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Sunday, Aug. 11, 2002

PREMIER REPORT

Money woes carry on as season dawns


Christopher Davies of the London Daily Telegraph is one of Britain's most prominent soccer writers. He regularly covers Premier League champion Arsenal in the Champions League and the Republic of Ireland internationally. Davies has covered eight World Cups and is a former chairman of the Football Writers' Association in Britain. Beginning with today's column he will be providing The Japan Times with his insights, wit and wisdom on the Premiership.

Christopher Davies

Six weeks (though some would say it seems like only six days) after the World Cup final, English attention slowly turns from Brazil to Rio, from Japan to Juninho and from Turkey to Tottenham as the domestic season grinds into action this weekend.

But Manchester United's $45 million acquisition from Leeds Rio Ferdinand and Juninho, who has rejoined Middlesbrough for the third time, are on hold this weekend.

Despite continuing tales of financial woe the Football League, whose chairman Keith Harris and chief executive David Burns resigned a few days ago, kicked off the 2002-2003 season on Saturday.

On Sunday, Arsenal and Liverpool meet in the Community (formerly Charity) Shield and the contrast between the haves and have nots has never been greater.

The Football League gravy train has almost ground to a halt with clubs in administration and unable to pay players. Last season the Professional Footballers' Association had to help with the wages for players from around a dozen clubs yet PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said: "In quantity terms there has never been so much money in the game.

"The trouble is the distribution is so unequal. Many smaller clubs are wondering if they can stay alive."

This is not surprising when some club chairmen treat football like Monopoly.

When Bradford went into administration earlier this summer it had debts of $50 million. It owed Benito Carbone $5 million in wages for the outstanding 18 months of his contract -- the Italian eventually settled for a payoff of $1.4 million to help the first division club get out of administration.

"Clubs shouldn't spend money they don't have," said Taylor but such words tend to fall on deaf ears. King Canute had an easier task than Taylor has trying to tell clubs to only spend 99 cents of every dollar received.

However, there can be no doubt financial belts have been tightened. Last summer the 72 Football League clubs spent a combined $40 million -- this year only $6 million has been paid on transfers. Less money is coming in, too -- in the 2001 offseason the clubs received $70 million, mainly from the Premiership but this summer's figure is $30 million.

Harris and Burns went in the wake of the collapse of the ITV Digital television deal which means significantly less income for all 72 Football League clubs.

So while Carlisle, Torquay and company count the pennies, Arsenal and Liverpool -- who have spent the best part of 30 million pounds on new recruits -- will meet in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

Among the summer arrivals is El Hadji Diouf who cost Liverpool 10 million pounds from Lens. The Senegal striker set the World Cup alight when, 10 minutes into the opening game against France, he had Frank Leboeuf chasing shadows by looking one way, swiveling his hips the other way and then roasting the defender with blistering pace.

Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier admitted it was Diouf's enthusiasm that persuaded him to sign the player.

Houllier said: "He kept saying 'sign me boss, sign me.' I told him that I had Michael Owen and Emile Heskey so why would he want to come here. He said he didn't care about that, he just wanted to play for Liverpool."

Another French defender, Pascal Cygan who cost Arsenal 2.1 million pounds, is likely to be in the Double winners' defense. "He's a fantastic defender," said manager Arsene Wenger of the 1,000th (or so it seems) French player he has brought to Highbury.

"He will be a great asset to the team."

The 198-cm Cygan will certainly add height to the Arsenal defense but if any team is looking for a defender to add weight to its back four then Swindon's Neil Ruddock is their man.

The former Liverpool defender has been transfer-listed by the second division club after he ballooned to more than 95 kg during the summer.

Ruddock has always been on the stout side. When he joined Swindon almost a year ago he needed a specially made pair of shorts flown over from the Far East because none of the club's 85 pairs of shorts would fit him.

However, Ruddock has two years of his contract remaining -- a deal so lucrative it is believed to account for 20 percent of Swindon's wage budget. He could, indeed, be an immovable object.

The 34-year-old defender has not played a first team game since being sent-off at Notts County last December but he said: "I do not want to leave the club. I love it here.

"Regarding the contract, there was no gun held to anyone's head when the deal was put to me."

And clubs wonder why they are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy . . .

One player who will have a weight off his mind on Friday is Fulham striker Barry Hayles.

On Dec. 8, 2001, Hayles was involved in a fracas with Everton's David Weir during a game at Craven Cottage. On Jan. 5 the Football Association charged Hayles with violent behavior -- his second such charge of the season after a similar incident at West Ham in November.

On April 3 Hayles was found guilty for the West Ham punch-up with Hayden Foxe and was handed a three-game ban. The other charge seems to have gathered dust and gone away -- well, almost.

The F.A. is to sit in judgment on the case on Friday eight months after the original incident and seven months after being charged -- and Hayles is expected to receive no punishment.

It is an amazing scenario and one wonders how a player can be charged, nothing happens for seven months and then . . . nothing happens.

One F.A. insider said: "I'm not sure what the answer is. Mind you, I'm not sure what the question is either!"



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