The football business is like no other business, and that’s why no fool would buy into this business. There’s little reward or thanks.
As the transfer window disappears into the rear-view mirror, most clubs are left to lick their wounds and peer at the state of their bank account. It’s a good time to reflect how most of football is not like any other business; in fact, it’s not treated as a business at all. It’s so irresponsible that FFP has had to be brought in to stop clubs using their often ill-gotten gains to buy success. To say it’s not entirely successful would be to understate the situation.
There are those who, having made cash in other sectors, come in to the game and discover it’s a very different world to the business world. For a start, the public think they own you and the club, even though you do, and they believe they have an absolute right to tell you what to do, even though such advice often is stupid and fiscally irresponsible. The demand for transfers is insatiable. They poke their noses into everything and are quick to accuse you of not having the club’s best interests at heart.
Even if you spend all your money on transfers, it’s not guaranteed to get you any credit if the players don’t perform. Ask Todd Boehly; his spend is huge and would, in any other walk of life, garner you some praise and respect. Not in football. He’s little short of a laughing stock, his team a mediocre collection of individuals.
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Despite this, plenty want to throw money at football clubs, believing the bad stuff will not happen to them.
These are often business owners in other walks of life, but fail to understand different rules apply to football. For a start you have to both pay and pay for the players. No other business requires this, often arbitrary figure, just to get workers through the door. You have to pay astronomical wages, often to players who are not regularly picked, wages which impoverish the club and mean other workers have to get by on a pittance. You don’t normally pay workers who don’t work very often a full wage.
And there’s almost nothing to win. You might get promoted but that just amplifies your problems. And if you do, the glow of success quickly turns sour when you don’t win your first 10 games, even though you are now competing against nation states and billionaire venal capitalist outfits. No one cares. Ask Steve Cooper. A heroic promotion only delays the inevitable for so long. The end is always nigh for managers. But what can you do? You’re powerless to do very much to turn around failure.
You went into it for the glory but you’ve ended up with heartache. You can’t win. Even if you’ve won something, they’ll hate you next year if you don’t do it again. And on the plus side, you get a parking space.
You quickly learn that it’s not about making money, unless you’re called Glazer. It’s about breaking even, not incurring big losses while paying all the bills and making sure you don’t go bust. Make a loss, and you’ve got to dip into your own pocket. You won’t get any thanks. Players will happily fleece you and put you into bankruptcy without a second thought. You’re a sap to be stripped of all your assets.
So why do it? Prestige perhaps, but only to a degree. We have made it this way. You are out of your financial league.
If you lucked out and have got a great manager and some gems, you may say hello to mid-table Premier League mediocrity and wait for one of the behemoths to melt down. If things go wrong you will be hated and your name will be used in an insulting song; if things go right, everyone will love you, though not as much as the players. You have to want to do it and go into it with your eyes wide open. It will be hard and the buck stops with you. There will be bleak periods and occasional sunlit uplands.
The club is more than a business. It’s a civic institution in a way that no other is. You’re not the boss of a company, though sometimes you are. Even if you have infinite money, you are not insulated from the mockery or failure that others with far less money suffer. Your money will gain you no respect and don’t expect it to.
Suspicions are everywhere. Refs won’t give you the rub of the green, something that VAR has hardened into belief. If it turns out that you have a star player, you will have to have him sold to a much richer club and will use the money to buy someone who is not as good. You are on a hiding to nothing from the start.
There comes a point that if we make owning a club so difficult and unrewarding, the only owners we will have are Middle Eastern nation wealth funds and sporting portfolios. The days of the local mill owner being the chair are long gone but why put yourself through so much grief?
We need to offer club owners something more than that parking space. A chance to compete should be the minimum aim, but until you go down the divisions we can’t even do that.