Football – a business or a sport?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this in recent days.

Manchester City have just won their first Premier League title in over four decades and no one could argue that the final day’s action was anything but an incredible sporting spectacle. However, just like Chelsea before them, City’s transformation into a league-winning side was accelerated significantly by a massive influx of money.

If the club’s owner walked away in the morning and refused to hand over another penny, City – simply – could not afford their current squad given their actual everyday income. Perhaps the biggest issue though is the fact that most City fans are enjoying the glory rather than worrying about a sustainable long-term future, and this amongst supporters who experienced hard times not that long ago.

If any of us sat down tomorrow and described how we would like our ideal football league to run, we’d hardly opt for the richest owner wins. Football journalist David Conn made some excellent points in The Observer last weekend when he discussed the differences between our two Champion League finalists this season and how both clubs are structured and operate.

The fact Rangers is a football club means the entity is still fighting desperately for survival. Any other type of business would have been wound up weeks ago. Would any type of genuine business allow its wage budget make up the vast majority (if not exceed) its income? And if football is not a sport then, why do players tell us it is each time they seek more money (all while basking in the adoration of thousands and declaring their loyalty and passion etc).

Drafting legal and business principles into football isn’t a bad thing – the Bosman ruling anyone? Yes, it means clubs can lose or have to sell players they wish to keep, but it also ensures that footballers start to have the same employment rights as you or me. I remember an ex-pro telling me about one particular Scottish club a couple of years ago (pre-Bosman). They offered him a new contract – involving less money – and he had no choice but to accept because they refused to release him. The club was covered by the fact they made an offer, even if it was a crappy one.

Uefa’s move towards Financial Fair Play is a step in the right direction. Governing bodies can legislate and enforce all they like – however, until clubs decide themselves to do their business properly and put their supporters, their local community and financial stability before the chase for glory, there will always be someone looking to make a quick buck… just like any other business.


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