EuropeAdam DigbyComment

The More Things Change...

EuropeAdam DigbyComment

Disgusted with the amounts of money being spent on players these days? Then Adamo Digby has news for you: football has always been this way.

A well known International player is wanted by a team, they are offering a British record fee, half a years salary as a signing on fee and wages that are almost triple what his current club can afford to pay. They want to hold onto the player but the fee alone would wipe their debt and finance essential ground repairs. The buying club get their man and the world gets yet another tale of everything that is wrong with modern football, right? Wrong. The player is John Charles, the clubs involved are Leeds United and Juventus, and the year is 1957.

Pick up any newspaper, open any website or forum and you can guarantee you are never too many clicks or page turns away from the latest 'Manchester City are ruining football' story. From lists of the endless millions sunk into the club by Sheikh Mansour or outpourings over exactly how many third world countries have a national debt less than Yaya Toure's take-home pay, the stories keep being written, the outrage continues to grow. But whilst inflation and natural progression mean that the spending by the Eastland's club clearly dwarfs any previous records, the simple fact is football has always been this way.

The financial superiority of Juventus in the heydays of FIAT's ownership clearly distorted not only Italian football but impacted the game in England too, as the transfer of 'il Gigante Buono' serves to highlight. It is a far from isolated example too - when Bernabé Ferreyra moved from Tigre to River Plate in 1932 the transfer fee was more than twice the previous high and it stood as the world record for over twenty years.

AC Milan under Silvio Berlusconi became so dominant in the late 1980's due to the huge financial power they wielded freely, building a squad that over-powered Italian and European football. But it was also one that weakened their rivals at every opportunity, even if it meant players sitting on the bench earning vast fortunes. This was repeated ten years later by a Manchester United team that, despite being outspent by some rivals, was able to pay far greater wages to its reserve players and had a second eleven that could have arguably finished in the top four of the Premier League. Players like Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Nicky Butt and David May could have started games almost anywhere else but preferred the prestige - and lucrative wages - that went with being at such a club.

Of course it is not only huge financial backing that lead to this situation, the Bosman ruling of 1995 meant clubs could pick up out of contract players without paying a transfer fee. This gave birth to the myth of the free transfer, which is really a pseudonym for inflated salaries - the alleged €15 million paid in wages to Winston Bogarde proves these deals are anything but free. More often than not it is one of these giants that can capitalise on such situations - as Chelsea did with Michael Ballack a few years ago.

Talk of Chelsea almost completes the circle to Manchester City, as the carefree spending of the early Roman Abramovich era at Stamford Brigde is often cited as a similar situation to that taking place in Manchester today, yet first a nod to Blackburn Rovers is in order. At the start of the Premier League Jack Walker did what both Abramovich & Mansour are accused of trying to repeat - simply buying the title. An expensively assembled squad finally overcame Manchester United to win the Premier League crown, following a huge input of funds for transfers and wages from their wealthy benefactor.

But even that was nothing out of the ordinary. Whether it is an Arab tycoon, a wealthy Oligarch or media mogul, these men have always splashed their millions on the world game, and will continue to do so for as long as it soothes their ego. Gianni Agnelli is revered in Italy for building a dominant Juventus, Silvio Berlusconi has been elected to govern the whole country thanks in no small part to Arrigo Sacchi's tactical genius, and seven years ago Roman Abramovich would barely register on most people's radar. So it would seem that perhaps far from 'ruining football' as he is so often accused, Sheikh Mansour is merely continuing one of the game's oldest traditions.

You can follow Adamo on Twitter @Adz77,  for insight into the Italian game, past and present.

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