Wednesday, 18 August 2010

On a level playing field?

Yesterday, Championship football teams and their fans must have been casting an eye towards South Wales with a touch of envy and a great deal of frustration as Cardiff unveiled their new signing, Craig Bellamy.

That is Craig Bellamy, reportedly on £90,000 per week when he joined Manchester City in January 2009, joining Cardiff, reportedly anywhere between £15-30m in debt, who since December have had 6 winding up orders, have allegedly failed to settle football debts and only 2 days before the start of the season managed to get a Football League transfer embargo lifted.

One factor that must rankle is that Manchester City and their money can seemingly play God not only over other Premiership clubs, but over the Championship as well. A player such as Bellamy should be playing Premiership football, but as soon as relations between Roberto Mancini and him were irrevocably soured, his club were more willing to subsidise his substantial wages than sell him to one of their rivals. The fact that Bellamy was eager to join his hometown club must have helped smooth the move (but let's not forget his claims of being a boyhood supporter of both Liverpool and Celtic when he joined them). How other chairmen and fans must wish that he had been born in Sheffield, Nottingham, Leeds or 20 other towns/cities. However, wherever he went, does it make it right and fair?

The other issue is the continuing financial situation at Cardiff. There is no doubt that football finances in general are not in rude health. It must be a matter of when, not if, a significant club goes to the wall. Cardiff survived the winding up orders over a period of 7 months, during which promises of imminent investment from a Malaysian investor repeatedly staved off HMRC advances, until the investment finally took place. It was of course in HMRC's interest to await investment rather than push through any winding up order, but with a hardening stance from HMRC, other clubs might not be so lucky in the future. Somebody might be made an example of and it will not be a Chester City or Farsley Celtic this time.

The original petition was discharged in June and a transfer embargo lifted, only for a further petition and embargo to be put in place over the Summer. That was then lifted following settlement of outstanding obligations just prior to the season starting. This allowed them to register 4 new signings, Jason Koumas from Wigan and two younger players from Manchester United, Tom Heaton and Danny Drinkwater and Seyi Olofinjana from Hull. Even then, their Chief Executive Gethin Jenkins told the BBC that  they faced "further challenges" and wouldn't rule out a further embargo.  The signing of Bellamy, less than 2 weeks later, has suddenly highlighted this as a possibility.

As the transfer was announced, Leeann Dempster Chief Executive of Motherwell went public with a claim that they were owed (what to them were significant) monies from the sale of Paul Quinn more than a year ago. Now it is common place in modern day football for transfer fees to be spread over the length of players contracts and with numerous additional clauses built in, tracking monies owed and due dates will not be straight forward. I don't suppose that is something that will ever change. However, Dempster claims that the debt is the full transfer fee of £175,000 and it is now 13 months old.  If that is found to be correct, then football needs to take a look at itself. Why was the embargo lifted, allowing players to be signed, when this money was owing? Should there not be rules for settling football debts, given the precedence they somehow still gain in administrations? If it is down to the selling club to lodge a claim, why have Motherwell waited until now?

In the last month we have already seen football teams playing the taxman at a dangerous game, with Sheffield Wednesday quickly building a strong League 1 squad prior to the taxman coming knocking for overdue tax. Wednesday somehow took the moral high ground in apparent disbelief at HMRC's actions yet I think I am right in saying that the debt has yet to be discharged in full. If the taxman is looking at toughening up their stance, then so should the footballing authorities. Tonight, Football League Chairman Greg Clarke has warned that the registration of Bellamy may not be accepted until Cardiff have provided certain assurances to the Football League. He also referred to "an abiding principle that people in business and their personal lives should always pay their debts."  BBC website article Now it is time for him to be a man of actions not words and abide by his principles. Not just with Cardiff (assuming they are found to have defaulted), but on all clubs who think being a football club allows them to operate in a manner which any other business in this country is unable to do and gives them a right to gain advantage over those who abide by more prudent principles.

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