The Premier League’s Annual General Meeting this summer will provide stringent salary cap regulations for English football’s top tier, to judge by the plethora of club chairmen who have offered unsolicited opinions in favour of such regulations in recent months. It is refreshing to see such a consensus around an issue of such magnitude, especially coming from a group of people of such sound judgement.
West Ham co-owner David Gold has struck a discordant note around the subject. But he has expressed his views with admirable consistency, long before salary caps became the sexy subject in the wake of Portsmouth’s financial demise. As he said on BBC Sport last summer, in opposition to “capping”: “I think you have to be very careful that you don’t go all the way back to 50 or 60 years ago, when Blackpool was the top club in the division, because you’d end up with a very bland league.” That, alongside his view that a “league” is “the survival of the fittest,” is a healthy sign that the debate will be constructive and well-informed, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The credibility of the salary cap argument is demonstrated by Fulham chairman Mohamed Fayed being its most fervent supporter. As long ago as last April, Fayed was talking in admirably emotive terms on the subject. “Take my crusade against Sky-high players’ wages,” he told London’s Evening Standard newspaper last April, cleverly focusing readers’ minds on the matter in hand while adding a bit of product-placement. “How can it be right for top players to be earning £15-20m per year? These wages need to be capped,” he added, rightly railing against the £330,000 weekly wage that he must have seen doing the rounds in last year’s Premier League.
He railed against high wages again in a recent interview, with the not-at-all-ironically-named journalist from the Daily Express journo, John Wragg: “I would put a cap on wages and end the exploitation of football. If you want a player, it is £20m or £30m. And the players, they ask for £150,000, £250,000-per-week,” he added, having re-negotiated Bobby Zamora’s goal bonus upwards at just the wrong time, to judge by those figures. “I keep talking but no-one is listening,” he noted, correctly. “All the chairmen need waking up,” he added. And after all that he says, I’m sure they do.
Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has already taken a more direct route than Fayed. In February, he wrote to Premier League supreme Richard Scudamore, calling for “a limit on borrowing, not as a set amount but as a percentage of turnover. They have to do something about it.” Who “they” were, he didn’t clarify. But he’d clearly researched the subject: “Some of the salaries I’ve read about, whether the figures are accurate or not, make you cringe.” And he’s quite right. I certainly cringed when I read that.
So between them, Fayed and Whelan can certainly construct a motion, or however the Premier League constructs policy, to deal with the issue. It would need the support of 14 of the member clubs, of course. But there’s enough public support to suggest that such a figure would be less of a mountain than the debt mountain somehow built up without their approval or knowledge.
Take David Sullivan, co-owner of West Ham United, diligently working behind the scenes to rid his club of their mountainous debt: “I’ve always been against it but now I’m starting to swing towards it,” he said of a salary cap last month. “The crazy wages the Icelandics were paying” brought on this admirable change of mind. Sullivan is more imaginative in his cost-cutting, though. He is currently trying to get manager Gianfranco Zola off the Hammers’ wage bill by forcing him to resign via constant public humiliation, rather than having to sack him and pay-off his contract. Zola, cannily, is plotting financial revenge on Sullivan by deliberately fielding disorganised West Ham sides which would be cast-iron (pardon the pun) relegation certainties were Hull and Burnley not even worse. At least I assume that’s what he was doing against Wolves.
Sullivan might even consider the earnings of Zola and others at his club to be “immoral.” And having lived off such earnings himself in the past, he should know. “Somehow there should be some sort of control,” Sullivan concluded last month. Every time he opens his mouth, I’m sure many people would agree. It remains to be seen whether all this talk will be translated into action this summer. But in the current and continuing economic climate, I fell certain that such men of class and integrity as Fayed, Whelan and Sullivan will deliver when it matters. As Fayed himself said: “There won’t be enough clubs left if this continues to happen.” And with that, you really can’t argue.