JONATHAN BARNETT: Salary caps will DESTROY decades of English football

JONATHAN BARNETT: Salary caps will DESTROY decades of English football growth if they are allowed to come in… we don’t moan about money made by film stars, so why is it happening in sport?

  • EFL plans to introduce a salary cap in Leagues One and Two have been dropped
  • An independent arbitration panel found in favour of players and agent this week
  • Top agent Jonathan Barnett explains why the cap would have been a disaster
  • Barnett says it would have destroyed decades of growth in the English game 
  • Any attempts to introduce a salary cap would simply lead to an exodus of talent
  • The Chinese Super League found this out to their cost with their salary cap 

Plans drawn up by the EFL to introduce a salary cap for League One and League Two were withdrawn last week following a verdict by an independent arbitration panel.

Clubs in the third and fourth tiers voted through a £2.5million per club cap for League One and £1.5m for League Two last August.

Leading agent Jonathan Barnett says salary caps threaten to destroy decades of growth for English football

But The Football Forum, the Professional Footballers’ Association and others campaigned successfully on behalf of players to block the cap.

The issue has divided opinion in the EFL. Clubs who have seen finances hit hard by Covid-19 insist the cap is the only way they can stay afloat, while players and agents against it have had accusations of greed levelled at them.

In this exclusive column, Jonathan Barnett – world-leading football agent, vice-president of The Football Forum and representative to Gareth Bale and countless other stars – explains why the EFL salary cap would destroy decades of growth in English football.     

By Jonathan Barnett For Mailonline

Last month marked the 60th anniversary of the abolition of the £20 maximum wage in English football following the threat of a strike led by legendary footballer and then Fulham star Jimmy Hill, turning the tides of history and becoming the making of the modern game.

With the waiving of the wage cap, English football was allowed to flourish again and for six decades it has. English football is undeniably the best, most exciting and most competitive in the world. 

From Hereford United’s David vs Goliath killing of Newcastle United in the FA Cup in 1972 to the imports of global superstars, the eyes of the world have always been fixed on our football.

The salary cap, which limited club wage bills to £2.5million a year, would have affected League One clubs such as Sunderland and Portsmouth (pictured)

The salary cap issue has polarised opinions down at the lower reaches of the Football League

But last year all that was put under threat as the English Football League (‘EFL’) pushed through a new salary cap in League One and League Two that was set to destroy decades of growth for English football.

The EFL did this without the consultation of players – without question the most important part of the game, followed quickly by fans. In what other industry could wholesale changes be implemented without workers getting a say?

Thankfully and justly, an independent arbitration tribunal ruled this week against the EFL’s salary caps, which The Football Forum (‘TFF’), an association of football players and agents for which I am co-founder, has been campaigning against on behalf of players.

Football is a fantastic and often fantastically cruel game. Your team may dominate for 90 minutes in every area of the pitch, but sometimes the result just does not go your way.

Any salary cap would diminish the value of the English game, which is loved around the world

France’s Ligue 1, home to well-paid stars like Kylian Mbappe, has flirted with a salary cap idea

The good thing about independent tribunals are the results usually go the right way, as the interests of all parties are taken into account.

The spectre of salary caps has been haunting Europe and the wider world since the EFL unlawfully implemented it in League One and Two. 

Rumours have circulated about the French flirting with the idea for Ligue 1, while head of Germany’s football federation (DFB) Fritz Keller proposed salary caps in May 2020. The EFL Championship too, was said to be considering caps.

For the time being, these proposals are firmly on the bench but the idea that there should be a cap on players’ earnings is so utterly wrong that, to put it in football terms, they should be made to train with the U23s.

Players have short careers. For most, they are able to maximise their earnings for a decade, give or take a few years. During that period they should be free to earn the market rate for their talent, and as an agent, it is my job to ensure that they do.

The Chinese Super League, which was home to the Brazilian Hulk (pictured), suffered enormous damage when they introduced a salary cap

We do not question the earnings of movie stars. If a big-budget film tanked at the box office we would not say that it did so because the actors were paid too much and therefore we should cut their earnings next time.

The brilliance of football is its competitiveness, and nowhere is that more true than here in England.

If governing bodies start capping salaries then the talent will depart, it’s as simple as that. 

The Chinese Super League, which has been enjoying huge growth and seen some of the world’s best players join in recent years, has implemented new caps on players’ earnings, and unsurprisingly, those players are already looking to leave. Years of growth has been undone.

The cases of League One and League Two and the Chinese Super League should be stark reminders to football’s authorities that football is made by the players. 

The failed attempt to bring a salary cap into the EFL’s lower reaches will serve as a reminder to football’s authorities that players are most important

The Football Forum will be continuing to remind them of that and stand on the side of players.

We all want to see a sustainable future for football, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, but this must never be at the expense of the players, and ultimately the fans.

Because in the end, if clubs can’t pay the players and they do leave, who are the real losers? It is the supporters, going to the games or sat at home watching a now worsened spectacle on TV, their favourite players donning new colours.

For football to once again flourish in a post Covid world, salary caps must remain in the history books, alongside the great Jimmy Hill who helped modernise the beautiful game by abolishing them in the first place.

The Football Forum (TFF) is an international association of football players and agents, united in developing the best practice of football agency and the best employment-related standards for players, to the benefit of its members and the entire football community.

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