Steve Wade on the follie of the billionaires in the Prem in another Something for the Weekend.
I have this vague memory of a joke, with one of those obtuse built in pieces of wisdom, which all the best sorts of humour celebrate; even those famous Irish ones the English are too unsubtle to get.
Oh yes, that joke:
It was something to do with one of the wars, or maybe it was both (the Great and the not so Great).
Okay, so the British recruits turn up and are not given any rifles but, the guys are told that they are to go into battle with broomsticks and they are to chant ‘gun!’,’gun!’, ‘gun!’, as they march towards the enemy (you get the picture). So they are all a bit sceptical but being stout hearted Tommies of the first water they do as they are told. So with the training done, they are taken to the front and when the signal comes they all stand up and walk slowly towards the enemy trenches, chanting, ‘gun!’, ‘gun!’, ‘gun!’. Suddenly the enemy comes into sight and as they get closer the British Tommies can hear them chanting, ‘tank!’, ‘tank!’, ‘tank!’.
The joke seems to be about the enemy always having better kit, or are just
that little bit more ambitious – even with their delusions.
So where was I, with no Villa to fret about?
I see the Red Scouse are about to take the Yankee dollar. How times have changed. It would have been unthinkable not so long ago, when clubs were a measure of all things local. No doubt they will carry on singing their Gerry & The Pacemakers anthem and allow themselves to be dragged along by the juggernaut of globalisation, while slurping their Budd and wearing their Nike dancing shoes but how many are singing I Like It, remains unclear but at five grand a share, it brings a new meaning to the phrase, the Moore’s the merrier.
Liverpool always had a particularly strong brand but I am told that they are as blandly rich as everyone else these days and all that Sixties kitsch belongs well and truly in the past.
The willingness of the fans to go the whole hog, or so we are told, seems like a measure of the desperation they must feel, at the knowledge that winning the Premiership has become such a fading pipe dream – an incredible realisation for a set of fans who got used to thinking it was a bad year, if they happened not to win it.
The whole hog turns out to be a brand new ground in the middle of Stanley park, casting an even bigger red shadow over the blue half of the city. Presumably they are busy changing those notices to ‘This was Anfield’ as we speak and the Shankly gates will be set up as a shrine. Sentiments aside, this is certainly going large in the ambition stakes and a brave grasping of the nettle by the fans. But gone are the days when you could buy a star striker from Doncaster or Chester City and rule the roost.
A measure of their ambition was revealed when they opened the books and announced that the club is living with a debt of 80 million squid, which I found quite staggering – Liverpool’s debts are greater than the market value of Aston Villa football club. This stark reminder of the scale of things in the Premiership, may not be all that surprising but – putting it in another way – Liverpool managed to accumulate this staggering debt, while getting all that lovely dosh from the Champions League, year after year; which indicates the sort of money they must have been spending in pursuit of that ambition. The willingness of the fans to believe that they can get a new ground and that all debt will somehow disappear, is just typical of the daftness of football fans. But there is a habit in Liverpool – if a guy wants something he usually just goes out and gets it.
You’ll never talk a loan.
The curious thing is, looking very much from the outside, were there any players Liverpool failed to sign, which would have transformed them from their recent perennial fourth, to Champions? From this end of the telescope, it always looked like they bought who they wanted and carry on doing so. Surely if they had the resources to win the Champions League, they had enough resources to win the domestic league. Surely, moving to a new ground will not substantially change the problems within the club – the usual and too familiar absence of that magic ingredient X.
What it does do though, besides giving them a bit more leeway in mismanaging their resources, is consolidate their position and stamp on the fingers of those clubs so eagerly scrambling up the greasy-pole so close behind them. With a single bound they increase their income stream and ‘exclusive’suddenly becomes the operative word, as regards the top four of the division. Suddenly, Villa’s little injection of fortune begins to look less like a passport to Europe and beyond, and more like a realistic guarantee of survival in the top half of the table – not much more. But as the success gurus will tell you – the belief in a limitation of supply, is what holds the rest of us back.
The top four does seem to take on a strange look and until I see some convincing Indian rope trick, which proves that it is possible to make debts disappear into thin air, I have to assume that every club except Chelsea hold on to their supra-elite status with a combined debt of something near a billion quid. I can see why Doug Ellis might have been confused by such things but the only conclusion is that the income from mere Champions League participation is so substantial, that servicing a debt of a few hundred million, while still paying out the big bucks for players, is all easily manageable.
But didn’t Real Madrid have a debt of 200 million – from their habit of walking the walk? Isn’t it always pissing in the wind?
There are signs though that even England’s elite clubs are beginning to feel the strain as the cracks begin to appear at Arsenal, and Man United’s season seemed to depend on the signing of Larsson, who as classy as he no doubt is, just didn’t look like the sort of move that you expect from the ‘biggest club in the world’. It was the sort of move I associate with Villa in the latter part of Doug’s reign – the half a loaf that is better than none. Are we witnessing some kind of dot-com boom as crazy rich people follow the competitive fashion of dispensing with the Rolex and enjoying the status of an English football club dangling from the key ring?
With three English clubs in the Champions League quarter finals, there is reasonable cause to assume that the quality in the Premiership is enjoying a new high but can they sustain it. Italy was once the golden calf of European football but not any more – can it happen here?
Rich people are no less prone to mad impulses as the rest of us and as a Scouser might say, ‘They do though, don’t they though’.
By Steve Wade