Seems like I can’t scroll through Twitter without someone wanting to ‘fix football’. The biggest thing folks seem to have is one of financial inequality in the sport, especially on weeks like this one where the UEFA Champions League is going on. If we make it so that the big clubs don’t have so much more money than everyone else we can allegedly have parity, and apparently parity is the holy grail of football.
Now, first of all, I contest this claim. Ultimate parity is randomness, and I prefer seeing the greatest possible sides going head to head for supremacy. And yes, that means that some smaller clubs get caught underfoot. But we’re Everton, we have the ambition to among the very biggest, right? Being in the position to crush people the way Manchester City has this season shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing in football, it should be the goal of every club that laces them up.
But that’s just how I feel about it, I don’t expect that’ll be a majority opinion around the world of football. So let’s think through a few of these potential fixes and see where they take us:
I’m going to start with the worst idea. A lot of Americans like this idea because they see it’s very normal in our sports and they say “why not in Europe too?” A few issues here...
First of all, there are some leagues in Europe that already have salary caps. The Airtricity in Ireland comes to mind. (They also run their season through the summer like MLS does, great league if you ever have the chance to catch a game.) The trouble is making a salary cap that works for everyone across Europe. The EPL adding a salary cap may make the EPL more competitive, but what happens when they run into PSG or Barcelona in the Champions League?
So the answer becomes to make the cap go across Europe right? Well now how exactly does that work? Beyond the EPL being on a different currency than everyone else, the finances in the various leagues across Europe are radically different. Even amongst top leagues what is considered a high salary is vastly different. Gonzalo Higuaín moved to Juve on one of the highest transfer fees of all time but his salary is paltry compared to what big stars in the EPL make.
Second, salary caps usually come with salary floors. What this means is that not only are you going to expect those big bad Manchester clubs to lower their wage bills but you’re going to be asking Huddersfield to pay people in a comparable pay range since they are in the same league.
An example of a similar problem was when Eibar gained promotion in La Liga a few years ago. In order to qualify for top flight play, the team had to raise over a million euros in capital to meet La Liga’s financial regulations, despite the fact that Eibar was completely financially solvent. You can see more about Eibar’s story in the video below.
Just as UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations have made it much harder for clubs to join the elite tier of European Football because they limit spending, a salary cap would but serious financial strain on smaller clubs around Europe while freeing up incredible sums for large clubs to expand their youth academies and facilities beyond what the small clubs could reach. A club like Everton would be fine. We have plenty of money of our own and would probably benefit from the top six having to limit their wage bill, but I think the game would suffer, overall.
If UEFA tries to tighten its grip on the big clubs too much, they well could just up and leave their domestic leagues and form something new. Imagine the twenty wealthiest clubs all playing against each other in the same league. It’d be wonderful theater and it would actually fix the inequality problem.
The Champions League would in such a case be peopled by smaller clubs, the Europa League would be basically irrelevant, there’d be a lot less money in domestic tv deals, etc. The EPL would probably do fine, not as well as it does now, but fine. Spain, France, and Italy would probably financially melt. But ya know what, there wouldn’t be any more big bad overwhelming monopolies of sport spoiling everyone’s fun.
By most financial markers, Everton would probably be included in such a project, and boy would we have our work cut out for us, but worldwide football, honestly, would suffer here as well.
A Bavarian Suggestion
Stefan Effenberg, former Bayern Munich player, offered a suggestion for the German league that is relevant here. He wants to fix the fact that Bayern walk all over the Bundesliga almost every season. His proposal involves splitting the season into two halves. The idea is that the top teams start from zero on points in the second half of the year and only play amongst themselves.
Now, the Premier League has two more teams than the Bundesliga so the schedule balance wouldn’t be exactly the same, but it could work. In this scenario, the top ten of the EPL would start at zero after Christmas.
As far as Everton is concerned this could lead to a really frustrating second half of the season. We would have to play the top six twelve times in the second half of the season and given our record against them recently... well, that may not be fun.
This year our opponents would have included the top six, Watford, Burnley, and Leicester.
Honestly, I don’t think the primary suggestions for ‘fixing football’ work. I also tend to think that Everton is best off with the finances of football being what they are now. We spend at an elite level, and that’ll start paying off over time. Just look at the top six in the Premier League. Two years again Leicester shocked the world and nabbed a title.
The Premier League has struggled in European competition for several years as the German, Spanish, and Italian leagues excelled. Now, year after year of spending is paying off. The top six has been singular for two years running and doesn’t look to change at all and they are all doing well in Europe. We’ll be there soon if we can keep spending and no one does anything drastic to ‘fix’ football.
Realistically, as long as there is promotion and relegation in football and we see clubs who have been in the top flight for the better part of a century going against clubs that pop in and out of the top flight, inequality will continue. The real question is what can your club do to put themselves in the best situation in light of that reality, and I think Everton is in a position where they can build a long term project that works under the present world football conditions.