine talk of the extent to which Ian McParland has been trying to sign proven lower league players, the club is also believed paying Kasper Schmeichel £15,000 per week. The combined wages of those two players alone could have paid for Notts to have an absolute raft of players that would have been, on paper at least, the strongest in League Two. And we haven’t even mentioned the wages of Eriksson himself.
Then, there is the player himself. Sol Campbell is thirty-four years old, and has had a less than perfect injury record in recent years. Whether he will actually be able to play another five years is certainly open to question, but it is the length of the contract that probably attracted him to Notts. He wouldn’t have received an offer like that from the Premier League or Championship clubs that were rumoured to be interested in signing him. He is not, on his own, a match-winning player, though. A solid defender, certainly, but Campbell on his own will not bring the championship to Notts County. Other players may need to be brought in if a player of his calibre is not to get frustrated at the limitations of his team-mates.
It has also been noted that these signings have stretched League Two’s wage cap to breaking point. They have certainly shown it up for what it is. The Football League limits expenditure on salaries and expenses to sixty per cent of a club’s annual turnover, but Notts clearly don’t care about that. The cap is voluntary, and can be broken if paid for as guaranteed gifts. They cannot be recorded on the balance sheet as shareholder loans. “The Football League has received assurances from the club with regard to commitments already made”, said a League spokesman. Quite what assurances were given is open to question, and they do not amount to a guarantee on the part of Munto to pay his wages. If they were to disappear, there is no guarantee that Notts wouldn’t be left holding the liability for the rest of his contract. Guarantees made to the Football League are unlikely to have much standing in a court of law.
It is not merely “jealousy” (the most lazy of accusations) to be concerned by this. The bare fact of the matter is that if they continue spending like this, it threatens to spiral out of control, and the early signs are that the new owners are largely unconcerned by being sensible in the transfer market. As with all businesses, there is no chance that the owners of the club will have any personal liability for debts run up by the football club (regardless of vague statements about “bank guarantees” – it would be interesting to see what bank, in the current economic climate, would “guarantee” a League Two football club spending £2m per year on one footballer) so, if they decide to leave, or get bored with their acquisition, or aren’t as successful as they’d like to be as quickly as they assume they will be, or suffer a downturn in other areas of their business, who will be left to pick up the pieces? The supporters, and if the worst happens the hangers-on and fairweather fans will be nowhere to be seen because the circus will have moved on long since. Whether they would get much sympathy in such circumstances is very much open to question.