So Craig Bellamy is to grace the Championship for the rest of this season. He may well ‘sprinkle stardust‘ on the League (though Henry Winter is guilty here of at least a touch of Premiership blindness, as good a player as Bellamy undoubtedly is), but the question is really one of whether Cardiff should be allowed to sign him at all – a fact clearly not lost on Motherwell, owed debts by Cardiff in respect of a player transfer which took place in June 2009.
If Winter is right, and Bellamy has not taken a hit on his £95,000 per week wages (yep, that’s £5m per year) while Man City, to which he remains under contract, are picking up little of the tab, this is a massive investment by a club which was barely able to survive the 2009/10 Championship season intact from an HMRC winding up order. (About Man City’s involvement, Stuart James in The Guardian has the reverse view to Winter in the Telegraph although the same paper was reporting quite differently on Sunday.) Cardiff’s new Malaysian owners are thought to have injected £6m in cash to pay off the immediate debt, and the club’s statements are likely to see that Motherwell are also paid what they are owed, and quickly, but the club remains heavily in debt. Bellamy himself, plus loan signings on a scale which also encompasses Jason Koumas and Seyi Olofinjana, clearly both easily good enough at this level and likely to be on Premiership wages, are likely to produce significant distortions to this season’s Championship race (an issue which is apparently lost on Winter, although it ought not to have been). Odd seasons apart, the Championship tends to be an open, unpredictable competition with any number of teams in the race (unlike the Premiership) and a loss of competitiveness there associated with such distortions is regrettable. Inevitable speculation apart, the takeover of QPR by some of the world’s richest men has not led to a similar, and unwelcome situation in the Championship.
And that’s not just sour grapes from a supporter of a rival club (which has itself in the past been charged by rival fans with ‘buying the League’ (at the level below this one)). Football remains financially in deep trouble within the context of an economy whose immediate future is uncertain, while the involvement of foreign sugar daddies in the domestic game is at best mixed (the continuing laughing stock that is Pompey, anyone?). Whether or not Cardiff’s new owners see Bellamy’s wages as sustainable, it remains true that the glamour and the hype of the Premiership make ‘chasing the dream’ the stuff of addiction – and the cost, both to the clubs we support and to the level playing field which makes/made football competition a compelling spectacle, is likely to be immense.
The UEFA financial fair play regulations are likely to have some effect at the level of European competition (eventually…) but football, and those in charge of it, needs to take steps to control the addiction if the game is not to eat itself. A limit on the proportion of club turnover that can be spent on wages (and this from a committed trade unionist) would be a start and might start to return a semblance of normality and fair competition to the game. You know, it might just not be too late.