Picture the scene. Tech giants Google see promise in a young computer genius. They bring him in for intern work for the summer, fund his way through college, but on the day he comes in with his great new idea, and tells them he wants them to invest in him, they show him the door.
Fast forward four years. Google is still going strong, but the young entrepreneur they shoved out the door has prospered, and the idea they once rejected is now a thriving business Google wants to buy for £100 million. Pretty embarrassing for Google right?
Well, the above scenario is entirely fictitious, but change Google to ‘Manchester United’ and young entrepreneur to ‘Pogba’ and it becomes a story we’ve just seen play out before our eyes. The Premier League Giants last week forked out a record fee to bring back a youth academy reject they let walk out the door in 2012 for nothing. The worst part is, very few people are even shocked by this — it’s just the latest example of football finance descending into lunacy.
Since football became professional in 1885, it took until 2001 until a player was paid the eye-watering weekly wage of £100k/week (this is thought to be Sol Campbell after his transfer to Woolwich). However, in the 15 years since then, numerous players worldwide have more than doubled that number, and with every passing day, a new player signs a deal to take home a six-figure wage every week.
But what does all this have to do with Tottenham Hotspur?
Tottenham Hotspur’s management have worked exceptionally well to build such a healthy club/business in a league as competitive as the EPL. This is in no small part down to the dealings of Chairman Daniel Levy, who has both infuriated and delighted Spurs fans during his tenure. Levy’s (in)famous reputation as a notoriously shrewd businessman has meant Tottenham have often been left wanting, rather than receiving, marquee signings over the years due to a reluctance of paying hefty transfer fees and a stern persistence of sticking to a rigid, club-friendly wages structure.
THE UPSIDE IS, LEVY’S STEWARDSHIP HAS ALSO LEFT TOTTENHAM IN A VERY HEALTHY FINANCIAL SITUATION, AND FANS NOW HAVE AN EXCITING, WELL-ASSEMBLED TEAM TO WATCH
Many will remember Harry Redknapp’s final Spurs campaign where a title chase beckoned. Carlos Tevez and Gary Cahill were linked to Spurs in the Winter transfer window, yet in the end it was the bargain bucket pair of Louis Saha and Ryan Nelsen who arrived at White Hart Lane and the title aspirations evaporated. However, the upside is, Levy’s stewardship has also left Tottenham in a very healthy financial situation, and fans now have an exciting, well-assembled team to watch each week under the guidance of one of the games brightest managerial prospects. Add to that the prospect of moving into a new state-of-the-art stadium in 2–3 years time, and suddenly Levy’s workings start to look like magic!
All of this has become possible because Levy has taken the high road regarding club finance, in complete contrast to clubs like Man United, Man City and Chelsea, who have attempted to fix every problem in their recent history by throwing money at it, with no regard for the extremely dangerous problem they are creating.
Despite being the home to numerous top quality internationals, it’s believed that no player at White Hart Lane currently earns more than £100k/week. One such player is Christian Eriksen — the Danish playmaker who has been a shining light in the Tottenham team since his move from Ajax. Eriksen is currently believed to be earning around £60,000 a week at Tottenham.
In almost any other profession, this would equate to being at the absolute peak of your field. Experts like Doctors or Engineers could only dream of a paycheque so hefty, yet in the crazy world of modern football, Eriksen’s wages are said to be ‘modest’. Therefore, this week’s rumour that Eriksen is holding out for a new contract at Spurs worth £150k/week should come as a surprise to nobody.
The fact is, I don’t blame Eriksen, and no Spurs fan should. The attacking midfielder could arguably call himself Spurs most consistent high performer over the past few years, and he is among the finest attacking midfielders in the Premier League if not World football. At 24, Eriksen is moving into the next stage of his career, and it’s his right to seek out a contract that reflects his quality.
ERIKSEN NEED ONLY LOOK AT HIS PEERS AT HIS POSITION AROUND THE LEAGUE AND SEE PLAYERS INFERIOR TO HIM SUCH AS MEMPHIS DEPAY, RAHEEM STERLING OR SAMIR NASRI EARN SIGNIFICANTLY MORE THAN HIM, AND YOU CAN SEE WHY HE COULD BE AGGRIEVED
A 30% wage increase as reward for good performance in your job would be a dream for you or me, and for Christian Eriksen it would mean a bump up to wages of £80,000 a week. Yet Eriksen need only look at his peers at his position around the league and see players inferior to him such as Memphis Depay, Raheem Sterling or Samir Nasri earn significantly more than him, and you can see why he could be aggrieved. At the end of the day, the Premier League is an entertainment business, and the players are the stars of the show.
Therefore for Eriksen, £150k/week wage demands are not about needing the money, but illustrating his worth as one of the leagues star performers.
Spurs have done extremely well to assemble the talented squad they have now, and do it for affordable prices. Yet to keep this talent in the long term, they’ll have to abandon their wise financial tradition, and instead follow the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City into financial madness.
As a fan of Tottenham and Eriksen himself, I do hope the club eventually caves in to demands and pay Eriksen what he’s worth. I expect The Dane to lessen his demands, and a deal of £120k/week to be agreed, but even so, Tottenham’s famed rigid pay-structure will have taken a hit, and I can’t help but wonder where it will end.
I understand that the increasing wages and transfer fees in football are; to an extent, relative to the extra money coming in, but surely this exponential rise in prices can’t continue forever without repercussion?
CONVINCING A TEAM LIKE MAN UNITED TO AGREE TO A SALARY CAP THEY SHARE WITH THE LIKES OF HULL CITY MAY PROVE TO BE AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK AT THIS STAGE OF THE GAME
Many United fans have justified the Pogba deal, by pointing out that Man United’s earnings from are higher than ever. Others have justified the signing, by simply saying ‘it’s not my money!’, however this seems to ignore that every few years as another average player earns a week what a fan may earn in three years, ticket and jersey prices will rise, and fans will become more and more detached from the clubs they love so much.
The wheels may already be moving too fast to pull this financial disaster in football back from the brink, yet maybe there are lessons football could learn from other Pro Sports to help limit the damage.
American football sees similarly dizzying salaries paid to its top stars. Recently, young Quarterback Andrew Luck signed a record-breaking new deal that will see him paid around $26 million a year (On par with the likes of Messi and Ronaldo). However, these figures are limited to a select few in the league, as each team is forced to work under a set salary cap, which sets a limit on the amount of financial muscle any one team can flex.
Add to this, transfer fees are non-existent in the Sport, with player moves only happening as a result of trades, or at the end of a contract. Teams instead rely heavily on developing their own young players instead of fixing problems with cash. The result is a league where teams remain on a similar level to each other, with no handful of super heavyweight teams distancing themselves from the rest of the pack.
The more football distances itself from reality with incredible figures and fees, the more sense a change to a system like the above seems to make. However, convincing a team like Man United to agree to a salary cap they share with the likes of Hull City may prove to be an impossible task at this stage of the game.
So after spending more than a staggering combined sum of £500 million this summer, Premier League teams set out this weekend to write the first chapter of the 2016/17 season. I just wonder if this story will have a happy ending.