The haves and the have-nots

A colossal monetary chasm exists in European football (including EPL) between the top clubs and the also-rans. This yawning breach, ever widening, is near impossible to fill, robbing Leagues of their competitiveness and making final results highly predictable, writes Ayon Sengupta.

There is no level playing field in sports. A colossal monetary chasm exists in European football between the top clubs and the also-rans. This yawning breach, ever widening, is near impossible to fill, robbing Leagues of their competitiveness and making final results highly predictable.

In the British Isles, the money might of clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, the neo petro-rich Manchester City and Chelsea, have left very little space for exploration for the other clubs. The five giants, put together, had an annual turnover of more the GBP1200 million for the 2011-12 season, earning close to GBP450 million from broadcast deals, while the other 15 could just about scramble to the GBP1000 million mark (including the GBP144 million turnover of Tottenham Hotspur).

Manchester City was the best-paying club during that time, with wages of GBP202m and finished at the top, while Swansea City was the lowest; handing its players GBP35m (still finishing a respectable 11th). Aston Villa spent the biggest slice of its revenues on wages, at 94 percent (16th), while Norwich City spent just 49 percent (12th), the lowest in the top tier. United earned the most Pounds, totalling a revenue of GBP320m (2nd), while Wigan Athletic had a measly income of GBP53m (15th).

There is undeniably a direct correlation between pay and performance and this disparity in income invariably had an effect on the clubs’ wage bills, which in turn had a huge impact on the season-ending points chart.

The gulf seems to be wider in Spain, where the top two clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, account for 54 percent of the television revenue, making it impossible for others, even the ones with a large fan-base like Valencia or Atletico Madrid, to compete on an even keel. Eighteen other Spanish teams, put together, will not be able to match the annual wage structures of the big two (Barca, earning Euro 483m, wages Euro 267.6m; Real, revenue Euro 512.6, wages Euro 233.9), thereby making it hard for them to hold on to their best talents. Over the past few years, the biggest names of Spanish football have either moved to Barca, Real or outside the country, as other local units failed to match the inflated salary demands prevalent across European Leagues.

The arrival of Roman Abramovich to Chelsea with his Russian oil riches in 2003, and the subsequent ownerships of European clubs by oil barons from the West Asia and Eastern Europe had led to spiralling transfer fees, as clubs got into the game of buying success. As many as 120 clubs in the continent have fallen into insolvency since 2007, trying to keep pace with this madness and many players have gone unpaid over the years. According to a FIFPro (World Players Union) survey, carried out in 12 eastern European countries, 41.4 percent players did not get paid on time, with five percent having to wait six months or more. In India, too, players from top clubs in Kolkata are yet to get paid for the last season.

In Serie A, too, the top three (Juventus, Inter, AC Milan) each have a wage bill in the excess of Euro 120m (far less compared to top English or Spanish clubs), but it easily dwarfs the salary-paying capacity of competitors in Italy.

However, amidst this gloom, the Bundesliga model throws some light as 14 of the 18 clubs in the League registered profits in the last season. (Only eight out of 20 had registered profits in the Premiership in 2011-12.)

The Germans were frugal in player salaries too, as the overall wages/revenue ratio for players and coaches were at a low 37.8 percent, compared to an alarming 64 percent in England. But there too, the financial might of the Bavarian giant, Bayern Munich (approximate turnover Euro 368.4m per year with a wage bill of Euro 166m), has been a cause of concern, as Borussia Dortmund comes a distant second with a turnover of Euro 189.1m and a significantly small wage bill of Euro 80m (yet it won the Bundesliga crown in 2010-11, 2011-12 and reached the Champions League final last season).

But, the Germans at least are concerned about the inequality and Bayern president Uli Hoeness rightly said: “There’s a big difference in performance levels in the league. We can’t be comfortable with that. We have to analyse why this is the case.” The 61-year-old has also revealed that he is in talks with Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke to find a solution, which will lead to a more competitive system.

Cash-rich clubs across Europe should do the same if we want the game to continue surprising us each match-day weekend.