Clubs in League One and Two have today voted in the controversial salary cap measures, effective immediately.
They will replace the Salary Cap Management Protocol system which has been in place and instead cap the spending of clubs at a certain level, £2.5m in League One and £1.5m in League Two. The move is controversial, fraught with difficulties and has been exploited before it has even been voted in by some clubs.
Firstly, the facts. Clubs will only be allowed to spend those figures and will be fined if they make a small breach (up to 5%). Breaches in excess of that will bring further sanctions which could be points deductions. It is very much like the FFP which has caused issues for Sheffield Wednesday this season but is a little more clear cut.
Whilst the rules do come into effect immediately, any players currently on deals with clubs will be assumed to be on the average wage for the division, £1300 in League One, for the duration of their contract. Similarly, teams relegated from the Championship will also see their squad’s wage assumed to be based on the average wage for the division. Clubs who have acted quickly this window, the likes of Mansfield, Blackpool and Bristol Rovers, will see their new signings taken at the divisional average.
To be clear, the salary cap applies to basic wages, taxes, bonuses, image rights, agents’ fees and other fees and expenses paid directly or indirectly to all registered players. When you consider that Sunderland spent £1.3m on agent’s fees alone last season, you begin to see how bigger clubs might find this a tough rule to follow.
There is some relief for clubs; payments directly linked to a Club’s progression in cup competitions or promotion are excluded from the Cap, while any income generated from players going out on loan is also deducted from the Club’s Salary Cap calculation. It’s not going to make a big difference, but the only real workaround would be offering huge bonuses for cup progression. It might make the Leasing.com Trophy a bit spicier, to say the least!
As a Lincoln City fan, I’ve been asked a number of times what I feel about the cap. I’m a little ambiguous about it. I do think something needed to be done to prevent certain clubs using their financial clout to get on (Salford City, Forest Green Rovers and Fleetwood, I’m looking at you), but to limit Ipswich and Sunderland to the same budget as Accrington and Rochdale feels a little unfair. I know those strongly in favour would say the best way not to fall foul of it is to not be relegated, but that’s not how football works. My main issue has always been with clubs artificially generating an income through a benevolent owner and then outspending clubs twice their size run efficiently. That said, why should a rich owner not be able to fund a smaller club, if he is doing so in a way in which they’re sustainable, ie covering their salary commitments for the duration of the deals. Look at oxford for example; they have an owner with cash and they are a decent sized club with a long history in the Football League; why should they not be able to spend their money?
The same goes for Peterborough United. If they sell Ivan Toney, they can only use the money as a transfer fee but are restricted as to what they can offer any replacement in terms of wages. The new proposals do tie one hand behind the back of clubs with a viable business model, but it also squarely floors those looking to simply spend away.
I think the biggest impact will be felt in League Two and the very top of League One. There is a worry this could open up a gap between the top two divisions and the bottom two, but over time that gap has opened naturally anyway. How often in recent years has a relegated club bounced straight back, or a promoted club come straight down? That’s not a rhetorical question, I have the answer: not since the teams relegated in 2010/11 has a season passed where one of the sides coming down have gone straight back up. In that year, Preston, Coventry and Doncaster were relegated, but in 2011/12 Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield were promoted. Since then at least one team has gone straight back up, That gap already exists, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking it doesn’t. What a salary cap will do is stop clubs overspending when they come down and getting into worse trouble; think Coventry, Blackpool and Portsmouth who have all fallen hard and had to build back up.
From a personal point of view, as a Lincoln fan, I have to be selfish and say I’m in favour. This protocol should be more enforceable than the last and hopefully, it encourages endeavour and coaching overspending for success. As a club which is run relatively sensibly, I would like to think it leaves us at slightly less of a disadvantage when trying to compete to bring in players. However, the system isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, but if it truly does save clubs and bring teams closer together, albeit in our two divisions, then it has to be a good thing. Much depends on what happens in the division above now, but if football fans thinking Championship clubs are going to bring in a salary cap when they’re chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they’re very much mistaken.