The Matt Holland Column: Bleak times but academies can help to churn out the talent
Sunday 11 August 2002
Are you ready? It only seems like yesterday, doesn't it, that Arsenal won the League, Ipswich were relegated and Brazil won the World Cup. A quick holiday before the hard running of pre-season and here we are again, start of a new season.
I must admit I've been really looking forward to it. As enjoyable as lazing on a beach was for a fortnight, and I did need it after the emotional draining of the World Cup, I am desperate to start playing competitively again. I love it and by the looks on the faces of the other players, so do they. Yet it has not been a good summer for the game.
Every day I read stories of clubs being threatened by insolvency, lists of players in lower divisions who have been released from contracts or not offered new terms and comment pieces arguing that the boom of recent years was in fact a bubble that has burst.
Is this true? Sadly, and I speak as one who has benefited financially, I think it is and the game has some dramatic re-organising to do if it is to continue to thrive. And, importantly, I am not restricting my opinion to England. The biggest spenders have been Continental clubs and it is no surprise that those in greatest trouble are some of the big- name clubs in Italy.
How can this be when Manchester United can throw £30m upwards at one defender? Well, they are a global business with huge turnover, a brand leader if you like, while the majority of clubs are small- to medium-sized businesses with very accommodating bankers, financiers or owners. If clubs are not operating to a realistic budget, then they are relying on goodwill and that does not seem to me a solid foundation for any business. So something has to give. Either clubs will go bankrupt, which will be devastating for some communities and regions, or clubs have to cut their spending. The lack of transfer activity in the recess suggests that this is already occurring.
Beneath the headline-grabbing deal of Rio Ferdinand there has been very little buying and selling. Annoyingly for some clubs that has meant they are unable to raise money via sales, which then compounds their cash problems. What other choice do they have than to release people when their contracts expire? Players in the lower leagues are suffering and it will not stop there. The effects of the financial crisis will work up through the divisions and without doubt will reach the Premier League.
The challenge now is for clubs to manage themselves properly and with greater fiscal control. The reduction of money spent on players is a sign that the process has already started and I honestly feel that wages, one of the clubs' biggest costs, will also have to fall. Ronaldo and Christian Vieri have already accepted or volunteered wage cuts at Internazionale. One other cost that clubs have is redevelopment of grounds. Stadiums cost millions to build and yet many clubs are already building or planning new ones.
Is this realistic? Maybe for Arsenal or Newcastle United, but can all those aspiring to new grounds really afford it? And finally the goose that laid the golden egg, Sky TV, is unlikely to continue to throw vast sums at the game when it is the only broadcaster at the negotiating table. I am sure the game will still get a good deal but rugby had to accept a lower price for their TV rights. Remember the ITV Digital fiasco. We cannot be complacent.
One good thing, however, is the emphasis being placed on academies and the youngsters in them. Ipswich have two very talented 19-year-olds, Darren Bent and Darren Ambrose, who will both feature this season and make a real impact. Bent played a few games last season and impressed and, with money scarce, more young players will have opportunities. This in turn makes the academy more important as it really does have the job of churning out first-team players. The biggest spenders, Manchester United, may have Juan Sebastian Veron, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ferdinand at a combined cost of £77m, but alongside them they also have David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Wes Brown and Ryan Giggs for nothing.
I am confident that the game will self-regulate and that the process has begun, but these are testing times. As are the next few weeks for me. Yesterday at Walsall is followed by Avenir Beggin in Luxembourg for the Uefa Cup qualifying round on Thursday, then off to Finland for a friendly for the Republic of Ireland and then Russia for the start of the Euro qualifiers.
The World Cup seems a bit of a distant dream now and bizarrely I am probably worth less now than before. Although Ipswich have said they do not want to sell me, economic reality may force their hand. Aston Villa are the latest suitors and both clubs' decisions will be heavily influenced by money. The state of the game is exemplified perfectly by my worth, despite the World Cup. What am I worth? It depends on the debt levels I suppose but, at a guess, around £4m. Seems ridiculous. Football has some soul- searching and penny-pinching to do.
Matt Holland, the Ipswich Town captain, was talking to Iain Fletcher
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