Premier League risks 'implosion'

Wages must be capped to avert crisis, warns key figure at meeting of football minds
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The Independent Online

The leaders of British football will be warned today that the sport faces implosion if it fails to introduce financial controls, including salary caps and spending limits, which will prevent the powerful few destroying its competitiveness and general appeal.

The case for controls on financial outlay, which Uefa president Michel Platini wants to see enshrined by 2012, will be argued by the commissioner of Major League Soccer (MLS) Don Garber, who this morning addresses the sport's Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge.

Garber will argue that the Premier League risks driving the "passion" out of the sport by allowing spending to go unchecked and states that the financial perils associated with dependence on major investors risks causing the same disasters for British sides that the North American Soccer League did in the 1980s with its move for big name players including Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. The difficulties which Portsmouth have experienced and the problems facing Notts County make Garber's comments timely – though they will not be well received by the Premier League big spenders.

Garber, who will put his case in a session entitled "Managing the Wealth Gap" chaired by the Football League's chairman Lord Mawhinney, said yesterday that the MLS offered "if not a blueprint, a guide as European football starts looking at financial fair play." He said: "That is the key to the stability that exists in our major leagues. I'm not so sure that same stability exists around the world."

Platini is intent on ensuring that by 2012 Champions League entrants will be obliged to balance their books and two months ago suggested that he counted Chelsea's proprietor Roman Abramovich among his supporters. Manchester City's owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, whose investment of more than £200m on 11 players in 12 months Uefa has condemned as an inflationary danger for clubs across European football, argues that spending is the only way of breaking the four-club cartel at the top of the Premier League.

But Garber said the MLS's $2.3m (£1.45m) salary cap per team was more "sophisticated." He argued: "We tend to be very sophisticated about the business of sport and that sophistication has led to great success. The rest of the world tries to look at it to get a better understanding of sport, particularly as European football continues to [grapple] with the wealth gap. We still remain a niche sport and we have to make sure we are managing to be financially viable. I think it's really smart for European football to start thinking about that."

Results suggest that Garber has a point. There have been six different winners of the MLS since its inception in 1996, compared to three different Premier League champions in the same time span. "We believe to our core that every fan wants to believe that when the season starts they have the tools, the capability, the resources to compete for the championship," Garber said. "I am just astounded how quickly teams can turn their fortunes around by spending more money. I think they are playing by different rules."

Leaders in Football: Key issues at the conference

How to measure performance

Mike Forde, the performance director at Chelsea, and the former Tottenham director of football, Damien Comolli, will discuss how they measure performance as part of a greater discussion on the identification, measurement and management of player performance. Valter di Salvo, Real Madrid's head of performance, will also participate.

How to buy and manage talent

Gérard Houllier, once of Liverpool but more recently of Lyons, will be talking about buying and managing of talent. Houllier, part of part of Uefa's and Fifa's Technical Committee at the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals, will be joined by Bernie Mullin – of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks – and Tony Copsey the departing chief executive of rugby union club Wasps.

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