Football: Salary cap can prevent boom and doom

IT WAS the best soundbite of the week. Football, the Coventry City chairman Bryan Richardson said, was suffering from "financial diarrhoea". He should know. His club have willingly taken part in it since the inception of the Premier League.

Richardson's target was Dion Dublin, the team's heartbeat, who has turned down an offer of pounds 16,000 a week, double his present salary, because he believes he is worth pounds 20,000. Middlesbrough are heading a queue of clubs willing to pay it.

"Money which is coming in at the top from television, increased gates and commercial activities is going straight through the system in salaries," Richardson said. "There's little or nothing left to invest - the top players are taking every penny. We cannot go on putting our neck in a noose."

His comments came on theday that Sir John Smith published the report of his inquiry into the game's "values, finances and reputation". He warned that the FA need to take more interest in the dealings of their professional clubs in these moneyed days. One would have some sympathy with Richardson had he not sanctioned the sometimes ill-judged millions that Ron Atkinson threw at Coventry's perennial relegation struggle, including a salary said to be some pounds 18,000 a week for Gary McAllister.

Or if so many people at the top of the game, who are unable to kick a ball and entertain the public that Dion Dublin helps attract through the gate, were not creaming off so much of the game's new-found wealth. Many owners, chairmen, directors and chief executives have benefited obscenely from going public, or by paying themselves huge sums, with shareholdings more valuable than ever.

In addition, players can read for themselves the contents of the "bungs" report, on which the FA say they will finally rule this week. It reveals that managers and coaches have sunk their snouts in the trough. And clubs expect the workers to tug their forelocks to the lords of the manor?

Robbie Fowler has, apparently, also asked Liverpool for pounds 50,000 a week. After a sharp intake of breath, Liverpool realised the value of their leading goalscorer and are believed to have offered him pounds 40,000 a week over five years. Replacing him would certainly cost more than pounds 10m. Were Liverpool not spending much of their burgeoning income on establishing an academy for young players, one would call this madness. In fact, all jealousy apart, it probably represents sound thinking.

And one understands Dublin's thinking, too. As well as seeing all the suits earning plenty, he has knocked around the lower divisions and broken his leg. He knows the fragile nature of his career.

So it does not sit well for those club chairmen not short of a few bob to talk about being blackmailed by players. If they are so concerned about the money issues in the game, they will not complain about Sir John Smith's idea of an FA compliance unit, advocated in these pages three years ago, examining their books.

Perhaps those besotted by overseas players will also look at how much they pay has-been talents and how much of a differential they create with resentful English squad members.

So far one of the strengths of the Premiership has been its ability to bring together many disparate clubs and ideas. Perhaps a meeting to discuss Sir John's ideas on financial matters would be productive.

Then the league could consider an idea embraced by American sports - the ultimate free market - the salary cap, whereby a club has a total allowance and allocates that as it wishes. Then all clubs compete equally.

One suspects, though, that the game will need a bust to follow the boom before sense is seen. After all, willpower alone is notknown to stop diarrhoea.

MONEY, part 2: Twelve clubs in China have admitted offering bribes to referees and 10 lamented that they had had to increase payments in 1997. Even referees, it seems, want their share. Inflation these days, eh?

MONEY, part 3: Terry Venables was the subject of a damning indictment by the Department of Trade and Industry last weekwhen he was banned for seven years from being a company director on 19 charges.

Undoubtedly there are people who have suffered from the former England coach's apparently cavalier business dealings but probably none more so than himself. The avaricious Icarus has clearly flown too close to the sun in his unqualified desire to better himself and be more than a "mere" coach.

In fact, he should still be England's coach. Had he not been so inflexible in his dealings with some of the FA's more resolute officers, and consequently resigned two years ago thismonth, all might be different.

It came to mind as Libero listened to Glenn Hoddle talk last week, in the very London conference room where Venables used to hold court, about Euro 2000, adding cryptically, "if we are still in the job".

Apparently, after the World Cup the FA and Hoddle are likely to seek to extend and improve his four-year deal. Despite everything, one cannot help feeling sympathy for Venables; after all, he is a very good coach. Self-worth is one thing, pride quite another.

MONEY, part 94: Leeds United shareholders have approved a change of name for the club owners from Caspian to Leeds Sporting. Just when we were in danger of forgetting what it was supposed to be all about. One wonders, though, what Don Revie would have thought.