There’s a line in an ABBA song, where they sing “Money, money, money, must be funny in the rich man's world. Money, money, money, always sunny in the rich man's world.” It’s not their greatest – Spotify tells us that is Dancing Queen – but nothing suits this age better, especially football.
They sing about money and how their lives would be made so much better with it and while true, it’s rather interesting how brilliantly it fits football and the world. The latter is a never-ending discussion and thus this article doesn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole but the footballing world deserves a little look. Especially after yet another Liverpool win and it is really shaping up to be their title despite us being just one game into 2020.
They’re on a 37 game unbeaten streak, – which gives them 101 points compared to Manchester City’s 92 and the league title if the season ended tomorrow – they’re also 50 games unbeaten at Anfield and already on their 19th win of the season with one draw. They’re 14 points clear of Manchester City, 13 clear of Leicester City, have as many points as Arsenal and United combined, more than the bottom three combined and the list goes on. It’s never-ending, brilliant and shows that Arsenal fans really need to be shaking in their boots right about now.
Because more than anything, the Reds are an inspiring project. Something for other clubs to aim towards and yet nothing describes the financial disparity in the Premier League better than that game because this is not an ordinary Sheffield United. They’re rather extraordinary and have played football like that with a host of teams struggling and yet, Liverpool stormed through with the Blades unable to even touch them. It’s not an over-exaggeration but instead the perfect description of what happened.
We expected it to be a contest because it’s the Premier League and as disappointing as it sounds, there was never really a contest and even Chris Wilder admitted as much. Liverpool are a super-team right now and it’s the world that football finds itself, especially in England. Manchester City did exactly the same thing two seasons ago, then we last season’s segue but 15 separated Liverpool and Chelsea. It’s the gap that everybody tends to forget about with the gap increasing as we go further down the table.
Things will become even worse this season and while the Premier League’s multi-billion broadcasting deal has tried to bring about parity, they’ve seen it go down in a blaze of glory. It transformed the league from a mere £60 million a year broadcast deal to the £1.5 billion a year monstrosity it has become in today’s world. And instead, while the mid-table, lower table and relegation-threatened sides have indeed got richer, so have the rest of the league with the big six earning absolutely nonsensical amounts of money now.
That’s just in the Premier League because the world around them has gone bonkers and have been for a while. PSG and Juventus rule Ligue 1 and the Serie A with an iron fist, Barcelona and Real Madrid battle it out for the La Liga title with Atletico Madrid simple there. Bayern Munich won the title nearly every season the last decade and earned, on average, more than double what Dortmund do. Then there’s the Champions League.
That wonderous overly competitive competition that may look competitive, and it is, but yet these sides dominate the knockout stages. That’s a scary future to look at even without a potential super global European league under construction despite the UEFA, FIFA, FA, RFEF and ever football association saying it will never take place. Because while globalisation has opened up the world to football it’s brought along its equally scary friends in power, incredibly large fan-bases and money, so much money.
But that’s only if the big clubs win because who wants to support a losing side?? And given the money at stake, losing becomes a scenario that clubs don’t just plan against for the current season but years ahead. And yet even then, money plays a much bigger role than we’d like to think. For example, Deloitte’s financial booklet, that releases every January of the new year, tells us that Manchester United (£590m) made £401 million more than Everton (£189m) for the 2017/18 season.
They (Red Devils) made £430 million more than Leicester, the tenth richest side. That’s £430 million more than the current second-place side and all they did was finish 19 points off first place (that season), produce a quarter-finals run into the Champions League and win the EFL Cup. That goes on and on but while more often than not the results haven’t shown on the field, the other statistics prove that there is something to worry about.
The numbers tell us that one look at last season’s battle for the top four/top six towards the end of the season says a lot. With three rounds of fixtures left, Chelsea lost three games in a row, Manchester United managed two wins in their last seven, Arsenal one in their last five and Tottenham stumbled into April without a win in the previous two months. And yet, nobody below them could even come close to even threaten them. Wolves were the closest and they sat 13 points behind. Relegation titles have been won or lost on less.
Then there’s the fact that Liverpool and Manchester City, for last season, accumulated 18% of all the points won in the top tier. It’s something that has never happened in the Premier League and yet it will, and not might happen again. Then the fact that the Big Six are scoring so much more and conceding fewer goals against sides not in the big six which has naturally played a part in goal-difference. That impacts points won which impacts the league position and that impacts the money earned which plays into the revenue gap.
Back to the revenue gap and as mentioned above the figure was between the highest-earning club and the seventh highest-earning side, but reduce that and it’s more or less the same. Because the gap between Tottenham (sixth place) and Everton (seventh) was £190 million. Move back ten years and the gap was less than £2 million. Naturally that more than anything shows that times have changed and the results across Europe are exactly the same with things becoming even worse we travel across the Big Five leagues.
Once again, the Deloitte report tells us that Real Madrid finished the 2017/18 season as the highest earner in the world and earned more £600 million more than Sevilla with Barcelona earning £500 million more. In France, PSG earned a £400 million more than Olympique Lyon with no other French side even coming close to Lyon’s tally. The figures are a lot and have dominated the article so far but it just pushes across a point and yet to combat this the world brought about Financial fair play.
But more than a decade into its reign and the sheriff is yet to ban a club for overspending so far. Wait that’s wrong – correction – they’re yet to ban a major club for overspending with a couple of Turkish sides getting banned over the years. But AC Milan got banned, and so did Chelsea, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, PSG, and Manchester City. Those bigger clubs?
AC Milan voluntarily stepped out of European competitions, Chelsea, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were never banned for financial reasons and Manchester City, PSG avoided it with a meagre fee. But no major transfer ban or a ban from European competitions which would give someone else a chance in their place. And yet, that’s not the biggest problem of them all for England and the world’s most competitive league because that might soon change. Yes, the English does have six teams challenging for the title every season as compared to the two to three across the other four.
The league has diluted competition across twenty teams to have an unprecedented six-team battle which has helped hand it that broadcasting deal but unsurprisingly thanks to the money that six might whittle down even more. Financial Fair Play rules will eventually find their voice and the four Champions League teams will gain an even bigger advantage over the rest. Add that to the fact that Tottenham have overperformed well above their financial capabilities and Arsenal do not look like a side that can sustain a top-four challenge at the moment.
Add that to Liverpool’s insane success, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United’s incredible money-making abilities and it will see them succeed. All this just adds up to a dangerous situation for the league and one that will lead to a cataclysmic fall from grace. Not what they want with another potential multi-billion broadcasting deal on the table and while solutions are available wherever they look, possibly the only option is a salary cap but even that’s hard to implement.
The MLS did it when they started their league – learning from the mistakes and unsustainable business model of the first league – years ago but for the Premier League to do it in the middle of a boom, it will hurt them and change the league we know and love so much. But at least it will help them do more than maintain the air of a competitive league and actually make it competitive. Isn’t that worth all the trouble in the end?