At a time when Leeds United are sweating upon the dilatory machinations of the Football League as we all wait for a verdict on Massimo Cellino’s proposed takeover of the club, it is chillingly instructive to look at what’s currently happening with the recently-deposed leaders of English football. Leeds are aiming to leave behind them more than a decade on the breadline, an era when every penny has been counted and investment has been shockingly inadequate to support the ambitions of an ostensibly upward-looking football club. Man U, meanwhile are operating at the other extreme of the financial and moral spectra, being seemingly eager to throw obscene amounts of money at their own unwelcome dilemma – that of being abruptly overtaken by a pack of rivals who are suddenly displaying far more in terms of pedigree and potential.
The most recent symptom of this new high-water mark of the sickness consuming the game is Mr Wayne Rooney’s newly-inflated wage packet. A click on that link will take you to a real time clock of exactly how much the past-his-best scouser is earning – for want of a more descriptive word – after his latest reprise of the “holding a gun to your employer’s head” ploy. Usefully, it’s a per-second measurement – but watch those figures blur round as the synthetically-hirsute one racks up his wealth at an astounding £30 per minute. Even more usefully, there’s a direct comparison between Wazza’s Wages and the more modest earnings of a real-life hero such as a trained nurse. Now watch those figures climb for the poor nurse, sooooo sluggishly that it’s pitiful. You can even compare what Man U are shelling out in salary for the formerly good England striker with what it costs us all (in salary alone, not the disastrous wider economic costs) to have Mr David Camoron as unelected Prime Minister. Basically, by the time our hard-working nurse has clocked up her first 50p, the eejit at the head of the coalition has blagged an undeserved three quid, which just goes to show beyond reasonable doubt that the whole of creation has got things severely arse-about-face.
But for an exercise in the truly surreal, just look at Shrek’s Salary by the time Nursey has her opening ten bob. In that brief period, he’s trousered a jaw-dropping £300.25. He can probably afford three tenderly conjugal sessions with a high-class Granny-for-rent with that kind of dosh. Meanwhile, our poor Florence Nightingale will not yet be able to get herself so much as a vending-machine coffee – and even everyone’s least-favourite Old Etonian would need to fiddle his expenses extensively in order to get a decent meal at the Kensington branch of McDonald’s. No change there, then. Many thanks, by the way, to @ampp3d for the graphic illustration.
Now, the foregoing surely provides anyone’s definitive answer to “Name something so gut-wrenchingly obscene it makes your eyes and ears bleed”. But really – is Rooney himself to blame? Well, yes – he is, a bit, isn’t he? Certainly from a moral standpoint, anyway. At a time when so many are being driven to food-banks in order to keep body and soul together, it’s fair to ask how the grasping Rooney can sleep of a night – surely to goodness the thought of all those hungry people out there must trouble him a little, when he thinks of his £15 million-plus a year, merely for kicking a ball around. You might even think it’d put him off his game and make him a mere shadow of his youthful self. Well, something certainly has.
But there’s a case also for saying: if somebody’s daft enough – if they have the slack-jawed idiocy to lash out those enormous sums to a mere footballer – then it serves them right for being so dribblingly moronic, and who can blame Rooney for accepting their ill-advised largesse. Discount all the press reports of Rooney saying in the press how glad he was to commit his future to Man U (until the next time he fancies a fifty-grand a week pay rise, that is) – discount those reports, because they might make you sick. You would also feel quite distinctly naused when, after the first five minutes of Wazza’s first match following his little hike in salary, some fluffy TV reporter assures us all that “he’s clearly utterly committed to the cause”, or some such specious, fawning bollocks designed to make the mugs in Man U favours think they’re getting value for money. Pay no attention to all that flim-flam – because, at the end of the day, this disgusting, evil new contract for Rooney is to be laid at nobody’s door but that of the Man U Money Men, those pallid, grey little chaps whose job it is somehow to propel a moribund leviathan back to the top of the game – sans Ferguson, the diabolical genius on whom – with his coarse bullying streak, his taste for intimidation on an industrial scale and his deeply dubious “mind game” methods – their entire two decades’ worth of tarnished glory was founded. And if you don’t believe that – just ask Graham Poll, one of the men who helped create and maintain the Evil Empire, and has recently admitted as much.
The fact is, of course that – without the departed S’ralex – it’s going to be nigh-on impossible for Man U to regain their former undeservedly-attained heights, no matter how much money they chuck at the problem. The top four we have now – Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester’s finest, City, are just too good for the fading Pride of Devon to be able to compete – certainly under their current, cack-handed management. The big boys are simply superior – better run, better coached and with far better squads. The damage being done by Man U’s willingness to to lash out zillions on wages and – presumably, if they’re able to attract anyone half-decent – on transfer fees, is visited upon the game as a whole, not really on the super-clubs they laughingly call “rivals”. Because, let’s face it – Man U’s rivals now are Everton and Tottenham, who seem likely to fight it out with the ailing ex-champions for that prized Europa League spot. How are the mighty fallen, eh? And think of the damage to their so-called prestige. What – the “Biggest Club in the World™ ” – now stop that giggling in Madrid, Milan, London and Barcelona, it’s in very poor taste – scrambling to finish fifth? The club that prides itself on its amazing youth policy, doing what it’s always bitched about City and Chelsea doing, trying to buy their way to another title?? Surely not. How utterly, degradingly, humiliatingly shameful. But – arf, arf – how funny, too.
The thing is though, once the laughing stops, I have to turn back to my beloved Leeds United and painfully wonder – just how the hell are we ever to fight our way back to the top, where every single true Whites fan knows in his heart of hearts we belong – when the idiots currently competing with today’s elite are allowed to practice such abysmal fiscal lunacy? £300,000 a week for a faded old relic of a Rooney? If Leeds could have that as a wages budget for their entire squad, that’d be 20 players commanding an average 15 grand a week. Properly managed, that’d see us soar to promotion. But what kind of future would face us then?
As I wrote just the other day, unless we could somehow afford to lavish an extremely unwise amount of cash on a gamble for success – “living the dream”, I seem to recall it’s known as – then we’d have to settle for mediocrity as the absolute upper limit of our potential. That’s what this mega stretching-out of wage structures is coming to mean for the majority of clubs. It’s sickening for the supporters who have to struggle along on one fifteenth per year of what Rooney rakes in per week. It’s in danger of alienating even Man U’s own fans, who surely can’t be plastic suckers right down to the last Cornwall-based, Sky-addicted armchair. And it’s destroying the possibility of fair competition, upon which is predicated the whole theory of League Football – the increasingly-mythical “level playing field”.
Make no mistake about it, the bulk of “competing” clubs haven’t a hope in hell of getting anywhere near the cartel at the top, and they know it. And, ironically, this will apply almost equally to the club who, more than most, is bringing about such an unhappy situation by sanctioning such ridiculous amounts in wages to the avaricious young men who kick a football in their name. Man U are contributing, in large measure, to their own demise as a major force – through sheer, desperate lunacy.
So it comes to pass that, just as Leeds United appear to be on the brink of ceasing to be paupers and becoming what we would until quite recently have thought of as seriously rich – it turns out that we’re not going to be really rich after all. Not as compared to the top four cartel. Not even when you put them alongside the rich-but-not-good-enough likes of Man U and Spurs. For a club like Leeds, with such a proud history, with such loyal, fanatical and long-suffering fans, the prospect of being thwarted by what is, in effect, a glass ceiling is almost too much to bear.
But it’s a dilemma too. What do we actually want, if our dearest wishes were to be granted? Do we ask for mega-bucks to be spent on ensuring we win the title, as Man City and Chelski have done? Do we invest more wisely, improve our infrastructure and act patient, on the Arsenal model? God forbid that we’d just assume we have a divine right to be the biggest and the best, like that scummy lot from the Theatre of Hollow Myths, and start paying over-rated has-beens like Rooney a king’s ransom every week. Surely, anything but that.
This stupid deal, offering a stupid boy a stupid contract, on stupid money, has to act as a shrill alarm-bell for the football authorities in this country and further afield. Elementary physics will tell you that you can inflate anything by only so much – be it a bubble, a balloon or even an ego – before it bursts and becomes just a futile waste of air. The time is now ripe to think seriously about a salary cap. Nothing drastic. Nothing that will make an obscenely rich group of spoiled young athletes feel any sort of a pinch. Just a measure to ensure more equal competition between participating clubs, and thus retain the possibility that success can perhaps be achieved on merit instead of simply by those with the wherewithal to buy it. Because, ultimately, that is what the game is all about.
Nobody will listen. Nobody will pay any heed to what is staring them malevolently in the face. They’re all far too busy riding the gravy train, or at least clinging on tightly to the coat-tails of those in first-class. Perhaps they think – these pallid little grey men, with their clammy hands and glistening, moist, avaricious lips – that time is still on their side. That, by the time the gravy train derails – as it surely will – they’ll have made their pile, and it’ll be someone else’s problem. That’s not any sort of a strategy though – it’s the road to ruin, no error. Under such benighted, short-sighted leadership, our beautiful game will end up plummeting downhill like a greased pig.
Perhaps the Financial Fair Play rules will mitigate this disaster that’s approaching so remorselessly. But, sadly, rich, stupid yet sly people, focused on the short term and immense personal gain, tend to pay poorer, cleverer even slyer people to sort out for them inconvenient little problems like FFP. Loopholes will be found when needed, rules will be bent as necessary, palms will be greased with lavish abandon. The train will continue its headlong flight, until the final calamity occurs. Rooney won’t be bothered – he’ll have his £100 million or so and all the grannies and artificial follicles his mercenary heart could desire. It’s us, the fans, who will suffer – along with the littler people in the game, those who will be left trying to pick up the pieces after meltdown. All of this is so gloomy, I know. But who can put their hand on their heart and tell me that it’s not true?? Please, step forward – I could use the reassurance.
I’m afraid disaster is approaching – the kind of disaster that inevitably occurs when you put incompetent and unscrupulous people in charge of vast oceans of money, and fail to incorporate any fail-safe device. That, by the evidence of Rooney’s latest wages coup, is exactly what’s happening, exactly what will continue to happen, unless there’s some unforeseeable wising-up at the top, and a wage cap is implemented as a matter of urgency. Perhaps the football chiefs should have a word with their counterparts at the Rugby Football League? Do it, chaps – and take a notebook and pencil. But you know it ain’t gonna happen, so we’re doomed. And let’s not hark back to Leeds’ own relatively innocent financial peccadilloes at the start of this century. That was tropical fish feed to what’s occurring now. Honestly – three hundred grand a week??? No, let’s not cloud the issue here. I blame Man U, because Man U are to blame.
If I can have just one wish in the face of the dark age that is sooner or later to come – then it’s simply this. God, in your infinite mercy: please let my cherished and much-loved Leeds United – providers of England’s Last Real Champions before the start of the Murdoch Money Epoch – please let us win at least one more trophy – before it finally all goes tits-up.