View from City Road: Level playing field is wrong for football

Market forces are behind the recent troubles of our national game of football, according to Dan Corry, a former Treasury official now working with the Institute for Public Policy Research, the left-of- centre think-tank. Mr Corry holds that interest in football thrives on uncertainty. He says big clubs are attracting most of the money available and therefore controlling the best players.

Such is the concentration of talent that the outcome of matches is becoming predictable. Eventually fans will lose interest, money will disappear and football - along with the English national team - will dive into terminal decline.

Football certainly sits uncomfortably in the commercial world and Mr Corry's analysis looks reasonable, up to a point. But he should be sent off the field for his solution, a corporatist world of controls.

Mr Corry suggests a ban on the mid-season transfer of players, regulated distribution of young talent among clubs and spreading of the TV riches to a broader base.

With the involvement of big business, the game has undoubtedly lost some of its romance and charm, but the old days cannot easily be brought back. One reason is that football managements, rarely playing by the book at the best of times, will not take long to dodge their way round new restrictions.

Another is that the sport needs to encourage wealth creation not choke it, as Mr Corry's measures probably would. Investment is needed in stadiums and, as in any industry, there is international competition to worry about.

The gravitation of cash to a relatively small number of big clubs gives them the resources to compete with European rivals. If English clubs cannot keep pace in Europe, the standard of the national team will suffer.

If there is a crisis in English football, as Mr Corry maintains, it would be quite wrong to cripple the centres of excellence - the big clubs - by imposing restrictions from above on transfers and talent scouting. Far better to work with the market, allowing the free flow of talent. But he is right to say better strategies are needed to improve the game from the bottom up, using TV revenues, especially to finance training.

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