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Author’s Response to Manchester City/Death of Football Article Comments. Explanation and Justification..

An article I wrote last week regarding Man City’s financial exploits in recent years, entitled (somewhat hyperbolically) A Manchester City Title May Signal the Death of Football As We Know It, received an enormous negative response.

Anyway, I admit that the way I phrased my article was tactless, and open to interpreting my writing as bitter and insulting. I thought I would try and justify some of my points, before responding directly to the most frequent responses. Thanks for the comments, regardless of your opinion. As a new blogger, it is nice to see people have given up their time to read my article and respond to it.

Firstly, my argument regarding ‘tradition’ was poorly phrased. My point here, was simply that an economic model running successfully, i.e. in profit, was the only viable way to run a football club. The concept of ‘fairness’ is important in competitive terms, since a combination of building the club as a whole and performing well on the pitch is how the vast majority of clubs reach the pinnacle of football. I did not mean this to imply you need ‘history’ (in the traditional footballing criticism use of the word). Naturally, any team that has reached the top division of English football has done this and fits the bill. I despise people who go on about ‘history’ and ‘tradition’, as if it has any effect on their ‘right’ to be a big team. My Villa comparisons were made only because I know more about them than any other club, but they were a bit foolish.

Man City, of course, have always been big and built upon success. As many people rightly pointed out, the Etihad was built before the takeover and the popularity and success of the club is what drew Sheikh Mansour their in the first place. I did not mean to offend the club itself and its supporters, but I stand by my analysis that the actions of the owner in the last few years, and hence what the club has come to represent, are a reason (amongst countless other variables) for many of the financial concerns within football.

With regards to the Villa thing – it was tactless of me to put something in about the club I support, giving weight to anyone accusing me of bitterness. I am frustrated, because I do believe football is heading down a path that has no long term future in its current mould, which I believe my statistics regarding EPL debt and clubs entering administration shows. City are a part of this, but it is just one part. Villa have been woeful and are not a team even worthy of discussion. Lerner did indeed pump millions into the club, but this was with a long term model for overall profit, as I have highlighted in the original article, and I do believe that this is different to Chelsea or Man City etc. that are happy to write off huge initial losses. I have far more concern as a neutral in watching the Beautiful Game than I do in one club, anyway.

Most of the comments refer to Manchester United’s enormous transfer expenditure over the last twenty years, arguing that my article is biased. If you read the original article, I explain why this is a different thing, although I did not do it very succinctly. United’s growth was based on an immense network of global branding. Their flotation on the stock market instigated their transfer activity in the early 90s, but the stock valuation that initiated this was as a result of their image and their worth. I am not trying to antagonise, and I recognise that talking favourably about one half of Manchester whilst bad-mouthing the other half is bound to lead to criticism, but I am simply trying to explain why United spending money is slightly different. They make year on year profits. Their success comes from a line of success (on and off the pitch).

Breaking the monopoly of the big four is obviously a great thing for everyone, but there remains a difference between a team doing it as part of a fantasy football-esque project that writes off billions (as I have tried to point out in the original argument, this really does have long term damage on other clubs) and a club that hopes to pump money in in the short-term to reap the benefits in the long term. As many commentors have pointed out, this will no longer be possible after FFP; again, this is something I pointed out in the article. People saying UEFA are to blame are partially correct, but I posit that it is the bizarre economics of clubs that cause negative knock-on effects, that force UEFA’s hand into doing this.

The final general point, before responding to specific comments, is on the community projects surrounding Eastlands. I will hold my hands up and admit that I was ignorant of this element of City’s investment. If Mansour’s investment will genuinely provide jobs and renovate the local areas then, needless to say, this is excellent. If the improvements are significant (and i’m not suggesting they won’t be) then it justifies investments or bending of the rules. It is more important than football.

On the Etihad deal itself, there has been an enormous amount of concern regarding the deal, with many critics regarding UEFA’s decision not to investigate it as one of the most important moments in football history. It is of serious concern to many people – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2111563/Manchester-City-400m-Etihad-deal-banned-says-EU-watchdog.html.

I do not solely blame Man City, and I do not wish to offend supporters. The issues regarding debt in football are not even fully understood by economists within the game, and it would be naïve of me to attempt to quantify the role of ‘sugar daddy’ clubs in this.

I’ve enjoyed this experience, despite the almost unanimous negativity – it has taught me a lot about blogging! (I won’t be this naïve again…)

 

Comments

I have read all of the comments, and I wish I had the time to respond to all of them. Hopefully a large majority of the views expressed have been addressed above.

 

You state that FFP is to rein in debt – why then are MUFC not bothered by FFP at all? Debt is not the issue here. If you can pay your debt from income as United do (to the tune of £500m since the Glazer’s took over) then FFP won’t affect you.

I thought I would use this comment to respond to a general concern running through the comments, suggesting my article is flawed in its discussion of the Glazier’s debt at United, Man City’s long term plan to become profitable, and the idea that they are investing money that stays in the sport.

United’s debt does not affect FFP (apologies for writing ‘reign in debt’, that was a carelessly slip of the keyboard) because they can still make a profit. By doing so, their finances are solid and maintainable, and a model for all clubs to work towards (Arsenal are another club with an excellent financial system). City, I am sure, will become profitable in the long run in alignment with the FFP, but the initial investment, and the money being written off in the process, is where my concern is (for the reasons given in the article). I do not think it is accurate to say that money is being invested into football, or that there is a ‘trickle down’ effect. The inflation worries I highlight in the article have been expressed numerous times by coaches at lower levels who have experienced the effect first hand.

I don’t know any other industry where you cannot invest your own money! Where rules are put in place that prohibit freedom of choice in the way FFP does.

On a similar note, it is dangerous to assume football can run like any other industry. Personal investment to get a company up and running is one thing, but intentionally splashing billions, without expecting to see a full return, is different. As one comment pointed out, Microsoft run an operating loss on their consoles to make money back on the games; Tesco lose money on bread and milk in order to earn more in the rest of the shop. That’s life. Well, as far as i’m concerned, we should not just accept that this is inevitable. It is immoral. The world of football cannot afford to let people do this, and I can’t be going mad here – why do people think FFP is being initiated in the first place?

Clearly your preferred world is the one dominated by Arsenal and Man U, leading the fab 4. Where the CL money guarantees the same 4 every year. Big clubs stay big and small clubs stay small. CIty gate crashed somebody else s party in the only way possible and you know what, I’m loving it.

A common complaint i’ve had is summed up in this one. It is a fair point, but one that comes from my article perhaps being too aggressive, giving the impression that I lay sole blame with City. There are numerous reasons, which perhaps I will write about in future articles, for the current financial situation. Gate crashing was attempted by other clubs like Spurs and has had some degree of success. The gate-crashing at City or Chelsea is another level. There is no model in place to find a return on the investment once success is achieved. I am sure you are loving it, and I’m sure I would enjoy it too if it happened to my team, but that doesn’t mean that it helps the game as a whole, and I am trying to be neutral.

The business of football has grown global, with global investment – it’s a natural economic progression, and unless you can invent a time machine to undo all that has come before, then learn to live with it.

It is not a progression. Some comments seem to think that the investment stimulates the game and stays within it, and that increased money suggests a thriving system. This isn’t the case; football is living in a bubble of spiralling debt, inflating faster than it is expanding.

we don’t borrow a penny, it is our owners personal money that has been in the past converted into shares. So no debt here mate. […] Sheik Mansour has invested his own money, not borrowed money.

He owns it, sure, but the club itself is still running a loss. If he was to leave right now (and i’m sure he wouldn’t) then City would collapse because of the losses they are making. It still counts as loss, just because it comes from the owners pocket.

would not the death of football come from people under-investing in it?

‘Investing’ is a leading phrase, because it suggests economically sound implications. A lot of the money put in is being written off on wages, for example. Wage expectations of players (who as we know hold increasing power over clubs) rise when a club is suddenly able to double their wages, and hence our knock on effect on smaller clubs. Over-investing, without practical methods to actually turn a profit (and I don’t mean year-on-year somewhere down the line, I mean overall including initial investment) damages the infrastructure of the league.

Why haven’t Arsenal, Villa or Everton re-invested the transfer money they received from City into buying players of the same quality or better than the ones who left? 

As I wrote in the article, the problem here is that replacing quality is so difficult. It is not easy to replace the club captain, or indeed a winger who was always better than the club itself. Naturally, they both may have been sold to other big clubs for this very reason; that’s football. The reason why I feel it is different when the money comes out of nowhere is that, after a team builds for years (and I am not just talking about Villa, who frankly don’t concern me as much as watching the Beautiful Game as a neutral), they are sold not to one of the top teams, but to a club of similar stature that has received a sudden influx of money. These days if City bought a Villa player (highly unlikely!! want to take Heskey off us? Please?) then you could not begrudge the player for leaving.

My mate said I was cheating when I play football manager coz I went into the editor and gave myself 400 million to play with. Am I cheating?

Oh dear. Yes you are, I’m afraid – I think we can all agree on that! I’ve certainly never done that before… 😉

Thanks for reading. I hope I have cleared up some of my points. I understand why people saw my article as jealous and bitter. I do not hate Man City fans (the ones who have always supported the club). Unfortunately, because of what they have come to represent over the past few years, I do not like the club. Oh, and by the way, I do not like Man United either.

If anyone has change their mind about me and would like to follow my blog on twitter, the info is in the box at the top of the screen. Thank you. No disrespect on the Rooney pic! (it WAS an amazing goal…)

Alex Keble

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