The moral dilemma of financial doping
Money, it’s a hit
Don’t give me that
Do goody good bullshit
For many months I’ve been wrangling internally over one of the big questions of 21st century football – when is it OK to spend more than everyone else?
On the one hand, I should loathe financial doping and everything it stands for – outside owners buying a club and then spending way beyond its means in order to make the task of winning things that much easier. It’s artificially enhancing performance – hence “financial doping”. It’s not fair on those that don’t have the money trying to do it the “right” way.
But what is the “right” way? Who’s to say the Middle Eastern-owned clubs spending billions every year on a squad their clubs should not be able to sustain without financial assistance are “wrong” to do that? This is the other side of the coin. Alongside this is the fact that we all love a club that spends money, buys the best players and tries to turn them into a superteam. Real Madrid have done it for years and no one has ever criticised them for it. And I’m sure that anyone who has ever played Football Manager has at some point picked a team with loads of money to try and build our own perfect squad – at the very least, we always try to make signings as soon as we take over, don’t we?
I certainly look on in admiration at Pars Saint-Germain’s purchases over the last couple of years – Zlatan, Lavezzi, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura, Sirigu, Motta. What a team that could be, especially if their Qatari owners keep handing managers the cash to buy some more superstars. For the neutral, it’s great fun.
But that’s the other thing – it’s all well and good thinking this way when you’re a neutral, but if you’re facing financially-doped teams, is it a different matter? Remember, it’s not only the big teams. As a Torquay fan, I’ve witnessed the rises of the likes of Crawley Town and Fleetwood Town, surging through the Conference and League Two with squads their small attendances should not be able to sustain, because of sugar-daddy owners – in Rushden & Diamonds’ case, it didn’t last and the club was liquidated.
It’s immensely frustrating as a fan of a club that prides itself on having never been in administration and very rarely in any sort of financial trouble – I take pride in that, but I’m also frustrated because it’s almost too stifling, when you know that other clubs around you are spending beyond their means and being successful in the process, like Swindon Town last year; sometimes I feel Torquay should live a little and spend some money on some good players, instead of just getting by on the bare minimum.
So do I apply this thinking to the higher leagues? Does this mean I have to support the new Financial Fair Play regulations which UEFA says will stop financial doping? It should, if I wasn’t a hypocrite. But I am a hypocrite. Financial doping is the only way the European football landscape has changed in recent years – the rises of Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG. FFP will mean the status quo will last forever – and anyone outside of it will be sitting ducks; if they’re lucky enough to produce any good players, they’ll be picked off by the big teams.
And what of the risks? They say clubs like Chelsea and Man City are screwed if their owners abandon them. But hang on, let’s look at Malaga – their Middle Eastern sugar-daddy owners decided to stop funding in the summer and it looked as if the club was doomed. And yet they’re through to the knockout stages of the Champions League and are sitting 4th in La Liga. Doomed? They’re in better shape than ever. You may suggest Portsmouth, but their troubles were because of an owner promising money and then not giving it to them, which could happen anywhere – that’s not a problem of financial doping; a problem of financial doping would be an owner like Abramovich spending loads of money and then pulling the plug overnight, as happened at Malaga. There may be risks but they haven’t shown themselves yet – has no one considered the possibility that these sugar-daddy owners might actually be in it for the long term?
For me, Man City are at the centre of this debate – not necessarily for what they have got out of it (a great squad, fantastic training facilities and their name on the Premier League trophy) but for what they haven’t, i.e. a record in Europe that is anything but terrible considering the money spent. Roberto Mancini should not be a manager someone would entrust with spending a lot of money on building a good squad of players – he has billions to spend on a football squad, with literally endless possibilities, and yet Man City regularly start Gareth Barry and James Milner. Think of all the great midfielders in the world he could have brought in instead of them. It’s no wonder they have failed two years in a row in the Champions League.
From this, you could draw two different conclusions. One is that anyone can win things with lots of money, as proven by Man City’s Premier League title win. If you take this conclusion, then you probably think that spending lots of money isn’t a good thing. But the other perspective is that it’s a lot more difficult to win things with lots of money than you might think, as proven by the gap between the Manchester clubs last year at the end of the season, and Man City’s failures in Europe.
It might look on the surface to be “easy”, or “buying a trophy”, but if money was that much of a leg-up on its own, they would have done much better in every competition. And they wouldn’t be drawing with a dreadful QPR team as they have done tonight. Don’t dislike Man City just because they’ve spent loads of money, but feel free to dislike the way they’ve spent loads of money and yet still underachieve – blame them for incompetency, not greed.
The fact is that superteams don’t always succeed. Real Madrid’s history has been littered with expensive failures and Thomas Gravesen. PSG are only just scraping to the Ligue 1 title with Zlatan, Thiago Silva and co, and were beaten to it last year by a Montpellier side built on a shoestring, with John Utaka as a key player. Bayern’s last few seasons have been up and down, having been beaten by a far less expensive Borussia Dortmund team. Inter failed in Europe until Mancini was given the boot; Jose Mourinho, the master of big-spending, promptly took them to the first ever Italian Treble. The manager is even more important than the squad.
So is financial doping right? Probably not, in the sense that it’s not great to spend your way into a massive loss and not worry about it. But does it guarantee success? No way. And does it make football a hell of a lot more interesting, especially when in the hands of an average manager who has been promoted way above their station? Absolutely. If Mourinho doesn’t go to Man City in the summer, be grateful. Spending millions only works when it’s in the right hands. Otherwise you might as well just flush those millions down the toilet.