LYON, France. Sometime on Monday afternoon. The phone trills. It’s Dick Law, Arsenal’s chief transfer negotiator.
“Right then,” says Arsene Wenger’s favourite fixer. “How much do you really want for Alexandre Lacazette?”
The lads from Lyon press hold whilst they try to contain their mirth. “Oh,” says one with a theatrical wink. “How about… fifty million quid?”
Far-fetched? Perhaps, but not that far from the truth either. Ever since Richard Scudamore gleefully announced his new £5.14bn TV deal, clubs across Europe have been pulling down the pants of every gormless Premier League outfit that comes knocking.
Who else would pay £50m for a guy who’s never played in a decent league, isn’t close to being first choice for his country and ‘boasts’ six Champions League goals in as many years? It’s would be comical if it wasn’t so infuriating.
From the Championship to the National League and beyond, clubs are living hand to mouth, propped up by crippling debts or benefactor loans that will never be repaid. Others are so desperate for a saviour they blindly grasp at any cigar-chewing chancer who waves a wad in their direction.
Last Christmas, a shady Brazilian called Diego Lemos ‘bought’ Morecambe, seized his shares, then vanished into thin air without paying up.
The Shrimps were paralysed, with chairman Peter McGuigan admitting he looks in the mirror “about 30 times a day” over his ill-fated decision to sell up. But what choice did he really have? Morecambe were skint, McGuigan could no longer afford to cover losses and Lemos offered the only way out.
Barry Hearn expressed similar regrets about selling Leyton Orient to inept Italian Francesco Becchetti, and we all know how that turned out.
Yet while so many feed at football’s foodbanks, the fat cats are wasting millions on flagrantly over-inflated fees. It’s no different to the antics of Ronald Coyne, the Cambridge student who burned a £20 note in front of a homeless man.
How much pain and heartache would have been avoided with a fraction of that £50m? How many jobs would have been saved or mortgage payments made? All for the sake of a few crumbs thrown to the peasants.
For them, just one per cent of the Lacazette transfer fee would have been precious. Arsenal – or any other top-flight club – wouldn’t even notice it was missing.
Legally, the Premier League is under no obligation to share its wealth, as Scudamore and co. regularly remind us. Ethically and morally, however, it is obscene that one club can spend £50m while a local neighbour scratches by on gate receipts and fund raisers. Nor is the disparity purely financial.
Twenty years ago, Premier League wealth trickled naturally down the Pyramid. Of the 119 players who joined top-flight clubs during the 1996-97 season, 70 – or 59 per cent – were signed from a fellow English side. In turn, the selling club would also buy from English clubs, ensuring a competitive balance between the divisions.
By last summer, however, that figure had tumbled to just 48 per cent – and history shows things are only going in one direction. Overseas owners and managers have changed the landscape. Fans have been conditioned to demand exotic signings.
Resultantly, all those TV billions are leaving the game, creating an ever-widening financial and competitive gulf. Worse yet, because Premier League clubs know how desperate their lower league brethren are, they wouldn’t dream of offering big bucks for those players. It is a vicious cycle.
Over the course of the latest three-year deal, some £56m has been earmarked for grassroots and good causes, plus ‘solidarity’ payments of £70m to the EFL. It is not enough.
Whether it is increased solidarity payments – right down to Step 3 – more academy funding or something utterly novel, the days of burning money whilst paupers beg for pennies must end.
Premier League money has created a two-tier game, a world of haves and have-nots that stains its reputation. Only Premier League money can reverse the damage. It’s time they took some responsibility for the monster they’ve created.