Monday, February 23, 2009

In Defense (?) of Platini

Platini: Evil genius? Idiot? Both?

This past Wednesday, UEFA president Michel Platini gave a speech to a meeting of the European Parliament in Brussels. While we here at UF have been known to get in a jab or two (or 17) at Michel (and his idiotic counterpart, Sepp Blatter), I decided it was only fair to take a hard look at his speech to determine if there were any points of merit. Lord knows no one else on here will defend my countryman.

Platini addressed the MEPs (Members of European Parliament) for 90 minutes, discussing his ideas regarding several intertwined issues which he believes threaten the very values that football represents: club expenditures on player transfers and player salaries, and the exploitation of younger and younger players. Let's take these issues one at a time to examine more closely what Michel is talking about.

1. Club Expenditures on Player Transfers
Much of the hand-wringing regarding exorbitant transfer fees has lately been generated by the takeover of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi, who spent a record £50 million ($72 million) on Wayne Bridge, Nigel de Jong, and Craig Bellamy. This reached epidemic status when Man City made a record £100 million (close to $125 million at the time) offer to AC Milan for Kaka. Although the star declined the move, there was great worry that a club with that sort of financial backing could effectively outprice any competing clubs for a specific player.

Platini's argument is that "the 1%" clubs (and how did he calculate that?) dominate the television schedule, are repetitive champions in their domestic leagues (thus ensuring repeats in the Champions League), and benefit greatly from massive financial backing. Thus, the obvious solution is to implement a spending cap and the obvious (at first glance) comparison is to American sports. However, the NFL has a salary (i.e. not spending) cap, while MLB only has a luxury tax (which is routinely ignored by those teams that can afford to pay it), rather than a hard cap. The closest correlation to the need for a spending tax as proposed by Platini would be something similar to the negotiations between MLB teams and foreign players, such as the deal between the Boston Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka, where the Red Sox paid $51.11 million to the Seibu Lions and $52 million to Matsuzaka.

The argument against Platini in this particular context is that imposing a spending cap is an unfair restriction of market forces. If someone can afford to pay an athlete and that athlete's former club an absurd amount of money, why should they be barred from doing so? Of course, everyone expresses mock outrage at the money spent on athletic achievement - "Why don't we pay teachers, or firemen, that much money?" Answer: Because they are not involved in privatized events, but are paid for by municipal and state governments. If we pay them more, that money will likely come in the form of higher taxes for you. Obviously, teachers and firefighters (and many others) perform functions that are immeasurably more important than athletes, but the reality is that Roman Abramovich isn't willing to outlay massive amounts of cash for sewer workers, but only for shite like Shevchenko.

So, for point #1, Platini gets an C-. It's a principle that people would agree with, in general, but one that is economically indefensible.
2. Club Expenditures on Player Salaries
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kaka make €9,000,000 ($11.5 million) per year - this is above the average salary for all 30 MLB teams (direct comparison with NFL teams is next to impossible due to how salaries are constructed). So maybe Platini has a point here?

In the context of how American sports and the concept of salary restrictions relate to footy, the NFL and its salary cap are held up as examples of parity, while MLB containing clubs who are able to ignore the financial ramifications of the luxury tax is decried as a league where "the rich get richer" (by continually winning championships and getting increased exposure).

Parity in the NFL? Since 1981, the Super Bowl winners have been: (1) the San Francisco 49ers (5 times); (2) the Washington Redskins (3 times); (3) the NY Giants (3 times); (4) the Dallas Cowboys (3 times); (5) the New England Patriots (3 times); (6) the Pittsburgh Steelers (2 times); (7) the Denver Broncos (2 times); and (8) 1 win apiece for the Raiders, Bears, Packers, Rams, Ravens, Bucs, and Colts. I wouldn't exactly call it parity when 7 teams have 21 out of 28 (75%) Super Bowls.

Dominance of the rich in MLB? Since 1981, there have been 18 different winners in 27 World Series, with only 8 teams as multiple winners and only the New York Yankees having won more than 2 (4 overall victories, including 3 straight from 1998-2000; I despise the Yankees).

In essence, then, the views of the NFL and MLB are not consistent with the reality of their history over the past 25-30 years. In addition, the argument against Platini here is once again that such a salary cap would be a restriction on free trade agreements across the European Union. The EU specifically allows for the free movement of workers between countries in an express attempt to allow those individuals to search for higher-paying jobs. Is Platini then saying that footballers are not entitled to those same protections?

So, for point #2, Platini gets a D. He was fantastic on the pitch, but his grasp of economics leaves a bit to be desired.
3. The Exploitation of Young Footballers
At last we get to a point with which I agree. Platini actually received quite a bit of applause from the MEPs when he discussed the dangers of questionable recruiting practices and less-than-savory agents preying upon youngsters in less-developed countries.
"Paying a child to kick a ball is not that different from paying a child to work on a production line in a factory that makes footballs...Both amount to child labor. And when you pay the parents, when you uproot them from their home environment, when you make them emotionally disorientated, I call that child trafficking."
While this may initially seem a little dramatic, there are undoubtedly many young players who are brought to Europe from Africa every year and wind up poor and alone on the streets rather than in an academy as they were promised by "agents." Imposing stricter travel restrictions for minors into the EU, as well as providing closer regulation of football agents, will certainly help to deal with this aspect of searching for "the next Zidane."

So, for point #3, Platini gets a B-. It's an issue that everyone agrees is serious, and he appears to be passionate about, but he hasn't provided us with any ideas of substance for how to deal with it.
This is, admittedly, a simplistic analysis of everything that Platini has proposed but I have already written a novella by Internet standards (cue the "tl;dr" comments). In essence, is Platini trying to save the game he loves, or is he simply mad with power. We'll most likely find out this summer exactly how much influence UEFA has over the EU, and how powerful Platini truly is.


Keith said...



But seriously, Platini has some salient points in regards to scummy agents. I, like you, disagree with him on a salary cap, looking at the NBA, rather than the NFL (which to be fair, you need to look at from 1993, when free agency and the salary cap era began). The NBA has shown that a salary cap can doom a franchise for years, and leads to player acquisitions that address needs not from the field of play, but from the accounting office.

30f said...

My understanding is that Platini is proposing that teams could only spend a fixed percentage of their income/turn-over on players. Even if that were implemented, a team from England could still massively outbid a team from Portugal or France because of the rich TV deal the EPL has. In Spain, the individual teams do their own TV deals so Barca and Real would be spending a fixed percentage of a much larger number than Betis or Mallorca could muster.

Your US analogies for money spent on players NOT being tied to wins are absolutely true and that does seem to punch a hole in Platini's argument for financial restrictions, but ...

The financial windfall of the Champions/Euro league makes soccer different. There is a reason (other than glory) that teams in England are desperate to make the top four - and why the teams in the top four seem to rarely change (oops, Arsenal). Winning in MLB or the NFL brings some small additional money to the teams that are successful - but not like the windfall that comes from a run into the quarters of the CL for a European soccer team. In England the 'big four' get the Champions League cash every year and they are the teams that manage to be in the top four again the next year. This is not a shocker, and if Platini really wants parity and fairness (which he does not, IMO) he would need to change that as well. This all seems like a lot of noise from UEFA. I doubt anything changes.

Andrew said...

I hearts UF.

Good job, NYK.

The NY Kid said...

thanks, Andrew.

@30f - you are correct in your understanding. The proposal is for a capped % to be spent on both transfers and salaries combined, so richer EPL clubs can still vastly outbid even a club like Porto or Bordeaux.

30f said...


Any Premiership team would have more money that any Dutch team - because if the TV deals and sponsorships and so on. Even within a single nation the bigger clubs would still have a large advantage because the top sides would have money from the Champions League and possibly additional TV revenue.

The bottom line (at least to me) is that even if the goal of leveling the field between the big boys and the Aalborgs is admirable - would this plan really result in much of that happening? I dunno.

Its an awful lot of regulation (and more jobs for those in UEFA offices) but the end result (slightly more evenly matched competitions) would seem to be so small as to be hardly worth the effort.

The Fan's Attic said...

Gabriel Marcotti wrote a terrific piece about the insanity of Platini's plan.

The NY Kid said...

If you like him so much, why don't you ask him to write for UF?

//runs away

The Fan's Attic said...

I thought about writing "Second only to The NY Kid" but I didn't think NYK was a little bitch.