Ben Chu: Football fan free zone

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The Independent Online

Outlook Manchester United scored off the field this week with two Chinese sponsorship deals. The commercial agreements with the Wahaha drinks group and China Construction Bank has sent United's shares on the New York Stock Exchange above last August's $14 float price.

This smacks of irrational exuberance considering the club has revealed no details about the size of the deals. Moreover, there are growing signs that financial constraints are biting on the still deeply indebted club.

It also emerged this week that United signed a letter to the Premier League alongside Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool calling for an early domestic introduction of Uefa's financial fair play rules, which are designed to prevent the sugar daddy owners of clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City from buying success by racking up huge losses.

It will be a fascinating battle. Will the stuffed suits of the Premier League side with the free-spending oligarchs, or the (mainly) American penny-pinching sports franchise types? And who deserves to win? Some have already accused the likes of United of trying to cement an existing on-field advantage, underlined by sponsorship deals like the ones announced this week. What they ignore, though, is that profligacy by a minority of clubs pushes up player wages across the board and wrecks the finances of teams throughout the divisions.

It's a debate that goes to the heart of the financial future of the nation's favourite game. What a pity, then, that it looks likely to be decided with zero input from the people who bankroll the whole enterprise: the fans.