The rising cost of success in football
The year is 1997. Brazilian superstar Ronaldo has just become the subject of the highest ever transfer fee when he moved from Barcelona to Inter Milan for £19.5 million and Manchester United have signed Teddy Sheringham for £3.5 million to replace the retiring Eric Cantona. A decade later, a baby-faced Gareth Bale joined Tottenham for £5 million and Arsenal’s Thierry Henry left the Premier League to join Barcelona for £16 million. Jump forward to today and the title of being the first £100 million player looks set to be awarded to a teenager with one full year of first team experience, Manchester City have spent £45 million on a defender that many are questioning and Manchester United have spent £75 million on a striker that has struggled against the big teams. With more money being spent than ever before at one end of the English football ladder, clubs struggling to stay in business and pay the wages of their staff is becoming a common occurrence at the other.
Whilst inflation is to be expected, the price that clubs are paying for top players is continuing to rise and is showing no sign of stopping. Success itself should be enough to motivate teams, but the prize money and sponsorship funds on offer to teams is astronomical, meaning that for some, failure is not an option, which has led a number of managers to lose their jobs.
There has always been a gap between the Premier League and Championship and the top flight should rightly be the division with the best teams. However, the often mentioned league within a league at the top end of the Premier League, involving the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City is threatening to pull further away from the other teams more than ever, unless teams invest huge amounts of money in an attempt to keep up, which is what Everton are trying to do this summer.
Teams relegated from the Premier League receive parachute payments to help them make the transition down to the Championship and pay the wages of the signings that they have made the previous season. Some argue that teams should not be rewarded for failure and that those relegated teams have an unfair advantage over the other teams in the league when it comes to the summer transfer window. Financial fair play has been brought in to assure that teams are not spending excessively, but Newcastle United and Aston Villa last season and Middlesbrough this are displaying their ability to buy players for prices that have not previously been seen in the Championship after receiving their parachute payments.
The Championship is famous for being such a tightly contested competition, with the potential to provide shock results on an almost weekly basis. What we risk is seeing is the same clubs using their money for an instant return to the Premier League and continuing an ongoing cycle. The beauty of the Championship is that anyone can beat anyone and losing that would hugely reduce the interest that the league receives.
It is almost impossible that this rise in revenue and transfer fees will ever stop increasing and whilst we still want to see the world’s best players playing weekly in England, we have to be careful not to lose the unpredictable nature that makes the English leagues so unique. The “Football Manager Fairytales” that have seen the likes of Bournemouth and Swansea City rise through all of the leagues up to the Premier League and saw Leicester City defy the odds to win the Premier League in 2016 could be a thing of the past if the top teams continue to get richer and the lower teams miss out on the revenue and therefore drop further behind.