The Money Game

Has football lost its identity beneath all the money that has been poured upon it? Billion pound TV deals continue to show the worldwide demand that the Premier league can attract, so why, in a time of such fantastic commercial success, are we seeing so many teams on the brink of collapse, and has the game been affected for better or for worse by the influx of foreign players and cash rich owners from abroad?


We have all seen the statistics about the increasing number of foreigners plying their trade in the Premiership, and the consequent decrease in British based players able to hold down a regular starting place at one of the country’s top twenty teams. Every time England go to the World Cup or the Euros we are filled with optimism only to be let down once again, and many point the finger at the lack of game time English players get at top sides. Many fans say that their team’s identity has been lost, and it wasn’t so long ago that Arsenal were fielding an entire starting eleven made up of foreigners. Why then are we seeing the increased interest from abroad, not only from players and managers wanting to work here, but also wealthy businessmen wanting to take control of a club?

‘Money makes the world go round’ is an appropriate phrase to answer this question. Salaries at top sides are at an all-time high, with stars such as Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, and Eden Hazard on salaries reaching hundreds of thousands per week. It’s not so bad for the rest of the players either, and very few will be on anything less than £30,000 a week. Put that into context with the average man and you can see why footballers have become the new rock stars of their generation.

The money attracts the players and managers, and they in turn improve the level of football played each week, which attracts more fans to the games. Greater public interest results in increased media coverage, and this means more opportunities for advertisers to get their products noticed. Consequently the clubs start charging more to the advertisers and sponsors, and the league itself charges more for the TV rights to show the games. Bidding wars between media companies keen to secure the rights to show live matches forces the price up drastically, and it’s no coincidence that every time the deal has to be renewed it is significantly greater than the last one. Billion pound exclusive rights deals from Sky filter through to the clubs, and this allows them to pay higher wages than other leagues. This is the draw for foreign players to the Premiership; high wages, quality football, and worldwide exposure every week to fans across the globe, and thus the circle is complete.

Foreigners have improved the quality of the football on show, although not all imports have added something to the league. In fact many have been terrible, but the ones that have had the ability have really shone, and the English fans have taken them in as heroes. Most fans don’t really care where the players are from, as long as their team is winning, and preferably playing attractive football at the same time. For those that aren’t up to the required level then the club simply sell them on, and continue to look for the next big thing. One of the reasons that this practice has become so common is that players signed from Africa, South America, or other, inferior European leagues, are much cheaper than their English counterparts, so teams are happy to take the risk as they have less to lose.

Seeing a wealthy businessman from overseas take control of a club is another sight that has become commonplace during the last 10 years, and although some have been fantastic there have been others who have taken teams to the edge of ruin. Notts County were one of those clubs that thought they were going to buy their way to success when a rich owner was announced as their new chairman several years ago, and Sven Goran Eriksson was proudly paraded as manager. However, a few months later and it was obvious that the whole project had been a sham, with no money actually available to the club. The alarm bells began to ring very loudly when a letter arrived on Sven’s desk requesting that the overdue milk bill be paid immediately. Not what you would expect from a supposed billionaire owner, and a man promising promotions and success.

For every fake sheikh there has also been someone with a genuine interest in football and the club they own. Roman Abramovich was one of the first to invest in a Premiership club, and his continued investment at Chelsea has enabled them to become one of the world’s biggest teams. They have won several league titles, FA Cups, and even a Champions League under his ownership, and it was all possible because of the funds he was willing to invest in the club. Most recently Manchester City claimed the title, a feat that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago, and any City fan will say so.

Has money changed the Premiership? Definitely. Have those changes been positive? Mostly yes, although there have been issues. Will this trend continue in the future? Almost certainly, although it will be interesting to see whether UEFA’s financial fair play rules start to affect the number of wealthy foreigners and star players moving to the British Isles.

Frustrated Coach