Gerald Sinstadt: Finance rules likely to be fairer for some clubs than others
"MONEY is like muck, not good except it be spread." Francis Bacon, 16th Century essayist and philosopher.
"Money is like manure. If you spread it around, it does a lot of good. But if you pile it up in one place it stinks like hell." Clint Murchison Jr, 20th Century businessman and founder of American football's Dallas Cowboys.
Two minds 400 years apart reaching the same conclusion. To see how valid that is today, look no further than the Premier League.
This week, in two separate meetings, representatives of the 20 clubs have been discussing this very issue. No doubt while holding their noses.
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In the 1930s Arsenal were known as the Bank of England club because of their financial prudence.
The term took on a different meaning in the early post-war years thanks to Sunderland's profligacy in two signings. The £20,050 they paid for Len Shackleton was a record; they surpassed it by then paying £30,000 for Trevor Ford.
Even then there were mutterings about the ethics of clubs seeking to buy success. Sixty years on, that same Sunderland are said to have put forward a proposal aimed at curbing wage inflation.
Since returning to the Premier League in 2007, Sunderland's best finish is 10th. Manchester City, among others, are believed to be unsympathetic.
The gap between the haves and the have-less is obvious. Arsenal remain careful with their cash, but have still built a 60,000-capacity stadium.
Compare their potential income with that for a similarly prudent Stoke City.
The Britannia Stadium is only half the size of The Emirates and little more than a third as capacious as Old Trafford.
Thus, while the Potteries and Manchester are merely a few miles apart, the same could not be said of their football wages.
To be sure, Stoke's players are not on benefits, but their car park isn't known for its vast array of Lamborghinis. Though recently maybe a horsebox?
As this column has previously observed in a different context, there is no such thing as a level playing field.
In the United States a salary cap system can set a maximum for an individual player or an overall figure for the team.
The draft system allows weaker teams first choice of the better players recruited from colleges. Yet every year the baseball standings show the wealthy New York Yankees challenging for honours.
Our problems are different. We have promotion and relegation. We have parachute payments for failure, distorting the picture in the Championship.
If this week's meetings will not have been expecting to find a miracle solution, the delegates would still have hoped to come up with ideas to deal with the imbalance.
They would not have started with a blank sheet of paper. Three years ago this month, UEFA's Financial Control Panel first reached agreement in principle for a set of Fair Play Regulations.
The 2010 version runs to 84 pages – 27,000 words, 74 articles, 11 annexes. These have wide ambitions for the good of football but essentially, they seek to make clubs live within their income, starting next season.
Even though the ultimate sanction will be exclusion from UEFA competitions (eg the Champions League), making it work will not be easy.
Responsibility for not contravening 84 pages of tight legal jargon will fall upon participating countries. Clubs will have to comply.
Good news for some, of course. Next time you go on holiday, don't expect to sit next to a football lawyer or a football accountant in economy.
You can bet next year's season ticket to a hot dog that a forensic search for changes in presentation of an annual balance sheet is already in progress. Not everybody wants a level playing field.
The argument says the war between capitalism and communism has been waged and won.
Capitalism believes in entrepreneurship, in competition. If your club is owned by a sheik or an oligarch or an inscrutable oriental, you want him at the table with his cheque book when Lionel Messi comes up for sale.
But what if you believe capitalism is a recipe for dog eat dog? What if your club doesn't have the backing of someone with a big ego and deep pockets?
Are you content to be an also ran while the same exclusive gang share out the goodies among themselves now and forever?
All this may feel very abstruse and technical, less appealing than a good old ding-dong about whether that idiot assistant should have put his flag up when we lost 1-0. But in the coming months the battle over Financial Fair Play will not be easily ignored.
The Premier League delegates at their meetings this week will have been well aware of the scale of the problem. And they will have had few expectations.
Or if they did, they should have paid heed to boxer Kevin Mitchell. Last Saturday, he lost to Ricky Burns in the fourth round of a WBO lightweight tile fight. Afterwards, Mitchell said: "I never underestimated him ... He is just so much better than I thought."