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Are the League One squad and salary caps unfair to Sunderland AFC?

Some Sunderland fans feel aggrieved at the results of the EFL vote and the players’ union is challenging the decision - what do our panel make of the new rules on wages and squad sizes?

Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

The decision by League 1 owners to impose salary and squad size cap on players over the age of 21 has set social media ablaze since it was announced on Friday. So, we assembled a panel of five writers to give their views on the rights and wrongs of the new rules.

Derek Carter says...

Let’s get one thing straight from the start. This latest farce from the EFL proves yet again what a bunch of spineless numpties they really are. Salary Cap!? Handicap more like, and once again their attempts to create a level playing field has ended up with something akin to Yeovil’s old Huish ground. In other words downhill every way you try to play it.

Why do they insist on putting things straight out to a vote without giving serious consideration to the big picture?

Its obvious the Fleetwoods and Accringtons of this world are going to be all for it, but it’s grossly unfair on the teams like us who are being penalised for having the audacity to generate more revenue.

Imagine if this was applied to the retail sector. Mrs Miggins’ Pie Emporium having a vote that determines what Greggs can spend, or Tesco being expected to make drastic changes simply because the local village shop and a few others decided that’s how it should work. It’s crazy and totally flawed.

The question that needs answering is, what is the motive behind this?

We’ve already been shafted, with them ending the league early, so is this just another attempt to make sure we stay in this division and continue to be a cash cow. I do wonder how the vote to cancel the league would have gone if teams who voted for it were banned from the play offs.

Now, I may be wrong, but wasn’t Financial Fair Play brought in to stop clubs living beyond their means? It would appear not, if they need to bring in even more restrictions. Thankfully the PFA are mounting a legal challenge, which should be successful.

If it isn’t, then the clubs who voted for this fiasco can bask in their glory for a little while - but let’s see how they get on when reality bites and fans from clubs like ours refuse to take up ticket allocations, hitting them directly where it hurts.

Accrington Stanley v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Matthew Foster says...

I think the whole situation has been summed up perfectly by this analogy: “it’s like going to a bar and you can afford beers, but your friend can only afford water, so you’re forced to also drink water”.

I don’t see how this cap is proportionate. If the bigger teams in this league can afford to pay higher wages and live within their means, then why shouldn’t they be able to? Why should we be ring-fenced in with the likes of Crewe, Accrington and Fleetwood? We have a bigger stadium, larger fanbase and therefore generate larger revenue by virtue of the club sustainably building itself over the years.

I think the only thing this will do, is make the divide between the Championship and League One even greater. And teams who plummet through the trapdoor into League One, will find themselves unable to clamber their way back up. Additionally, those who do get promoted, will find their stay in the Championship all too brief.

Whilst unfavourable for a lot of exiled fans, the likes of Sunderland and Portsmouth - who consistently fill the away ends - should avoid all away days at the clubs in favour of the cap. So, instead of them all profiting from our loyal fans who travel length and breadth of the country, we hit them where it hurts - their pockets.

Fleetwood Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Rich Speight says...

A long-suffering group of fans is up in arms because the other sides in their league have made a decision that, on first glance, appears to disadvantage their beloved club. When things don’t go their way, their sense of themselves as being a big fish who should, by rights, be in a much loftier position in the league pyramid than at present, comes to the fore. Fans of other clubs look on with a mixture of amusement at the meltdown and annoyance at the perceived sense of entitlement on show. What makes their club so special? But the less said about the Mags the better.

On the issue of the League One salary and squad caps, I sense an opportunity for Sunderland AFC to transform itself from an overspending behemoth into a nimble, modern and progressive club focused on creating a sustainable business model through youth development and intelligent recruitment. The limits do not apply to under 21 players, and this change should, therefore, drive the club to spend our vastly superior revenues on identifying and coaching home-grown talent.

We have the best facilities, the best stadium, the biggest support and most illustrious history of any club outside the EPL. We aren’t being prevented from generating revenues, we’re being prevented from attempting to buy our way out of the league. We’re in a great position to win on a slightly more level playing field without the temptation to spend-spend-spend our way out of trouble - a strategy that has failed time and again.

Just because this isn’t easy, and may take time to get right, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way to go. I can see why a salary cap based on a proportion of revenues would be much more preferable for Sunderland, Portsmouth, Ipswich and Hull City, who can attract crowds over 20,000. But this was surely considered and although it isn’t whats on the table, it may well come back as the compromise option.

I can also see why the PFA are up in arms, and I’ve no problem with a footballer seeking to make as much money as possible in their short and precarious careers. It could be that this all unravels in the courts, but I fail to see how or why we will be placed at comparative disadvantage by a rule that applies equally to us and all our competitors in League One.

I still think it might work to our advantage in the end, and we might be being a little “chippy” in objecting to the concept outright.

Most professional sports in the USA (the home of free market capitalism) have salary caps, albeit within “closed” sports, where there’s little or no foreign competition for playing talent. Yet with the end of free movement of labour between the UK and the remaining EU member states looming on 1st January 2021, the risk of young Jonny from Hartlepool United being tempted abroad rather than signing for us will be reduced significantly as the requirement for international caps to earn immigration points will surely be reciprocated by our former partners.

The idea doing the rounds - of boycotting away games in order to punish those clubs who’ve been so impertinent as to have voted in their own interests on both this matter and the concluding of season 2019-20 on averaged points-per-game - seem to me to be a petty and unproductive way of responding. Our travelling support is legendary and it would be kicking ourselves in the teeth to make the Lads play in front of entirely hostile crowds without our voices behind them.

The legal wrangling will go on but, by the time away fans are back allowed into football grounds, I’m pretty sure that the dust will have settled and people will have moved on to the familiar weekly football rituals we all miss so much.

Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Gary Engel says...

How many other ways can Sunderland be penalised and still remain on course to sail back to the promised land?

Ironically, speaking about being unfair, if it wasn’t for Coventry’s promotion, the members of the EFL might have expected the ghost of Jimmy Hill to haunt them - albeit in slightly different circumstances. But the ultimate outcome for lower league players would have a similar result, leaving any half-decent League One player likely sit on the sidelines at the first Championship club to make a reasonable offer.

Back in the early days of the Financial Fair Play it promised a level playing field for the Premier League, and our club was excited by the prospect. Few clubs with a five year Premier League stay, or longer, have suffered such a downward trajectory as the Black Cats, most of which is down to the management of the club.

But also, the handcuffs of the FFP became our then lunatic board’s greatest excuse for so many failures in the transfer market, or subsequently on the pitch. With the impossible restraints of FFP, Sunderland suffered as the small fish, financially, at the bottom of the Premier League, while now we have the big fish, small pond scenario where the aim of the wage cap looks to squarely stifle a club like us.

The difference this time must be that we don’t allow the wage bill to be the millstone around our neck, as it was in the past. Failure to win promotion this season is bound to wreck any chance for continuity in building the squad (plenty would say no change there).

NRL Rd 13 - Sharks v Eels
NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Parramatta Eels at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on August 09, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.
Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Martin Wanless says...

In theory, a salary cap is absolutely the right way to go in English football. We’ve seen numerous examples of clubs over stretching themselves to keep up, and suffer the financial consequences.

In the NRL in Australia, the salary cap is used well. Wages are kept at ‘reasonable’ levels, and it ensures a good competition each year.

The reason it works in the NRL, however, is it’s a closed competition. There’s no promotion or relegation, and there’s only the English Super League that offers a potential transfer opportunity.

It’s this reason that I’m completely opposed to the salary cap in the way it’s currently proposed.

If it’s not in effect in the Premier League and the Championship, all it’s going to do is create a gulf that in years to come will be unsurpassable.

And then, if it’s not in effect in similar fashion across Europe, English football becomes cut off, too.

While you can see the logic in imposing a salary cap in League One and Two, it will cause negative financial issues for clubs, too, which could well negate any benefit.

At SAFC, Luke O’Nien and Jordan Willis, for example, will be out of contract next summer. If we don’t go up, we will be unable to offer them contracts anything near what they are - presumably - currently on.

Therefore, we lose assets of value for nothing. And this isn’t an issue just affecting us. Any decent player in League One and Two will run down their contract because their club won’t be able to offer them terms they can get in the Championship or abroad, despite the restraints on trade that may come into effect, so the gap gets wider and wider.

Whether it unfairly impacts Sunderland is neither here nor there. Given the ‘average wage’ calculation for currently contracted players, it shouldn’t have a great impact on us this season - yes, we may be restricted on what we can offer potential signings, but so will everyone else.

It will hopefully lead to smarter recruitment processes and more intelligent negotiations - and the end of Sunderland being seen as a cash cow for the commitment-phobes.

It does, however, underline the importance of us getting promoted this season - because if we don’t go up this time around, we’re going to fall further and further behind.

The biggest problem I have with the whole thing is the lack of consultation the abject EFL undertook with the PFA, the immediate enforcement and the fact it’s been decided upon by a vote.

As has been proven already this year, clubs will vote in their own interests - including us as much as anyone else. Of course the smaller clubs in the league are going to vote for a salary cap. because it evens up the competition and gives them more opportunity of a big Championship payday.

For us, it potentially makes the competition harder, and more difficult to escape from.

Some enforceable financial restrictions are needed to protect the long term viability of clubs. But unfortunately, this isn’t it.

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