The rich get richer

My biggest complaint with the economics of football is actually not the level of disparity. It’s how contracts are not honored by the players, and the bigger clubs act like despots in choosing any player they wish regardless of anything. Take Phil Jones and Manchester United (this from wikipedia):

  • Jones signed a new five-year contract with Blackburn Rovers on 4 May 2010.
  • On 15 February 2011…Jones added a one-year extension to his existing contract taking him up to the summer of 2016.
  • On 13 June 2011…Jones’ Manchester United deal was confirmed

So, one year and 30 some-odd appearances into a 6 year deal and Jones is already out of dodge?

I’m not saying Jones is a bad player and shouldn’t have moved, but, pardon my language, what the hell kind of fucked up system is this?

Whenever I explain the transfer system to my (intelligent-sporting) friends that aren’t into football, they often wonder why anyone would bother to continue to support a team that’s not Manchester United or any other of the Sky Four. Now, it’s no secret every player wants to play for the big teams. Something I’m totally okay with. We all want to work at the best firms, nonprofits, agencies, etc., so this is no different.

But the big teams have all the power (or, money) to make any transaction they wish happen without any regard to ethics or basic contract observance. United acted within the law per se with this deal, but what type of Hammurabi Code is this? It just proves there are no safeguards or guarantees in supporting a club like Blackburn, or Fulham, except one thing: money.

Yet there’s two problems with that: first, it’ not like you’re personally getting any of that money; and more importantly, the same club(s) can come back and swoop for your next blue chip prospect before you can even build something around him or achieve some title/cup too. The cycle ends before it can even begin.

An issue that’s plaguing baseball here stateside is perception that all the good or decent players end up as in New York or Boston because they have all the money and sign whoever they wish. Whether or not this is fully true is irrelevant as that is the belief most fans have. Unfortunately, the same is true in footy, but there’s one caveat:

In American sports, if a player has six years left on his deal, he has six years left on his deal. End of discussion. Even if he plays for the lowly Kansas City Royals, he can’t demand a move to the New York Yankees mid-contract because he wants more money. He has to wait out his deal and then sign with the NYY as a free agent, or wait for a contract year and hope the team trades him.

Same goes for a player on the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars wanting more money with the Washington Redskins, or Cleveland Cavalier with the LA Lakers in the NBA.

The American system, although no where near perfect and stems from an entirely different sporting model, at least gets player contracts right at its core. The system allows a team to build something around young players, which gives the fans reason to cheer, renew season tickets, or even give a damn. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it can.

The Oakland Athletics were a prime example of it working. Sure, their some payrole meant were never going to keep Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson for years and years. but they could at least build around them for awhile and achieve something (4 Division titles in 7 years). Same with the Florida Marlins with Carl Pavano and Josh Beckett (World Series title). Or, very recently with the Tampa Bay Rays with Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, et al (World Series appearance for a team that was awful from their inauguration).

Same goes if you look at the NBA with Chris Paul in New Orleans, Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, or, yes, even LeBron in Cleveland. LeBron left last year, but Paul and Durant probably won’t remain with their teams whenever their contract(s) expires. That doesn’t mean though they won’t have to give several years of service to their team and maybe make a Finals appearance.  Hockey is a bit different but I’m sure there are examples if you search hard enough (I stopped paying attention for a few years until recently; I’m also going to exclude the NFL as their contract system is a basket case).

So, in essence, a player in any sport the U.S. can’t just get tapped up, demand a move, and then get his wish (hello Dimitar Berbatov!). And likewise, big market teams can’t just rob smaller market teams whenever there’s a player they want. I’m not saying there’s a same degree of surreptitiousness with Jones, but how must a Blackburn Rovers fan feel right now? Or, a Sunderland fan feel when Jordan Henderson left for Liverpool?

Sure your club just got a crap ton of cash (that’s mostly all gross considering he/they were youth players), but for what? What legacy or memory is there?

Are you going to remember the money, or the cup final you could have witnessed him playing in?

13 thoughts on “The rich get richer

  1. In a weird way, the most loyal thing Jones could have done last year was to sign those extensions. It was clear from his performances that he was destined for far bigger things than Blackburn. The club still deserved to make a good return on a prospect that would be leaving far earlier than most. So the five year deal guaranteed that, since it meant that pre-contracts, etc. were off the table.

    The one year extension was made when Blackburn were in the flux. Fat Sam gone, inexperienced new manager, and questions about the new owners. No one would blame a player trying to escape that mire. Instead Jones showed a level of commitment; insofar as the message other clubs would take is that he’d happily wait for the right offer for both him and the club, rather than let a Sky4 team bully Blackburn.

  2. Well the thing is that Blackburn agreed to his contract (and quite recently) was happy with the £16m release clause, which Manchester United have activated. If the Blackburn owners weren’t happy with that clause they had the opportunity this season to get rid of it.
    It’s not as if Jones has purposely let his contract dwindle and someone got him on a free (or near enough).
    Blackburn is a bit of a basketcase at the moment with no-one quite sure what the Venky’s plan is – I couldn’t blame anyone from moving away from Blackburn to somewhere a bit more stable.

  3. Well if you support a team only to watch winning football then you might be right, but that’s not why you support a team I don’t think. You’re supporting the team because you want to or have to. It’s a bummer when the best players get sold on, but these incidences are surprisingly rare. While we’ve lost a pair of managers in recent years, it’s actually been a while (hasn’t it?) since we lost a player we really, really wanted to keep. Saha? And we lost Allan Clarke in the late 60s, so it’s not like this is a new thing (although that was relegation related).

    I dunno, it’s the way it is. United are building for the future and are paying good money for the privilege. It’s not like we lost Chris Smalling through a technicality (although Maidstone did!) and weren’t fairly compensated. And it’s not like United didn’t use him, either, which is the other accusation (that big clubs stockpile then loan out the good young players, which I do think is an issue). – Smalling was an important player for them in the run-in.

    The other thing is that £16,000,000 is probably more useful to Blackburn than Phil Jones. If they use that wisely they can buy 2-3 good players who can do a job and who aren’t subject to the “English premium rate”.

    1. I would argue that if Blackburn go down next season, Phil Jones would have been worth much, much more than £16m had he stayed and they stay up.

      But it’s also not about supporting a team only to watch winning football. It’s the fact that no matter what, the best teams have the ability to choose whoever they want at will, and there’s no repercussions. They aren’t sacrificing anything for it (e.g. NYY recently having all the best players, but no sustainable farm system which hurt them in the long run) but continuing to steamroll everything in their path.

      I dunno. I’m aware that’s the way it is, but I just refuse to be so fatalistic.

      1. I can see your point certainly, but I don’t think it’s as easy as all that. These teams have a small margin for error, and if Jones is no good there aren’t another three Joneses to try instead. It’s a risky strategy: Ferguson, Dalglish et al have to find a way to build teams that will be successful in Europe, that will be able to beat Barcelona.

        So while there’s risk there’s still an element of excitement. I think I’d be more annoyed if Hangeland and Zamora etc got poached on a whim, but that wouldn’t happen. Equally, Jones wasn’t Blackburn’s soul, he was just a good young player (like Smalling before him).

        Like I say, I know what you mean, but these are very specific signings. Your other point about Saha etc is hard to disagree with, but it’s the way things are. And it seems to happen rarely enough that teams can cope with these knock-backs. The 25 man squad rule also helps in this regard, in that the top teams have to be more choosy now, leaving some players for the rest of us.

  4. To be honest I’m not really sure what point you’re making.

    There’s a pecking order of wealth and the cream rises to the top. Was ever so and we know our place.

    Look at old league tables and it’s very noticeable that most clubs are in the same league now as they were then. There are peaks and troughs for each club but they invariably return to their natural level. We’re enjoying a peak but it won’t last. It never does.

    FFC are a second division club.

  5. Timmy i think you miss the point. Part of the reason for signing the longer contract is to raise the price. Blackburn of course doesnt have to sell. They could hold on and have an unhappy player, but they would at least have 5 years of that asset.

    By getting that long term deal signed (easy for Blackburn to do since I’m sure Phil Jones wasnt making much before), they now hold more leverage and can get 20 mil instead of 2 mil or whatever.

    1. But clubs can’t hold on to an unhappy player for long, and eventually it will affect the player’s performance to the detriment of the side. Whenever a player gets unsettled the only viable option is to sell.

      Look at Cesc Fabregas. Or Dimitar Berbatov. Or our Louis Saha. Or William Gallas. Or Ashley Cole. Or Garreth Barry. Or David Beckham (from LA Galaxy to AC Milan). Or James Milner. I could go on.

      Thankfully Mark Schwarzer got his shit back together after the Arsenal saga, but he was pretty bad until mid-October.

  6. Unfortunately, I don’t think US sports contracts are as unassailable as you would lead some readers to believe. Look at my Chicago Blackhawks. After decades of not winning anything, they build a truly great side that wins the Stanley Cup in 2010 only to have to immediately dismantle said side (and break several player contracts in the process) because of tightened caps. Now the NHL is invalidating some front-loaded contracts and some long-ish ones. I don’t think any sports system has this figured out yet Timmy.

    1. I wouldn’t say they’re unassailable, but that teams have much more control over their roster. When a player gets cut or traded, it is usually because of a salary cap issue. The team feels it doesn’t need the player any more, so they sometimes teams even eat a portion of a players salary just to get the player’s wages off their books.

      But my point was more the power relationships between players and teams. Take someone like Patrick Kane of your Blackhawks. If he leaves Chicago before his deal expires in 2015, it’ll be because the Blackhawks either can’t afford him, or he sucks and want to offload his salary to reinvest on draft picks or the like. The Red Wings or Maple Leafs or other big spenders can’t just come in this summer and demand Kane for oodles of money and not expect any repercussions. Likewise, Kane then can’t boycott the team to force a move elsewhere (Evgeni Nabokov tried that with the Islanders and was suspended).

      If Detroit or Toronto wanted Kane or Toews or Keith, they’d have to give something tangible up in return, not JUST money. And that is my problem with the euro footy transaction system.

      For me, losing a future star player for money alone doesn’t make me want to continue to support my club. Losing a future star for several prospects in return, does.

      (And sometimes those deals end up benefiting the team losing their stud player; hey-o Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals while my Maple Leafs still suck!)

        1. It would, and does, upset me if all the club got back was money. Because there’s no way to tell if that money is going back to the club or being written off as “management and administration fees”. See what I mean?

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