Sunday, 8 February 2015

Just All Wronga

There are times, and they seem to happen more frequently for me these days, when you just watch something happening in football and you just know – it seems all wrong.  You know it, other people must see it, yet we seem to just watch it unfold like some sort of car-crash.

I’ve written about the Loan System before and things haven’t improved in that regard, in fact they seem to have got worse.  I have long complained about Chelsea having virtually two full squads, one of 25 Premier League registered players and another 25 players loaned out to other clubs.  But recently I’ve come across the ridiculous behaviour of Parma in Italy who has an incredible squad of over 200 players!  Readthis article to get more idea of what’s going on

But the item which is causing me most grief at the moment is the one concerning Glasgow Rangers and Newcastle United.  Two clubs with the kind of support many others envy, yet whose owners appear to ride roughshod over that loyalty.  It’s been well documented what has gone on at both clubs yet the recent episode of Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley, buying his way into cash-strapped Rangers, just has all the hallmarks of ‘exploitation’ and underhand tactics.

The football authorities allow a system of clubs going into partnership and many of Europe’s big clubs have gained a number of feeder clubs.  But this is where the system begins to fall apart.  UEFA ruled that two linked clubs cannot compete in the same European competition.  This has lead to clubs bypassing the rules and setting up ‘informal’ arrangements which UEFA seem unable, or unwilling to look into and do something about.

Why is it so obvious to everyone there is a link between Chelsea and Vitesse Arnhem, based on the friendship of the owners of each club, yet the authorities just sit back and watch?  How is it Parma can exploit the rules so blatantly yet UEFA seem powerless to intervene?

In my article on the Loan System I advocated a player should only have on loan contract during his time at a club and then the parent club must decide whether they really want to keep him or let him move somewhere else.  The recent antics at Parma and Rangers only go to stiffen my resolve this is the best solution for football and footballers.

Back to Rangcastle or Newgers.  A few months ago Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, bought a 8.92 stake in Rangers and then installed Newcastle Director, Derek Llambias, onto the board at Ibrox.  This was a controversial move, yet you could see how Rangers were hardly in a strong position to refuse.  You can argue Ashley has been a financial success at Newcastle, although critics point to the whole process being little more than a marketing campaign for his Sports Direct brand.  Rangers are like the proverbial debt-ridden borrower turned down by all standard forms of lending and having to take the option of a loan-shark.  Of course, as anyone who has become trapped in a spiral of debt will testify, once you accept the offer of further money it becomes almost impossible to turn it down in the future.In amongst all this let’s not forget Newcastle are sponsored by Wonga.  

During the recent transfer window, Newcastle loaned five players to Rangers, Haris Vuckic, Gael Bigirimana, Shane Ferguson, Remie Streete and Kevin Mbabu.  It has since emerged that Rangers manager, Kenny McDowall, has been told he must play these players.  In a recent press conference, McDowall was asked whether he had to play the Newcastle players in each game, “Yes. They’re obviously good players. They’ve played for Newcastle. I’ll carry on and do what I’m told to do”.

What a ridiculous state of affairs.

Firstly, Ashley’s tactic of becoming Rangers’ “banker” is cunning as he will avoid the prospect of UEFA getting interested in him as two clubs owned by the same person cannot play in the same European competition.  Ashley has loaned £10m gaining control of the training ground, registered trademarks and other properties.  The loan also entitled him to nominate Llambias and Barry Leach of Sports Direct onto the Ibrox board.  All the Scottish FA have been able to do is warn Ashley against increasing his stake beyond 30%.

The part which I find utterly unacceptable is the unfair competitive advantage Rangers now enjoys.  We don’t know who is paying these players, presumably either way it will be Ashley, and therefore Rangers are able to benefit from these deals in a way other Scottish clubs were not able to.  When clubs arrange loan deals they negotiate who will cover the player’s wages.  If the parent club is willing to continue paying their employee’s wages then the recipient club gets to use that player for nothing.  But if a clubs such as Celtic, Hearts or even Queen of the South approached Newcastle to loan these players for nothing, they are likely to be told ‘no’.  So therefore Rangers are at an advantage purely because they are spending Ashley’s money.

Unbelievable as it may seem for a club so financially stretched, Rangers already has the biggest squad in Scotland, with many players out on loan.  Clearly they’re unlikely to be in a position financially to be able to afford to loan in more players.  Again this is where they’re at an unfair competitive advantage to other clubs who also may not be able to loan in more players, no matter how much they might need them.

Actions such as pushing boundaries in this way only gets worse unless dealt with.  Unless the authorities step in, further actions will only push on from this position.  We’ll never go back. A journalist recently likened this whole practice by clubs as “shops wanting to trade with other people’s stock”. 

You feel sorry for Rangers fans who are now facing more headlines when all they want to do is continue to make their way back to the Scottish Premier League and back into Europe, and forget about the disaster of the past few years.

It just seems wholly wrong to me.  This is where football continually struggles with itself in the question of whether it is a business or a sport.  All the money in the game would point to it being considered a business, yet the practice of how it treats footballers means it remains a sport.

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