|SJ MASKELL: Just exactly how are Pompey 'cheating'?|
Thu 08th Mar 2012 22:09 by SJ Maskell
‘Minus 10, who gives a f***?’ I’m beginning to wonder if anyone in football does. If we listen to Gus Poyet the minus ten is not enough and instant relegation must occur – although what that would do to the will-to-win of the punished club if they have fixtures remaining is anyone’s guess.
In deducting points, the theory goes, the Football League are punishing a club for distorting the competition, not for financial mismanagement. In playing players that they cannot afford they are ‘cheating’. The theory is, according to Trevor Birch, that clubs who ‘over-extend themselves’ spending beyond their means achieve a standing in the competition above their ‘natural position.’
Of course, the theory is flawed. Clubs who have benefactor owners who ‘financially dope’ the team by injecting capital into player funding are distorting the competition just as much. Antonov’s little £10.5m injection of dope between August and November last year was fine with the authorities while we were in funds. No accusations of cheating then, no demands that poor Pompey, with their limited stadium plus CVA and secured debtor burden hidden within the owning company CSI, should be relegated under those circumstances. But surely we were ‘distorting the competition’ just as much in our way and Manchester City are in theirs? Should a club with our lack of infrastructure to create the finance to support the team really be competing with the likes of Leicester and Middlesbrough with their better income-generating facilities?
The Championship is acknowledged to be the most financially delinquent of all divisions in the Football League. In June last year Deloitte reported that the average Championship Club spent 88% of their turnover on wages in the season 2009-10 (the most recent season for which there are figures). Blackpool spent 134% of their turnover on getting promoted to the Premier League. Much of this was promotion bonuses – without these their wage spend was 81% of turnover, still more than that desired for financial stability - but the gamble paid off for Blackpool and they paid off the overspend with the extra income from their season in the Premier League. Interestingly it was the Blackpool model that Antonov cited in his reasoning for seeing a profit in Pompey last summer.
Odd that there was also the belief that the introduction of Financial Fair Play rules for the Championship next season, where clubs would only be allowed to spend what they earn, would also help Pompey. Pompey’s earnings and therefore spending will be severely limited by the aforementioned lack of infrastructure should they remain in the Championship. Perhaps that was behind the attempted doping, and who knows what would have happened in the January or August 2012 transfer windows had Antonov not encountered the wrath of the Lithuanian and Latvian financial regulation authorities. Just how far could our ‘cheating’ have gone? It is difficult to imagine that CSI would have continued to believe that the current squad could have gained promotion without the addition of some expensive goal scoring power.
It is also difficult to not see this as a failure of regulation by the football authorities because it seems that, no matter what is said about level playing fields in the competition, Pompey is still being punished for our owner going from being able to not being able to fund our spending yet again. The weakness of the Football Association is clear in its proposals for licensing sent to the Government as a result of the enquiry into Football Governance, proposals that still allow the Premier League a power of veto on all matters proposed by the FA Board.
The vested interests of those who seek to make a profit from the game will continue to prevail. Clubs will sink or swim by financial criteria not by footballing ones.
In addition there is no intention of removing the hampering Football Creditors’ Rule that has continued to drive us deeper into insolvency even when administration has occurred. In effect we have been forced to continue ‘cheating’ by not being able to offload our high earners. Ben Haim, a relic of Peter Storrie’s strange August 2009 spending spree, continues to drain our resources with no way of offloading him or re-negotiating his contract unless it is at his, or his agent’s, will. He does, at least, deliver some value on the pitch, if not the alleged £36k per weeks’ worth.
Others who clog our limited squad on high salaries do not necessarily deliver as much, for one reason or another. In terms of value for money, if this is cheating, it is cheating of a very inept kind. One cannot really blame the players, caught as they are in a culture that encourages such overspending and who have done their very best to help the club by deferring payment to the end of the season, taking the risk that they might not get anything if the club is liquidated. Unfortunately this is a factor that any potential buyer has to take into account; whoever holds the parcel at the end of the season will have to find the money to make good these payments. A stiff payoff for what will be, barring miracles, a League One club next season. Plus no chance of ridding the club of contracts that run on into next season should a player not be able to find a new club. The signs last January were not encouraging.
It seems that the cards are stacked against any club wishing to radically restructure its finances after an insolvency event. The rules of the competition act as restraints just as much as the constant loading of owner debts onto the club does. You might think that the rules are far more concerned with preserving the interests of those who wish to gamble with a club’s future than those who wish to preserve a club for its community, for there is no reference in the Football Association’s response to the government for encouraging fan involvement in governance. One wonders if that is because they may not wish to hear the voice of sanity amongst all this lunacy.
A club’s ‘natural position’ should be where its team takes it, not where its bank balance ranks it. So just exactly who has been ‘cheating’ at Pompey? Not the players on the field or the fans in the stands – that’s for sure.
Truly, no one else gives a f*** about the football any more.
The views of SJ Maskell are their own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of pompey-fans.com.
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