Monday, May 31, 2010

Salary cap, anyone?

With the current situation in English football being that the Premier League seems to split into a top tier and the also-rans, I would like to raise a notion that I have become all too familiar with during my time in Australia. A salary cap.

Now I’m not saying for one second that I believe it will or should happen. All I intend to do is to put forward a case so that people can see both sides of the argument.

The salary cap, in effect, is the best way to get everybody playing on a level playing field. It will benefit the league as a competition and also reward shrewd management and superior coaching.

In Australia, the best example of the cap is in the NRL (National Rugby League). Each club has got a budget of $4.2m per season to spend on it’s squad. If you averaged it out over a 25 man squad, it equates to around $160,000 per man.

Of course, that is never going to happen. Most of the NRL clubs will target two or three of the top players as ‘marquee’ players and bolster the rest of the squad with solid, if unspectacular squad players. Brisbane Broncos for example, boast Darren Lockyer and Israel Folau in their ranks and both command well over $350,000 per year each. The rest of their squad are paid accordingly.

The cap, in my opinion, benefits the NRL in three ways.

Firstly, that every club at the start of the season genuinely believes that they have a chance to win the league. Obviously it doesn’t often happen, but they are not facing financial barriers like the lesser clubs in England do every August when the Premier League kicks off. There is no target of simply surviving. Everybody sets off with a fairly realistic aim of competing for the main prize.

More importantly, the fans have these expectations too. Can you imagine a Blackpool fan this year thinking that a top four finish is not out of the question? No……That’s because it is so far out of the question, that I’m sorry I brought it up! Not in NRL. In fact, last year’s ‘Wooden spoon’ side (Sydney Roosters) enjoyed a superb start to the season, and are genuine contenders for a finals place.

The second benefit to the NRL is almost a contradiction to the first point. In as much as that, by taking my first point literally, you would think that the league table completely changes from year to year. It doesn’t. And this is one of the reasons that I believe a salary cap ‘could’ work in the Premier League.

The same teams are usually at the top of the table come the end of the season every year. Not because of the financial power, but because the best coaches (managers if you like) usually get the best results. It’s no surprise that St. George Illawara are currently the top dogs in NRL. Their head coach, Wayne Bennett won 6 Premierships with Brisbane Broncos, before moving on to start another dynasty in Sydney. Another top coach is Craig Bellamy (not the hideous Welshman, this one is a hideous Australian) and his Melbourne storm side have won three out of the last five Premierships.

Top coaches win things. The world over. That’s why they get the best jobs. That won’t change. Nor will the fact that the top players will also want to play for the top clubs. Clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal will still attract the better players. Only this way, the ‘smaller’ clubs will have a chance to outbid them and create their own squad to challenge the elite.

Finally, the financial management of clubs will almost become as important as the coaching. Never before will ‘balancing the books’ have been more important. Decisions are often made in the NRL where top players are forced to move on due to the cap. Imagine the scenario…..Chelsea need to bring in a couple of players but in order to do so, must let Didier Drogba go to free up the cash to do it. Decisions must be made on what best suits the club, the coach and the squad.

To be honest, when I first came out here, I wasn’t a fan of the system. But having seen the amount of top players playing for the less fashionable clubs, I think it’s an idea that is certainly worth looking at.

Obviously the size of the cap would be far, far higher than that of the NRL. And another major stumbling block would be the fact that unless the Italian and Spanish leagues followed suit, that the best players would move on to foreign clubs and that the likes of United, Chelsea and now City would move to speeden up the inevitable European League.

Like I said at the start, it’s not what I believe to be ‘the answer’. But I genuinely think that if the rules were ironed out properly, it can work in some small way to stop the likes of Manchester City throwing their considerable financial weight about to buy the League and Europe. United and Chelsea have done it down the years and now City look like taking the next step.

One such rule could involve any home-grown players being exempt from the cap. Meaning that if Wayne Rooney had come through the junior ranks at Everton, they would not be restricted in terms of what they could offer him. Therefore, he may have never left the club he supported as a boy. One can only imagine the side that West Ham could have today had such a ruling been in place years ago.

So another benefit is producing your own talent. Put the work in with a kid when he is learning the game and you will reap the rewards years down the line.

Anyway, I hope you have found these points interesting…….if not perhaps a tad unrealistic.

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