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Should Premier League Clubs Do More to Help Financially Distressed Football League Outfits?

Pep Guardiola said they should, but what would that mean in practice?

West Ham United v Manchester City - Premier League
Look, we spent £60 million on him and he is warming the bench.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Pep Guardiola conceded that Premier League clubs should do more to assist financially distressed Football League clubs like Bolton Wanderers and Bury while also acknowledging that it would be difficult to draw the line on who exactly receives such financial support. It is naive to think Premier League clubs giving money to lower league outfits in a tough spot would help anything. If certain owners were given that kind of safety blanket then they would take full advantage removing the incentive to try and make ends meet.

Having said that, is there more the elite few could be doing to assist clubs lower down the footballing pyramid who are struggling to make ends meet? I certainly think so, and I have a couple of ideas on that front.

Financial Assistance

I saw something the other day indicating that £100 million is given to the Football League every season by the Premier League. This sounds like a nice headline figure, but in reality is peanuts.

Manchester United Unveil New Signing Harry Maguire
Harry Maguire become the most expensive defender in football history when United signed him for £80 million.
Photo by Manchester United/Manchester United via Getty Images

In the most recent transfer window Premier League sides forked out an incredible £1.41 billion on new players, which fell slightly short of the record for a summer transfer window of £1.43 billion. This was a net spend of some £500-£600 million with that figure being massively inflated by big money deals for Romelu Lukaku moving to Inter Milan and Eden Hazard going to Real Madrid.

Put into that context alone, before even considering the wages being paid out, £100 million is almost insulting as an offering to the lower leagues. Giving more to the Football League to help bridge the ever widening financial gap between the two organisation would certainly offer some benefits, but would likely not solve any underlying issues.

I do say above that throwing more money at the problem will not solve it. Having said that, creating a fund to allow an independent organisation to assist clubs cash flow could well help. Bolton Wanderers are no stranger to support from the PFA in recent times and I see no reason why the Premier League should not create a fund to assist clubs in the short term in a similar manner. Something like that would need to be rigorously regulated but could assist clubs who are in a difficult position.

Paying Properly for Young Talent

Premier League clubs love dipping their hands into lower league academy's and first teams to pluck the most talented young players away for pittance. But what if they actually routinely paid what these players are worth? What a crazy thought.

Liverpool v Bolton Wanderers - Premier League
Gary Cahill in action for Bolton following Arsenal’s failed pursuit to sign him on the cheap.
Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

The hypocrisy on this front has always been insulting. Manchester United fans this summer had the audacity to accuse Leicester City of being unreasonable when holding out for £80 million for one of their best players having just spent £50 million on a relatively untested full back. Back in the day Arsene Wenger tried his best to pay under market value for Gary Cahill and Luis Suarez but would always get very offended if someone would dare to try and sign one of his players for less than he thought they were worth.

Both of the above are of course internal Premier League transfers so diverge from the main point I am seeking to make here. When taking players from the lower leagues the Premier League clubs though really does enter a new world of under paying for talent.

One example which stands out above all others in recent years for me is Ethan Ampadu’s move from League Two Exeter City to oil rich Chelsea. Ampadu was Exeter’s youngest ever player making his debut at the age of 15 years and 10 months. He went on to make 8 appearances for the club that season, in the process showing he was already far too good for League Two. While at City, and taking his GCSEs, he was called up to the Wales squad.

Exeter City v Cardiff City - Pre-Season Friendly
Ethan Ampadu in action for Exeter City.
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Inevitably that led to interest higher up the footballing pyramid. Due to his contractual position Chelsea did not need to pay a transfer fee. Instead they needed to negotiate compensation, which is something they were unable to do so the matter went to tribunal.

Ampadu joined then Premier League campions Chelsea in July 2017, but come December that year they had still not paid a penny for his services. By this point Ampadu had already played for Chelsea’s first team. Chelsea were eventually ordered to pay an upfront fee of £2.5 million for the youngster in April 2018, almost a year after City had lost one of, if not the, best player their academy has ever produced. There will have been some add ons and what ever else but that did little to soften the blow at that stage.

As Exeter chairman Julian Tagg said at the time, what kind of message does that fee send to clubs trying to produce their own talent? I would venture it tells them it isn’t really worth the hassle. As it happens Exeter were lucky to receive that much as due to having a category one academy they receive more in compensation than other clubs. As Bolton have discovered in recent years, running a category one academy can cost around £1 million a year more than running a lower category academy, and as a result were forced to downgrade to a category two.

Where does a club like Exeter get the money to retain a category one academy? Well from the same place they make enough to remain in existence, by selling academy graduates. If the most they can expect to receive up front is around £2.5 million then it becomes more difficult to bring in the necessary cash.

Now my rambling set up is complete I come onto my conclusion to this point being that wealthy clubs owe it to the less well off to lay pay them properly for these players, particularly if they want the supply line to continue to exist. In the season Chelsea signed Ampadu they spent around £209 million on players including £59.40 million on Alvaro Morata, which at the time was a club record. Are you really telling me based on that they could not have chucked Exeter a fee for Ampadu which wasn’t simply insulting?

Discounted Loan Moves

Chelsea as it happens are also something of a relevant example in this context as they regularly have more than 30 players out on loan. All of the top clubs have massive first teams and under 23 squads and end up loaning a number of young players out every year. But what if this was done in a more targeted manner to assist local clubs as well as the development of their young players?

Taking the example of Bury and Bolton, there are a number of large clubs with prolific academies based near by. They all have a number of players who will want to go out on loan. Rather than seeking a fat loan fee and a good percentage of their wages why don’t they target the loans into their local sides?

Bolton v Everton U23 - EFL Checkatrade Trophy
Bolton taking on Everton in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

I’m not saying that Bolton should get the best that Manchester United’s academy have to offer because we are local and needy, but I struggle to believe that there are not a few players on their books that would benefit from League One level football at a local club. The more talented players can then go out to local clubs higher up the pyramid.

There are surely massive advantages to loaning young players locally where they are not uprooted from their support networks within and around their parent clubs. It would give them access to their parent clubs facilities while out on loan meaning they can continue to play an important and hands on role in their development. At the same time, local clubs who cannot afford to bring in talent can bring in players capable of making a real difference on the pitch.

Clearly there will be exceptions where players can play in top leagues or need to be moved go a different area to get away from distractions. But in a lot of cases surely league football can be offered in the place of sterilised and comfortable under 23 games? Surely this is a better idea than Premier League under 23 sides taking part in the EFLs tin pot cup, or whatever they call it these days.

Pre Season Friendlies

Pre season tours are big business and Premier League sides hardly seem to play a single local game these days, often hitting multiple continents in a never ending search for more global fans. I am not saying that I think clubs should completely do away with that because the financial benefits make that unfathomable.

FBL-SUI-ENG-FRA-LIVERPOOL-LYON-FRIENDLY
Liverpool in pre season action against Lyon in Geneva because obviously they would play there.
Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

But, why do these sides not take on more local teams during pre season even for just one or two games? Playing one match against a football league side would create a marque friendly for them. If the Premier League side were to allow them to keep the proceeds in full then no doubt that money could be put to good use.

Yes it would not generate enough cash to assist with a situation like Bolton’s, but that extra cash injection could help a club running on a shoe string.

Conclusion

In reality there is a lot that Premier League sides could do to support local Football League clubs over and above the suggestions above. Will they do anything more though? I would not have thought so. The elite are in such a thick bubble these days where all anyone cares about is those, to be generous, 20 clubs. As more and more fans turn their attention towards those teams and away from the smaller sides this problem will only increase and it will become less and less likely that the big sides will have the appetite to help the little guy. But hey, that is just the world we live in right?