Tag Archives: economics

Leeds’ Bournemouth Humiliation Worsened by PR Calamity – by Rob Atkinson

Don't forget the crowd bonus, Gaffer

Don’t forget the crowd bonus, Gaffer

You won’t hear me going on about tactical issues, team shape, diamond formations and all that malarkey. I know my limits. I have played football, mind you – in the distant days of my youth. I was goal-hanger-in-chief for Bradford College 1st XI in 1981/82, scoring in every game I played. I even scored a hat-trick past a keeper who’d played in a World Cup Qualifier. OK, it was for Oman. But still…

And even when my full-scale football days were over, I still played 5-a-side well into porky middle-age, undeterred by a snapped cruciate ligament.  I look back on my playing days very fondly, but I don’t kid myself I know the game on a deep tactical level, so I refuse to pontificate about it.  I know there are plenty who have no such reservations, but I also know that the pros think of these types as a rich source of amusement – not to be taken seriously.  So I’d rather stick to what I know for my scribblings.

For instance, I know enough about Public Relations to sort out the good, the bad and the ugly from the plain disastrous.  It was PR of that latter variety – the really crappy end of that particular stick – that Leeds United now stand guilty of, after yet another dire performance on the field. The team was thrashed out of sight by Bournemouth, a club who had never before beaten the once-mighty United.  Clearly, these are dark days, though Bournemouth are a decent side with a go-ahead young manager in Eddie Howe.  So it’s no real disgrace for this Leeds squad to lose to them – but, as is the case far too often with the modern-day Whites, it was the spineless manner of the defeat which really rankled.

Even that, though – even the appalling defending and general laxity of play – must pale into insignificance by the side of some of the quotes emanating from the United camp in the wake of this defeat.  The players, we are given to understand, are distracted – talking about the club ownership issues and, much more specifically, whether they are going to get paid.  This information is offered almost hopefully, as a sort of mitigating background to the inadequacy of the football Leeds are playing these days.  Bloody hell, guys.  Really?

Trust me – nobody has more sympathy for the working man and his right to get paid than I do (I also extend this courtesy to working women – outside the field of professional football).   I’m one of your actual left-wing reds under the bed, a proper old-fashioned socialist.  I’m deeply suspicious of management and I’m a strong supporter of workers’ rights, including the right to withdraw their labour if necessary.  What I’m not by any means as enthusiastic about is a bunch of extremely well-paid young men seeing fit to grouch – in these parlous times – about the possibility of not being paid on time, when their average bottom line must be forty grand a month at least.

To my mind, this is obscenely disgusting, and it is a PR disaster of the first magnitude that somebody has seen fit to voice such a matter as in any way excusing or making more understandable some of the players’ currently pathetic levels of performance.  When you think of the times we live in – times when we’re thanking God it’s been a mild winter so far, because otherwise pensioners face agonising heat-or-eat choices – it makes the blood boil, surely, to hear even a suggestion that athletes earning up to and beyond half a million quid a year should be grizzling about their lot if force majeure necessitates a temporary reaction to acute cash-flow issues.

There are people out here in the real world actually starving, for heavens’ sake. Yes – quite literally fading away from malnutrition in this first-world country of ours, reduced to subsistence on food-bank parcels and watching, horrified, as their kids become vulnerable to scurvy and rickets.  And yet, in this bleak context, you have the luckiest of young chaps, earning their munificent living in a manner most of us could only dream of, actually having the gall to grumble that this week’s £15k pay-cheque might not turn up on time – and this, apparently, is putting them off their game.  The sheer nerve and bad taste of that makes my head spin.  I don’t want to name names, but the person who has raised this issue of the poor players “worrying” must surely wish that, on that particular subject, he’d kept his gob firmly shut.

These are bad, hard times for Leeds United, there’s no denying that.  But at the end of the day, football is only a game – and the players who are so preoccupied with thoughts of the next fat wage-packet that they’re seemingly incapable of kicking a ball straight, must surely lack even the most remote sense of proportion.  So what if this week’s fifteen grand doesn’t show up?  What did you spend last week’s on, or that of a week before?  Are you down to the last six-figure sum in the bank yet?  Honestly lads, my heart bleeds for you, it really does.

There’s a real world out there, and most of the people living in it would laugh tears of bitter mirth at the very idea of a professional footballer at a club like Leeds United actually whinging about or even worrying about money.  As a breach of good taste and etiquette, that knocks passing port to the right into a cocked hat.  Things may well get a good deal worse at Leeds before they get better – but even if they do, all the sympathy should be reserved for the fans, those long-suffering fans who follow them everywhere, at vast expense, leaving home fans in awe of their sheer gutsiness wherever they visit.  There was the usual raucous army down at Bournemouth, most of whom will have arrived home, cold and dispirited and about £100 lighter in the pocket, sometime in the dawn hours of Wednesday morning.  How will they feel when they hear about the players’ petty worries?  Not too impressed, I’ll be bound.  They might well think – what if nurses, or soldiers, or fire-fighters decided to stick the bottom lip out and sulk when things got a bit stretched financially?  Where would we all be then?  And they might well be tempted to snap at a discontented footballer: “Honestly – grow up”.

Leeds United as a club doesn’t have a lot going for it at the moment.  It doesn’t own its stadium or its training ground.  It’s beset by takeover crises and an ownership and investment situation which seems to worsen by the hour.  But what it does have is undeniably the best support around – it’s the last real asset of the Leeds United “brand” and as such, it’s something the club simply cannot afford to squander.  But really – even a fanatic will run out of enthusiasm at some point – probably about the same point a saint loses the last shreds of his or her patience.  It’s a finite resource, like anything else. And if there’s one thing guaranteed further to sicken a devoted fan who has just made a round trip of hundreds of miles at great expense to see the heroes in white get well and truly stuffed, it’s to be made aware that those so-called heroes can think only about the next wedge of cash due to them – and sadly not about those poor fans, without whom there would be no game of football for them to get overpaid to play.

That’s a terribly sad situation, and I truly hope that all parties to this tasteless leak of unpalatable information get a lot of earache for it, together with a stern reminder of what real life is like out there in the real world. I’m a devoted Leeds United fan, and there’s not much about my beloved club that could ever genuinely nauseate me.

But this thing has – it really, really has.

Irresponsible Man U & Rooney Highlight Need for Salary Cap – by Rob Atkinson

Wazza's Wages

Wazza’s wages, Wazza’s life

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.

Wazza's Wages - a scientific comparison

Wazza’s Wages – a scientific comparison

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.

The Last Champions

The Last Champions