May 24, 2012

The Rise of Sheikh Mansour

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I should make it clear up front that I am a Manchester United fan. That said, congratulations to Manchester City, who, after beating Newcastle United away are all but guaranteed to win their first top division title since the ’67-’68 season. Despite my absolute loathing of the blue side of Manchester, City deserved it. Although the Premier League field is relatively weak this year, credit must be given to City, who, over the course of the season, have been the best team in England.

In the United States, we like to put asterisks on sports victories that seem the result of cheating or extraordinary fortune. Maybe Sheikh Mansour’s infusion of cash into Manchester City cannot be considered outright cheating (after all, such buyouts are not against any FIFA or UEFA rules). But it is impossible to compete with Mansour, and to a slightly lesser extent Roman Abramovich, who currently bankrolls Chelsea, financially. Soccer, at least since the inception of the Premier League, has always had haves and have-nots. But Mansour has spent over $1 billion dollars on the club since 2008. Read that sentence again. It is an absolutely unprecedented influx of money, and despite making Manchester City one of the world’s best teams and most popular destinations for soccer’s superstars, it has not been good for soccer as a whole.

Manchester City can outspend every team on the planet. They entice players with huge salaries, salaries that no one else can match. Every other team in the world has a wage structure, an unofficial cap on how much they are willing to pay in wages. Generally this number is around 50% of the club’s revenue. These controls are necessary to run a profitable business. City, however, have no such restrictions. Sheikh Mansour gladly eats up all of the debt that City incurs by having a wage bill, which does not include transfer fees or other expenses, that is significantly greater than their annual revenue.

Because of this, City have hugely inflated both the transfer market and wage structures. Teams like Tottenham, Everton and Newcastle cannot hope to compete with the Blues and are relegated to competing for the 4th Champions League spot. No team in England can sign the best talent if City are interested. Arsenal and Liverpool are the most affected by the millions of City and Chelsea, as their best players are poached from their squads (see Samir Nasri, Fernando Torres and possibly Robin van Persie). Increased wages and transfer fees are unsustainable, and are bound to lead to greater club and financial ruin as teams spend above their means in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to compete.

There are arguments that City have been beneficial to the Premier League. They mostly stem from the idea that without City, and before them Chelsea, Manchester United would have won the Premier League year after year. No one, including me, wants a one-team league. There is some truth to that idea and it is definitely true that Chelsea’s and City’s rise to prominence has been accompanied by an increase in quality at the top of the Premier League.  But as City, Chelsea and United push each other to greater heights, there is no more room for upward mobility. UEFA is implementing rules so that never again can a sugar daddy bankroll a team with no regard to financial repercussions. The door is shut at the top. The Chelsea/Manchester United duopoly may have been broken, but the title race will be no more exciting than it was.

City’s spending spree propelled them into Europe’s elite. It will also force United to be less complacent and to spend more in order to be competitive. But they have inflated the market for players to such an extent that the word success for anyone other than Chelsea and United means coming in 4th place. And the gap between rich and poor will continue to rise. Money bought City’s title. And it will buy them more.

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Original Author: Jeff Fitch