Saturday, June 19, 2010

When mega salaries backfire

Remember the glaze-eyed mantra that you may have to pay mega salaries "if you want to retain top talent"? Yesterday England's superstars proved it's a load of absolute bollocks.

Three months ago, the papers quoted England coach Fabio Capello saying that "money is to blame" for the slew of scandals and off-field problems marring some of the Premier League star players.

What if, however, such ridiculous amounts of money were also at the root of England's spectacularly lacklustre World Cup performances?

The problem isn't so much that England are failing to win against much less celebrated teams. Surprise defeats or simple failure to bring home good results have always been part of football and in fact it's happening to other top teams too (some so far have done even worse than England).

Which is why what pissed off most viewers last night wasn't so much the nil-nil draw against Algeria, but the total lack of drive and determination seen amongst England players. They looked just pathetic. Their performance was dire, dull, uninspiring, directionless (more here). Almost aloof. They were hopping about as if it was a training session. The perception was that those top Premier League celebrities just couldn't be bothered.

Hands up if you didn't envy the sight of how enthusiastic and motivated the Algerians looked instead. They may have been less technically gifted, less popular and less used to top-flight football but, against the likes of Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard, they didn't struggle one bit. They actually played much better.

Which is why last night's football can serve as a light-hearted warning against the glaze-eyed free-market mantra that exorbitant wages are a must "if we want to buy or retain top talent".

Premier League salaries have quadrupled in the last ten years, growing much faster than their main European counterparts from Serie A, Primera Liga or Bundesliga (see chart). Figures range from Frank Lampard's annual £7m and John Terry's £6.75m to Wayne Rooney's basic salary of £4.5m.

With his £6.6m a year from the FA, coach Fabio Capello is by far the highest paid World Cup manager. Just imagine that the second best-paid one, Italy's Marcello Lippi, is earning less than half Capello's money to do exactly the same job.

Algeria's Rabah Saadane is on just over £240,000 a year - less than the amount Capello or most of his players make in a fortnight. But let's just say that, if we were to judge from last night's performance, we wouldn't have guessed.

Feel free to call it a crass comparison, but there are parallels between the City binges that led the country to the biggest crisis in sixty years and football's spiralling costs.

There comes a point where somebody can be rewarded too much for what they may (or may not) achieve.

Remember when Sir Fred Goodwin was paid £4.2 million including a £2.86 million bonus in 2007? Yet what the man did was simply preside over the biggest loss in UK corporate history. What are the incentives, where is the motivation, what is there to be feared, if even the most colossal fuck-up can be produce rewards so gargantuan that not even your great grandchildren will ever have to do a day's work?

Watching England's superstars half-arsedly gracing the world with their presence as they took on Algeria last night, you could be excused for suspecting that Rooney & co weren't going to lose any sleep regardless of the outcome.

Those young men have already been rewarded beyond belief. They are multi-millionaire supercelebrities that are routinely treated like royalty wherever they go. In the event they feel a bit low (i.e. in case their pin-up girlfriend catches them red-handed with a fellow model) they can console themselves with yet another Ferrari or private yacht.

Could it simply be that stratospheric salaries can actually produce counterproductive outcomes?

Wayne Rooney's pig-headed criticism of booing from fans ("Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that's what loyal support is ... for fuck's sake", he blasted after the game) was further indication of how distorted those spoilt kids' perceptions have become.

Perhaps bingeing on £90K a week from Man Utd plus extra millions from Coca Cola, EA games and others really persuaded the young star that there should be nothing other than adulation and "loyal support", no matter how embarrassing their performance.

So perhaps the best chances of success in four years' time won't come from an even richer contract handed out to Capello's successor or masturbatory headlines about "the Spirit of '66" and Premier League superstars up there with the Brazilians, the Argentinians or the Italians.

Simply leave home the Rooneys, the Lampards and the John Terrys and give less celebrated First or Second Division players the privilege of representing their country instead. Guaranteed they'll try harder and play with some passion. And perhaps even stand a chance of actually winning something.


Paul said...

I don't like football so unsurprisingly hated this game anyway. That said mega salaries backfire, add Hayward to your list for sure.

2112 said...

What baffles me is why people like Twat Ridley (he who had to be bailed out after fucking up with Northern Rock) are STILL brazenly coming out with the same "arguments".

I suppose it's what I would do, though, if I figured out a way of thieving millions and the government made no attempt to stop me.

Charlie said...

All good points, but top Italian/Brazilian/French/German footballers still get paid lots of money too, and unlike England they actually manage to win stuff. Not to mention that England were pretty crap through the 70s and much of the 80s even before this wage explosion began. England's footballing problems are many, and I think there's more to it than wages (an inability to pass the ball for one). Er...not that you're saying it's just wages admittedly.

Paul said...

But our Rugby Union team are good they beat Australia 21-20 in Australia. Our Rugby League side is good as well. It's not all doom and gloom in fact our Union lads came back from a defeat the previous week to beat the Aussies they showed a bit of guts.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...


Just finished a great book on football economics and actually, high wages means you do well as a football club, indeed that is how you buy success is to pay high wages.

The two are connected very closely.

And actually, football isn't a business at all.

Remember, playing for England is not based on wages at all, nationally success is based on the following factors:

Experience of Football

These are the factors that donate national levels of football success and in reality, with these criteria England over perform based on these elements.

If you are at all into football and economics of sport, get "why England Lose"

claude said...

"Remember, playing for England is not based on wages at all, nationally success is based on the following factors:

Experience of Football

These are the factors that donate national levels of football success and in reality, with these criteria England over perform based on these elements.

Hi Daniel,

That book sounds interesting.
It's definitely not just down to wages (for their clubs plus sponsors).
When I said wages, I more generally referred to their general uber celebrity status.

Yet all that whining that the players are bored in their superposh compound/hotel; that Capello never lets them enjoy a beer; that booing supporters are not loyal enough; that they're not allowed to spend time with their WAGS; that they should have access to booze, babes and bets in order to get into shape again... plus the obvious lack of passion against both the USA and (particularly) Algeria... tells me that the England players are suffering from "paradise syndrome" or, better, "cocooned spoilt little rich kid syndrome".

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Trouble is, with relation to club football, which is where all the money is, high wages buys you success. It really is as simple as that.

Now of course this has knock on effects that are not so pleasant.

As for their status, well, a lot of people love football, a lot of people want to see top players (who get top wages). That is just the way of it.

Finally, the joy of sport is that is not predictable, you can take a whole array of factors that should suggest success but in reality, it is not achieved.

I'm not so doom and gloom as you on this issue, that is what makes sport unique.