Hello again, dear reader. My apologies for such a substantial delay in posting, I’m pleased to see my good friend Mr Mantle has kept this place ticking over, but it’s about time I played my part.

Now there have been a few interesting topics since I’ve been away: Capello and England, Danny Murphy’s mouth, Marlon King’s return to the game and Arsene Wenger’s ‘war on tackles’ to name just a few. However, in this week there is only one place I can start: Wayne Rooney, and Manchester United.

I see Mr Mantle has posted on the topic already this week, clearly taken in by the idea that Rooney was away to pastures new. Now I never totally accepted that idea, and the reason why was Fergie himself. Normally when a player crosses the manager at United he is out the door in less time than it takes Rio Ferdinand to say “drugs test”. However, the key was in Ol’ Red Nose’s language: “my door is always open”.

Let’s be honest here. If this whole argument was about money, there’s no way Rooney would have wanted to leave. Manchester United, no matter how much debt they are in, can and will match anybody in the world as far as wages for top players go. Anybody. And that includes both Manchester City and Chelsea, as well as Real Madrid and Barcelona. When this is considered, you have to assume that there is something else in this whole stance.

It is easy to say (indeed many already have) that Rooney has disrespected the fans and the club by his stance. Perhaps my views are because I’m not a United fan, but I entirely disagree with Hayward and his ilk. I think Rooney’s stance showed him to be at one with the United support, positioning himself with the green and gold campaign seen in Old Trafford each and every week.

“But Mike, he asked to leave…” I hear you ask. Indeed, that he did. But what better way to criticise the club’s owners by demanding a transfer, even when you don’t actually want to leave? If that isn’t a big “we’re going backwards” type of statement, when the best player at the club publicly questions the ambitions of the country’s biggest club, I don’t know what is.

This time last year, Rooney made a public statement which said that he wanted to stay at United for the duration of his career. Had that really changed in just  12 short months? Of course not, and despite the off-field activities of ‘Shrek’, United was as good for him as he was for them.

So now United fans feel let down by Rooney. What I have to ask is ‘why’? Because he questioned where United were going? Because he felt United couldn’t sign the kind of player that’d take another European Cup to Old Trafford? Because he questioned whether United could attract the best players in the city of Manchester, let alone England? Where have we heard this before? At last, one of your biggest players has come out and said exactly the same message as you have all been giving out for years.

Much like Liverpool under Hicks and Gillette, the debt at United is gradually strangling the club. The money that is generated through the turnstiles, the TV revenue and merchandise is now being spent on servicing the ridiculous-near BILLION pound debt acquired by Mr Glazer, rather than being reinvested into the squad or (heaven forbid) reducing ticket prices so ordinary fans can turn Old Trafford into the cauldron of noise it should be (think Celtic Park on a European night.)

I’d suggest United fans should use this as a springboard to continue the campaign to rid the club of the Glazer family. Continue to question the ambition of the club under the Americans. Continue to ask why Fergie isn’t given the kind of cash to match your “noisy neighbours”, especially when you consider how much is made by the United ‘brand’ (I now feel very dirty, thanks.) And continue to ask how you can replace Cristiano Ronaldo with Nani.

Although I do have to be honest here and admit that I find the state of United quite amusing. It’s almost like Fergie is playing a real life game of Football Manager, selling all his best players and signing Steve Guppy in their place. As to whether this is good for English football though is certainly open to debate…

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Apologies in advance, I feel a rant coming on as my nerves have been jangling for weeks now over the future of Notts County, and the facade of the Munto Finance era. Fortunately, it looks like the club has been rescued after Ray Trew’s investment, although our grand plan has to be culled.

Whilst some of us feel disappointed, angry or just plain broken-hearted over the whole affair, most of us are at least relieved that the club will live on. But Notts are by no way unique in their plight, and it is only a matter of time before one of the 92 clubs is officially wound up. But just how has it got so bad?

Well, the birth of the Premier League brought about a new era, with a bold ambition of becoming the ‘greatest league in the world’. Some would argue the aim was achieved (coincidentally, I wouldn’t. La Liga all day for me, but I can see the merits of both arguments) but at what price? The Premier League was to have more television coverage than ever before, more cameras, and ultimately, more money. And with it, the game officially moved from a sport into a business.

Now I’ve argued with people for years that football is more than a business. Indeed, I truly believe in the romance of the game. The idea that a tiny club can climb the leagues and survive with the big boys, or maybe sneak a cup win here or there, that fans of every club will one day have their day in the sun. Fortunately, there are some that agree with me. Others call me naïve or an idealist at best, or something I’ll not publish in a family friendly blog at worst.

I’ve had rants before about football ‘no longer being the game of the people’. Ticket prices in this country are getting to the point where they are simply disgusting, but that’s true in most sports. Indeed, I was quoted £120 for a Six Nations ticket recently, so it isn’t football alone. But now, the clubs themselves are truly suffering, and the recent court cases truly illustrate that.

Now the big issue here is that clubs are riddled with debt. Indeed, Manchester United, the biggest club on Earth, have a total debt of £716m. This is quite simply because when the Glazers bought United, they were able to buy them with borrowed money, which was financed against the club. As a result, the most profitable club of them all is hemorrhaging money. It is little wonder that United fans are so unhappy.

And then there is Liverpool. A club like United, purchased by American owners. Greedy American owners, at that. Another great institution of the English game, saddled with horrendous debt. Clubs like these though will never go under because there will always be somebody who wants to own them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case with the less fashionable clubs.

Indeed, as well as Notts, Portsmouth, Southend and Cardiff are all finding themselves going through her majesty’s courts at the moment, and Crystal Palace may find themselves heading that way in the not-too-distant future. Now I hope that these clubs are rescued, I really do, as the last thing I want is for any club to go out of business. But we need to stand back and look at the game, and take off the rose-tinted specs Sky have so kindly given us.

I know this next sentence will get pelters but I really don’t care, so here goes. Platini is right. There, I said it. (Although if Platini was consistent then I think all of us would have more respect for him. What about Real Madrid’s debt, for example? But that’s for another time, let’s worry about English football for now.) I would actually support sanctions against clubs who spend too much of their annual turnover. Platini has suggested an idea that clubs should be banned from European football if they overspend. It is certainly worth considering if applied consistently.

I’d also suggest that the Football League and Premier League work together to drive debts down. It is fair to say that now the only way clubs can succeed is if they have a ‘sugar daddy’, especially if you think about small clubs. Gone are the days when clubs could work their way up the leagues on footballing ability alone. And this in itself is sad.

Indeed, we have managers in today’s game who would rather finish 3rd or 4th than win the FA Cup. I find this preposterous, but it is of course the entry into the Champions League and all it’s riches. But the ownership here has to be questioned. The Football League, Premier League and the FA need to ask potential owners what their intentions are when they come into the game. Are they there to make money (the Glazers) or do they wish to stabilise clubs and win trophies? Owners who come in with the intention of making cash, and without any real interest in the game should not be able to buy football clubs. Indeed, had there been a better ownership system, Manchester United would never have been bought. I do like to contrast United and Liverpool with Aston Villa, who have a fabulous owner. But I digress.

In summary, this ultra-capitalist era of English football will undoubtedly have casualties, but the powers-that-be need to act to minimise these casualties. It is time for a change in ethos, a time to ensure the future of the game, and a time for football to become a sport again, and not solely a cash-cow. In the process, they might attract the working man back to the ground, and stop the steady switch of the man in the street to becoming an ‘egg chaser’.

I never want to see my club in court again. I’m sure fans of Pompey, Cardiff, Southend and Palace feel the same way. We need action to ensure that’s the case.

As always, I’d appreciate your feedback.

What’s it Worth- a retort

January 28, 2010

Now I knew Ross would write a piece after our little debate on Monday, and it’s only right for me to respond in kind. Let’s be clear on one thing; I find it hard to accept that anybody is worth £25 million. The money in the game is getting utterly ridiculous, and it’s only a matter of time before there is a financial slump similar to Serie A in the 90s.

However, whether we like it or not, transfer fees have now inflated dramatically, especially for forwards. This is because it is generally accepted that putting the ball in the net is the hardest job in the game, and it would seem £25 million is the going rate for a quality striker and goalscorer. It’s the difference between being succesful, competing for trophies, or fighting against relegation at worst, or mid-table mediocrity at best.

Carlos Tevez has scored 18 goals so far this season, and considering we’re only in January, that’s a good start in anybody’s book.

But the inflation in players prices because of goal scoring isn’t new, even if it’s just a season of goals. It has happened for years and years. From Collymore to Shearer, to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, it’s far from new even in the crazy, Premier League era. Shearer doubled the transfer record when he went to Newcastle, and it is a terrifying prospect what a 25-year-old Shearer would be worth these days. But what is it that these players have in common? Goals, and lots of them.

If you look through the Premiership, there aren’t many 20 goal a season players. In the bottom half of the table as it stands, I can think of only one: Darren Bent. The reason these clubs are in the bottom half? Generally, because they have a lack of goals. A club might survive with a 10-12 goal striker, but if they want to get anywhere, they need a striker who can hit 20 to go with their 10, 12, 15 goal forward.

It’s interesting that Ross points to Beckham, and says his value was £25 million which wouldn’t have been paid unless he was the world’s most recognised player. I’m not so sure, as he may have been worth more to a club on the field if he wasn’t trying to set up his “Empire”. Certainly, Sir Alex Ferguson thought so. Indeed, had it not been for the “Beckham Empire”, he may have never left Manchester United.

With Beckham being a wide midfielder, it’s unfair to quantify him by goals alone. That being said, he must have made 20 goals a season with his crossing, and scored 10 or so, which certainly contributes to his team’s success.

However, Christiano Ronaldo has certainly raised the bar, and his £80 million transfer fee certainly demonstrates that. Now some of this fee is certainly just inflation, but what is the big difference between Ronaldo and Beckham? Both are widely recognised faces. Both are wingers. Both create a lot of goals. However, Ronaldo will score 20 goals plus for his side. Indeed, his 44 goals in a season were instrumental in United winning both the Premier League and European Cup.

And if clubs want to continue being succesful, they need these 20 goal a season players. Manchester City bought both Tevez and Adebayor believing that they would be players of that calibre, players who would help them get into the top 6 at worst. If they achieve this aim, Tevez will have been worth every penny. Just like a Torres, Rooney, Drogba or Van Persie are, all of whom are 20-goal players.

As for the facetious comment about Robert Earnshaw, if he did score 20 goals in the top flight I’ve no doubt Forest would stay in the division. Considering clubs earn £30 million through just being in the Premier League, I’d say the £18 million Ross suggested for Earnshaw would be a good deal all round.

What’s It Worth?

January 27, 2010

Recently, I got involved in a heated discussion with Mike about the value of Carlos Tevez. Mike is of the opinion that Tevez was indeed worth the 25.5 million that Manchester City paid for him, I took the “Neville” view that Tevez is overpriced at 25.5 million.  Both our arguments are redundant in so far as Tevez is worth what somebody is prepared to pay for him, if Manchester City want to pay 25.5 million, then he’s worth that to them. Personally, it seems like a very expensive piece of gesture politics on behalf of Manchester City, but there you go.

While we were arguing, Mike made a point that I find difficult to accept, that being that if a player scores over 20 goals in a season that instantly makes him worth 20 million.  I can understand his point to the degree that if a player scores 20 premiership goals, that will probably spell the difference between mid-table mediocrity and a European campaign next season, which in turn may be worth 20 million to the club, but I fail to see how this can explain the sudden inflation of a players’ value.

Take this scenario, Nottingham Forest get promoted this season, next season, Robert Earnshaw scores 21 Premiership goals (Unlikely I know, but indulge me). Now according to Mike’s theory, Earnshaw’s value will then sky-rocket by some 18 million (at least).  This is a patently ludicrous scenario; Earnshaw isn’t worth 20 million and never will be, even if he scores 40 Premiership goals in one season.

A player’s value isn’t solely based on his performance over the last season, it’s based on his performance over his career up to that point and it’s naive to think that his value is only a reflection of what he does on the pitch. If we look at the career of David Beckham, sold to Real Madrid for 25 million, but would Madrid have bothered paying THAT much for him if he wasn’t the most famous footballer on the planet? The sheer clout of Beckham’s appeal in the Far East alone meant that Madrid were able to recoup most of the initial outlay through shirt sales alone.

So back to Tevez, is he actually worth 25.5 million? Well, as I’ve said before, that’s really for Manchester City to decide. Tevez managed roughly 1 goal every 3 games in all competitions for Manchester United (34 goals in 99 appearances, 19 of those goals are in the Premiership), so following Mike’s own logic, not even Mike thinks he’s worth 25 million. As Tevez scored roughly 10 Premiership goals per season at Manchester United, doesn’t that make Tevez worth around 12 million?

Ah, Liverpool. Despite what Sky, The Sun, and most from Cornwall will tell you, England’s most succesful club. The third most succesful club in Europe, and one of the best supported clubs in the world. However, they’re a shambles, both in the board room and on the pitch. As ever, there’s a danger of getting egg on my face with this post, but hey ho, I’m going to plough on into it like a two-footed Paul Scholes challenge.

Despite the backing that Benitez has received from Hicks and Gillett publicly, privately I’m certain they’re imagining his head on the chopping block. However, the complete farce that is their ownership of the Reds already has them on the brink of expulsion, and the removal of Benitez will certainly see them in the abyss. Indeed, due to his close relationship with those on the terraces, Benitez is pretty much unsackable

While Hicks and Gillett still got on, they approached Jurgen Klinsmann about the possibility of taking Benitez’s job. This was met with fury from the Koppites, who adored ‘Rafa’ for his European Cup win, and the board rightly backed down. That being said, now is the time that any board should be considering the Spaniard’s position.

Out of the Champions League, out of the FA Cup and only just hanging on to the coat-tails of Manchester City and Spurs in the race for fourth, Benitez should certainly be clearing out his desk. Despite taking the club to two European finals and an FA Cup win, his team just don’t have the depth to sustain a title challenge when Torres and Gerrard are injured. In his time there, he’s allowed Bellamy, Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch, Jermaine Pennant and Xabi Alonso to leave the club, leaving his club desperately short in genuine quality. Many Liverpool fans have blamed the lack of investment from the owners for Liverpool’s weak squad, but keeping those five would have gone a long way to reinforcing Benitez’s team.

I get the impression a section of the support are at last turning against Benitez, many believing the final straw came against Reading last week. However, before Hicks and Gillett start rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of finally getting rid the bearded one, they should have a long, hard think. There are many more Liverpool supporters wanting to see the back of Hicks and Gillett rather than the ‘FSW’ (‘Fat Spanish Waiter’ to fans of other clubs) and the removal of Benitez will see a massive protest.

So where does this leave Hicks and Gillett? Do they stay at a club where they are despised, swimming in debt, unable to invest in the squad and slide into mid-table mediocrity? Or do they remove Benitez from his position, and then get forced out the club by 45,000 angry Scousers? Or do they sell up to an owner with the financial muscle to take Liverpool forward?

This wouldn’t be a problem to them if they hadn’t dragged the club into ridiculous debt when they purchased them. Much like the Glazer’s did with Manchester United, Hicks and Gillett put their own greed above the supporters of the club. The attitude of the Hicks/Gillett team was summed up last week by Hicks Jnr’s email to a fan concerned at his club’s slide. The staggering arrogance of Hicks Jnr led to him being removed from his position, and proved that the Americans really don’t understand ‘soccer’ and it’s supporters.

Unless, of course, your name is Randy Lerner. Despite his ridiculous name, Randy is the perfect chairman for a Premier League club. He has very quietly set about making Aston Villa a true force in the game, backing his manager with funds, and allowing him to build one of the most exciting teams in the country. At the same time, he’s ensured Villa’s future is secure, tickets are reasonably priced and he is loved by the Villa support.

The two different styles of ownership are night and day, a million miles from each other and I truly hope Villa sneak into the top 4 at the end of the season. I would be surprised if there aren’t a few Liverpool fans praying for a bad finish too, in the hope that they can use the anger that will inevitably bring to force Hicks and Gillett out the door.

Liverpool finishing out of the top 4 and United claiming a record-beating 19th title might just be enough. I wouldn’t fancy being a ‘copper’ in the North West that day though.