Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Monday, December 27, 2010

Contract Killer

In a special series over Christmas, the lads consider ways in which the future of football can be improved.

Today, Lakes begins by
looking at a novel way in which clubs can look at improving results on the pitch - and their financial position off it.

Coming to a football club near you soon. Well, Lakes can wish.

Football these days. It's all about the players. Overpaid, underworked prima donnas, the lot of them.

It's a criticism you hear time after time on the terraces. One-time 'star players' waste away on the bench, happy to pick up a hefty wage, bankrolled by the club you love.

With the security of a fat, long contract, players know they have a guaranteed wage for a certain number of years. All you can do is tear your hair out and bemoan your miserable life. Nothing personal.

How many wastes of space can you name at your club? I'll wager one or two at least. Wouldn't it have been great, with hindsight, to have signed those players to a shorter contract? Goodbye, Emile!

For a moment, let's consider my personal experience as a Preston North End supporter. We recently got taken for a violent ride on the HMRC's wide love rocket, owing hundreds of thousands of pounds to the tax man.

We were issued with two winding up orders. All the while, Darren Carter sat on the substitutes bench, picking up a rumoured five-figure weekly salary.

Carter had never really adapted to the hustle and bustle of the Championship and looked forlorn at the prospect of playing more than five minutes a game.

What a relief it would have been for both parties if we could've let him go easily. Like Rose on that wooden crate, releasing Jack's hands, he'd have slipped away into the murky depths with little more than a bubble of air escaping from his jaded lungs.

Instead, Darren was happy to pick up a wage for getting a slightly numb bench-backside, while we were too poor to sever his contract in one lump sum.

That's why I'm proposing mandatory one-year contracts for all footballers. Forget player power, it's time for a bit of club power.

This is the next generation of football: the generation that picks itself up from the floor, battered and bruised by the ITV Digital collapse, demanding agents, and boom and bust. The generation that finally takes affirmative action and kicks the prima donnas square in the balls.

Get rid of Carter: Preston's second most-useless employee called Darren

Here's how it would work. Players sign up to a club on a one-year basis. They have precisely that duration to impress. If a club wants to keep the player, they can give them another one-year contract.

If they want to get rid of them, there are no costly severance packages, messy backroom deals, or unsightly public rows - a player simply gets let go at the end of their contract.

It's not all doom and gloom for the players, either. With only a one-year commitment required from a club, they represent a low-risk gamble for sides looking for a solution to fill a problem position in their side, or looking for someone new to come in and shake things up.

The best teams, of course, will keep hold of their best players by offering them new one-year deals.

Into the deals they could build improved incentive-based clauses, such a "x amount more money and a guaranteed contract next year if you score 30 goals this season."

It would revolutionise the game, enabling clubs to keep their best players, but still provide players with the choice to move if it's not right for them.

Some will argue, wrongly, that players deserve a bit of stability in their lives. I'm afraid they sacrificed the right to that when they became overpaid sacks.

So what if player X feels he has to move up north? That's his choice - he became a footballer. It's hard to feel any real sympathy for players when the bottom line is they're paid thousands of pounds a week. I'm paid thousands of pounds a year. They can get lost.

There is, perhaps, a token bone of sympathy worth throwing to players in the lower division. League Two players, for example, might find it more troublesome to constantly uproot than players in the Championship.

But let's be clear: clubs have the option of retaining players they want for another year, and if a player really wants to stay then he needs to impress.

It would result in a greater effort from players, each playing for a new contract. Why shouldn't players give 100% effort? It would also mean the gravy train would stop for some less able, or less willing, players who put in minimum effort.

The kind of players who end up lurching from one club to another would quickly get a fair reputation as unemployable. That's exactly how it works in the real world - why shouldn't it be the case for footballers too?

Why should clubs owe players loyalty when players don't show any to their clubs? It's time to take a bit of that power back, football clubs of Great Britain. It's time for change.

On Wednesday, Turls makes his argument for bringing back regionalisation in the lower leagues.


  1. Great article once again and can definitely see the benefits of this approach - it instinctively feels healthier than the current system. One question: do you think that there would need to be a compensation system for smaller clubs who currently rely on the transfer income from developing young players and selling them on? This is how my beloved Torquay make ends meet - a percentage of our young players end up becoming too good for us, so we gladly wave them off onto the next stage of their career and pocket a fair sum which keeps us ticking over and ensures that we can continue to invest in the next batch of promising talent. It'd be enraging to put years of effort into a player's development only for them to be snapped up for nothing by a larger side. Am thinking that something akin to the current tribunal system for younger players would be required to ensure that clubs are rewarded for developing younger players. Views?


  2. Nice piece. You're absolutely right to cite wages rather than transfer fees as the real problem these days.

    My own club, Plymouth, are totally hamstrung by some of the pay-packets we're shelling out. Off the top of my head, the likes of Simon Walton, Marcel Seip, Damien Johnson, Steve MacLean, Carl Fletcher and Bradley Wright-Phillips are all on the sort of salary that we couldn't even afford in the Championship, let alone League 1. I feel your Darren Carter-sized pain.

    Of course, it's the directors' call to issue the contracts so they should be culpable when things go wrong. But if it's the club that gets it in the neck, then any alternative that would act as a safeguard to frivolous contracts being handed out willy-nilly has to be applauded. If there was some kind of blanket default understanding that players would only be taken on a year-to-year basis then that would certainly allow clubs to budget with more precision. Most boards just can't be trusted these days, so anything that would remove their ability to put a club in the mire through a few unwise decisions has to be considered. Moreover, if managers are going to continue to be hired and fired at the current rate of knots, then it would be beneficial to clubs to be able to offload players who don’t figure in the new man’s plans.

    Such a rule seems to be unofficially in place in League 2 where many clubs can't afford to offer players more than a year or two. See sides such as Barnet who only had a few pros on their books at the start of pre-season. I’m sure that Torquay run a similarly tight ship.

    There are problems, though. Would players just hold out for the best offers, leading to clubs having unsettled squads way into the beginning of each season? And could you even get such a suggestion past the PFA?

    Still, it's definitely worth putting out there and getting a conversation going.

  3. I definitely agree that the problem of unaffordable wages is the biggest one in the game (certainly below PL level). not sure that one year fixed contracts are the answer though. For Eg:

    1. Wouldn't it encourage wage inflation? Pushing the boat out for a year is easier when you can in theory let your players go next summer if it doesn't work out.

    2. The freedom of contract rules mean that any player over 25 could agree a new contract with another club in the last 6 months of a contract. So, a club could get held to ransom in January as it faces losing it's best players (ESP. Lower league clubs). And if half your team is off in the summer, how does that affect the rest of your season?

    3. When it gets to the summer, won't your best players, who you want to retain, just demand big wage rises or leave on a free?

    I wonder if the issue of wage inflation isn't better addressed by a properly policed and enforced salary cap?