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It's the year of living dangerously for Premier League's stragglers; SportComment businessofsport with Peter Sharkey.

Byline: Peter Sharkey

There's never a good time to experience relegation from English football's top flight, but going down this season could be financially disastrous for the three as yet unknown clubs who must formally sever their Premier League ties next month.

Contending with relegation is bad enough; doing so when the cash pile distributed to England's leading clubs is scheduled to rise by 73 per cent might prove catastrophic for the longerterm development of players at clubs who no longer occupy a Premier League berth.

When Manchester City clinched the league title in dramatic fashion with almost the last kick of the season last May, the club guaranteed itself a gross broadcast fee payment of PS60,602,289 from the Premier League, a combination of merit awards, overseas TV income and several other sources. Incredibly, the team finishing bottom next season will be awarded a marginally higher amount before dropping into the Championship having received around PS60 million in 'prize' money. But that's not all. Parachute payments made to clubs relegated in 2013-14 could reach PS59 million apiece over the subsequent four years.

In other words, ending up in last place in 12 months' time could conceivably be worth almost PS120 million, a figure that one Football League chairman called "a staggering reward for failure."

Despite this generous financial cushion, sufficient, surely, to provide relegated clubs with an enormous comparative advantage over most of their Championship rivals, owners of top-flight clubs currently occupying positions 13 to 20 in the league table are understandably anxious.

No-one wants to become a yo-yo club, alternating between the Championship's higher echelons and the Premier League's also-rans. Wigan boss Roberto Martinez sums the financial quandary up perfectly when he notes that "survival is crucial to the next 15 to 20 years" of his football club.

Of course, the Premier League's potential 'problems' associated with receiving more than PS5 billion in broadcast revenue over the next three years could be solved in one fell swoop: the league's members could stop behaving as conduits for player wages. Such a scenario appears unlikely. Clubs are fearful that if they decide to act unilaterally and impose a salary cap, their best players will disappear and any commercial advantage that could accrue from operating a football club as a bona-fide business will evaporate.

As a result, the overwhelming majority of the PS1.055 billion Premier League clubs will receive in television income this season will head straight towards players' and agents' bank accounts, much as it has since the league was formed two decades ago.

Moreover, as well-funded clubs elsewhere in Europe (PSG, Malaga, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan) can now compete, salary-wise, with leading English clubs for the tiny pool of outstanding talent, it appears certain that player wages here will continue their inexorable rise.

As the chart (inset above) shows, while average player wages have risen slightly at mid-ranking clubs over the last four seasons for which figures are available, those at leading clubs have received a colossal boost since Manchester City were acquired by Sheikh Mansour in 2008; they look set to continue rising.

Assuming the additional television money pouring into football's coffers continues to be spent in a manner which accounts for some very average footballers becoming extraordinarily rich, it seems likely that by the end of the 2016-17 season, annual average salaries at clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City will hover around PS7.7 million, or PS150,000 a week.

The consequences are not difficult to predict. Inevitably, the development of English football talent will be further curtailed as highly-paid foreign 'stars' are recruited on enormous salaries.

Forget the nonsense spouted by interpreters and agents upon their arrival about the Premier League being "the most exciting league in the world". It's astronomic wages that attract these guys, not some tenuous notion of 'excitement'.

The main downside of this uncontrolled foreign influx of foreign playing talent is the adverse impact it has had on England's national team. Our best performance in an international tournament since the Premier League came into being in 1992 remains reaching the semi-final of Euro '96 when it was played on home turf.

Indeed, since 1992, England have failed to qualify for two tournaments (in 1994 and 2008), while our record in World Cups (P18 W8 D7 L3) and Euro-pean Championships (P19 W7 D8 L4) is hardly an advertisement for the domestic game's leading clubs.

Despite this, the Premier League continues to attract great mountains of broadcast fees from a variety of sources, including a staggering PS375 million in overseas TV rights fees last season alone.

Clearly, while the football might not be of the highest order, the Premier League's sales team, headed by chief executive Richard Scudamore, is one of the world's very best.

When the latest TV deal was announced, Scudamore said he hoped top-flight outfits would spend a proportion of their handsome windfall by investing in "infrastructure, stadiums, youth development and the community".

Most clubs operate well-established academies because there is a huge commercial advantage to be gained from nurturing youngsters through to the first team, but opportunities are limited, particularly when a side finds itself sliding down the league table.

Then, the perceived 'quick fix' provided by recruiting established players to extricate a club from the relegation mire merely reduces the chances of local players breaking through.

This expedient has little to do with playing ability but is determined instead by an incoming player's experience and the absolute need to avoid dropping out of the Premier League.

As the above chart shows, there has been a significant widening of the gap between average salaries at clubs finishing in mid-table and those who top the average pay league.

The effect of this is severalfold. Firstly, England's leading clubs, ie those regularly playing in the Champions League, can compete for - and attract - the very best playing talent, although they do not always succeed. However, only Barcelona and Real Madrid pay higher wages than the five most generous employers in England's top flight.

Second, a separate league-withina-league is created. Consider for a moment who will win the title next season. The list is no longer than four, possibly five, teams.

Over the longer term, a diminishingly competitive league will only drive fans and television viewers, dismayed at its repetitiveness, towards other sports or leagues. Finally, while young boys will always aspire to play professional football, if their progress is ultimately limited by clubs' collective need for immediate results, their attention might drift elsewhere.

The Premier League would argue that the 'solidarity payments' it makes to Football League clubs will rise next season (by an average of 5.7 per cent).

However, as Championship clubs are scheduled to receive PS2.3 million each, the largesse shown to teams relegated from the top flight will provide them with an enormous financial advantage, which will only increase the likelihood of them bouncing straight back up to the land of milk and honey.

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez notes that "survival is crucial to the next 15 to 20 years'' of '' his football club

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Roberto Martinez has summed the financial quandary up perfectly
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 18, 2013
Words:1195
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