James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: It’s time to press the reset button and start all over again
Within the space of the next six days, Sheffield United will face two very different types of football club.
One, this weekend’s opponents Preston North End, spend within their means. The other, Birmingham City, do not. Which means, after the English Football League intervened to curb the largesse at St Andrew's, Chris Wilder's promotion-chasing squad will face a side fighting relegation on Wednesday evening rather than harbouring slim hopes of reaching the play-offs.
It is a curious situation. But, after the governing body imposed a nine point deduction on Garry Monk's employers for breaching profit and sustainability regulations, one which raises a number of serious questions. Millwall, Rotherham and Wigan Athletic, who have all met their financial obligations, could be forgiven for wondering if City's punishment was lenient given they remain below them in the battle to avoid the drop. Sympathy for the Midlanders must be limited because, in the case of Kristian Pedersen, they knowingly signed a player last summer despite being under a registration embargo.
Although it is galling for those who play by the rules and are sensible with their money, the lack of outcry among City's followers at the times reflects the curious relationship between football, fans and money. Analysing this is pertinent and timely too, given the EFL's search for a new chief executive following Shaun Harvey's decision to relinquish his position at the end of the season.
A frequent criticism of the P&S requirements is that they effectively preserve the status quo by stifling ambition. It is an understandable argument. But unfortunately, as we have seen all too often in recent years, many owners bankroll a push for promotion or silverware by borrowing. In other words, by using non-existent cash or funding they simply have not got.
There are some simple ways around this. The trouble is, the game rarely speaks with one voice. By introducing a salary cap pegged to commercial revenues or other verifiable sources of income, teams could still reach for the stars. Good work off the pitch, including intelligent coaching and ticket selling initiatives, would then be rewarded instead of an accountant's sleight of hand.
Too often in the past, journalists and fans alike have lauded directors for splashing the cash without ever really asking where it is coming from. I have long been an advocate of placing a supporters' representative on the board of every club across the country. Many of those in positions of power see this as a threat to their authority and make patronising assumptions about what expertise they might bring.
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Their concerns are misguided. Those with nothing to hide, who run their business wisely, might find that opening up the decision making process would lead to greater engagement. And yes, a more sympathetic ear when, for cost reasons, they have to cut costs or say 'no' to a player in the transfer market. Harvey's successor at the EFL must press the re-set button and confront problems such as the misuse of parachute payments.
Members such as United and North End, whose positions in the Championship table prove a chequebook is not the only source of success, should help instigate the process.