It is very rare in sport that I watch my team or player get beaten, indeed pummelled, and I can genuinely enjoy watching the opponent. It happened this week, as I watched in awe as Manchester City travelled to White Hart Lane to give my beloved Tottenham a second towelling of the season and reclaim top spot. At least we scored this time, losing 5-1 after an earlier 6-0 annihilation. To be honest, in the first thirty minutes I thought that this time could be worse than 6-0 as the men in light blue played relentlessly attacking football that was as mesmerising as it was horrific to watch as an opposition supporter.
City produced 11 attempts at goals in those first thirty minutes, but scored only once. Much of the post-match press focused on our misfortune in having a player controversially sent off early in the second half, effectively ending the contest. The reality was that it could have been over a lot earlier had it not been for a couple of great saves off the goal line and some profligacy from the City forwards. I found myself thinking that City would be super-competitive if they were playing in the World Cup or indeed against any team anywhere in the world at present, and wasn’t surprised to hear our manager Tim Sherwood offer a similar opinion in the post-match presser.
After a mixed start to the season, City are on track to score the most goals in a season, and are playing a brand that is as attractive as could be imagined. Their defence is no more than solid, and heavily reliant on captain Vincent Kompany, but their attacking armoury and intent is formidable. It must be good for the game to have a team playing with such attacking skill and fervour.
A small article in the press late in the week offered an interesting counterpoint to the brilliance of the City team. It reported that City had lost £51.6 million during 2012-13 after losing £97.9 million in 2011-12 and £197.5 million in 2010-11. This is of course on the back of acquiring and remunerating a star-studded playing and management list, bankrolled by the deep-pocketed Sheikh Mansour. Thus far his considerable investment has reaped the 2011/12 EPL title.
A few days before third-placed Chelsea take on City, Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho has (predictably) raised questions over how City continue to be seen to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, which are underpinned by the principle that clubs should not spend more than they earn. Clubs found to be not in compliance with FFP are not granted a licence to play in UEFA competitions, which include the competition with the biggest financial rewards, the Champions’ League.
While some pundits think that the reduction in shortfalls and City’s increasing revenue stream might see UEFA give them the OK, there is considerable eyebrow-raising about two aspects of the revenue stream that some consider to be interesting accounting. One is the £24.5m from the sale of player image rights to an undisclosed external company, while the other is £22.45m City has effectively paid themselves by selling their intellectual property to undisclosed “related parties”.
Of course City are not the only big English or European club to record large shortfalls. They are neither the cause of the problem nor the problem, but they appear to be the biggest current example of the problem. The problem has become endemic, which is why FFP and new EPL regulations, the latter brought in 12 months ago, were introduced. (One of the key planks of the new EPL regulations is that clubs cannot make a loss in excess of £105m aggregated across seasons 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16. The penalty for doing so is to be subject to a tighter regulatory regime, which seems like a slap on the wrist with a feather duster for a rich and powerful organisation.)
City’s latest financial results come shortly after it announced its purchase of Melbourne Heart. I don’t pretend to fully understand what the implications of City’s financial position, or any penalties that might flow from UEFA as a result of it, might be for the Heart. What I do know is that it is a very good thing that the major Australian football codes all have salary caps in place. There are many more clubs winning premierships or in serious contention in Australian football leagues in all codes than there has been in recent times in English or Spanish football in particular.
It would seem from a distance that at present City demonstrates the best aspects of the world game on the field and its worst aspects off the field. Upon reflection it might well represent the best and worst aspects of modern sport. I won’t be holding my breath for things to change too much.