The Welsh Gull

Torquay United, the Football League and other stuff

The moral dilemma of financial doping

with 12 comments

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.


Written by James Bennett

January 29, 2013 at 21:40

Posted in Club Football, Football

12 Responses

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  1. I understand that many find sports entertaining. But with so many suffering from lack of their basic needs being met, I would further add to your inquiry and ask what other good can these millions do instead of flushing them in the toilet?


    January 31, 2013 at 18:50

  2. Very informational post, thanks for sharing. It was nice to see another view point. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!


    January 31, 2013 at 21:16

  3. There is no moral dilemma of financial doping. It is wrong!


    January 31, 2013 at 22:43

    • Sports is an industry. Overseas investors have come in and put money into businesses and companies they otherwise would not. This investment helps support these companies who in turn provide jobs and taxes needed to support the welfare infrastructure. This is the good that these millions—and millions and millions–do to help meet the basic needs of the poor. The sports industry is no less supportive of society as banks and factories, and none of this money would otherwise be coming in from overseas and put into missions or food pantries to help the poor. As for beating the Walmartization of sport, there are solutions. For example, the NFL imposed salary caps across the league. The teams can pay a lot to whomever they deam worth it, but then they have to pay less to other members of the squad. It keeps the smaller market teams in the game, even though they never have the same ticket sales and advertising revenue available compared to the cities like Dallas and New York. Or create a tiered system, with the financial Goliaths in a different league than others, an unlimited salary league, or a top level cap group. (Don’t forget, too, the trouble with putting too many stars on a team. Those studies are amazing to review.) Another change that could happen: Unionize the players on a wider scale and even eventually across sport so that there is stronger leverage against the owners at these different tiers and within these various sports. People need sport. There is a psychological benefit to it that should never be overlooked, and that is just from the spectator’s perspective. Youths and adults gain tremendous life advantage from participating in game, and that participation is encouraged when little ones have a chance to see sport done right, by the masters. The trouble with calling this “financial doping” is that the phrase weakens the brain’s resistance to finding body doping wrong. We accept capitalist strategies. “Financial doping” pervades our economies. Sometimes we call it subsidies, or tariffs, duties, tax rates, venture capital, Uncle Brian’s will, the stock market… We accept it. If we start calling investment and reinvestment, however it is done, “doping,” then we change the connotation for the word as it relates to drugs. We start viewing our bodies as part of a bigger system and that it is okay to pump cancer-causing agents into them and create hybrids of the young stars with potential whose bodies need just a bit of well, you know, “tweaking.” The problem you raise is real. There are solutions, but they take a lot of effort and groundswell and political support. Solutions to economic power imbalance always does. Just be careful with the nomenclature strategy. It can backfire. The Armstrong Affair gives us a chance to keep the word “doping” ugly. It should not be diluted because suddenly Chelsea and Manchester City fans convince themselves, “Yeah, hey. I think it’s a good word afterall. It’s done our boys a lot of good…”


      February 1, 2013 at 07:13

  4. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    I’m a fan of a different football (American Football) and we certainly have the same issues. Too much money being thrown at players and franchises. None of that money guarantees success. It’s the personalities and talents of the coaches, players and owners and the respect each have for the others that leads to success.


    February 1, 2013 at 04:16

  5. Good post right there! I am following you now. If you would like to know about Ocean Paddling then follow us back! Always welcome to visit our page. Regards



    February 1, 2013 at 11:24

  6. While owners financial doping may be a curse for the teams, at least it does not extends to the financial rape that we see here in the U.S. Here owners and teams go straight to their communities asking for money for extra tax concessions, community sponsorship, and additional perks (like a new stadium for the Miami Marlins) for their “struggling teams”. The sad part is that and at least in the case of the MIami Dolphins (baseball) the team players were “sold” to other teams less than a year after the $400 million new stadium was completed, helping fill the owners bank account, but leaving the community to pick the tab.


    February 1, 2013 at 12:47

  7. […] The Moral Dilemma Of Financial Doping: What’s “financial doping”? Is that when you snort a stack of dollar bills? What do you have against cocaine?! […]

  8. Really good blog!


    February 2, 2013 at 18:24

  9. Dropping some Floyd at the outset – like your style.

    Financial doping has existed since the year dot – people often discuss it as a new phenomenon, but according to the people who have the patience to go through statistics, money talks, always has done, always will. Money, glamour, history (in roughly that order).

    This explains why my club (Leeds Utd) struggles to attract the best or better than average talent in the league despite being a 1 club town with a decent history and an excellent stadium (realtively) – we don’t pays the money so people sign for Leicester. Not a dig at Leicester, well not much of one, but y’know we were domestic champions more recently than Liverpool.

    I think it has escalated quite a lot, which is sad – I mean yes it’s hilarious when you think about Torres and Andy Carroll, and much as I hated them at the time at least Chelski brought Essien to the PL. I get more annoyed that people don’t point the finger at Barce more often for their part in this (one of if not the world’s highest football wage bill combined with a scattergun transfer policy which involved buying the likes of Hleb and Gudjonsen then benching them, or Alexis, signed apparnetly purely to weaken Udinese).

    I actually hoped they’d go further and limit the Champs league places to actual champions of some sort – league champions and winners of some domestic cup competition, possibly with back door qualification via winning other competitions. Something to spread the lvoe a bit more.

    Mainly that’s because I’m forever upset that Ajax and Celtic are nothing more than minnows these days, especially Ajax. Or clubs like Valencia hamstrung by the the Real-Barca axis of fiscal evil (tv rights, somewhat dubious banking agreements, or so it appears – we agree to pay so long as you agree never to ask)…

    Good piece


    February 5, 2013 at 17:50

  10. i think it is not to be practiced , do not know about the morals…


    February 5, 2013 at 22:02

  11. Interesting.. this is worth reading..

    Tonia Lowry

    February 7, 2013 at 16:22

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