EPL TALK: Grotesque Premier League spending is a sick joke

League resembles a private game among rich friends, flaunting their money while the British economy flounders and workers go on strikes

Chelsea unveil new signing Enzo Fernandez at Chelsea Training Ground.
Chelsea unveil new signing Enzo Fernandez at Chelsea Training Ground. (PHOTO: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

THE English Premier League needs an intervention, a gathering of addicts at Billionaires Anonymous, something, anything, to remind the deluded that the plot has been lost here.

Like an alcoholic insisting it’s just one more drink, Chelsea are pretending that it’s just one more record signing, just another amortisation exercise for fancy accountants, no harm done. They can handle it. It’s only one Enzo Fernandez, until a Mykhailo Mudryk is slid across the bar, and then a Malo Gusto, and even a Benoit Badiashile.

And before we know it, we’re all drunk on their January binge, writing splashy headlines and compiling charts of grubby excess. We’re enabling them. All of us. Punters and pundits alike, getting swept along in the ugly game show, Who wants to be a Billionaire’s Pawn?

The literary and verbal diarrhoea splattered across news pages and TV screens really has been something to behold. All the big, weighty questions have been asked. How will the Blues accommodate four left-wingers, seven central midfielders and a couple of lost causes in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Romelu Lukaku? Can Graham Potter bring balance to Todd Boehly’s force?

Can we actually hear ourselves?

We really have become that delusional drunk scrambling around in a back alley, looking for the dregs of discarded wine bottles and insisting that one more drink will fix everything. Normal service can resume after that, as long as we remain unmoored from reality.

Chelsea’s spending, along with that of the English Premier League generally in the last month or so, is an obscene joke, a vulgar exercise in bad taste. This is greed on an industrial scale, freed of moral concerns and liberated from anything as tedious as self-awareness.

Once the transfer window closed, the English Premier League completed the last of its £815 million spending as Britain embarked upon the biggest strikes witnessed in a decade, with half a million workers demanding pay rises that vaguely resemble inflation increases.

With a straight face, the front and back pages of the same news outlets traded figures. Up to 300,000 teachers went on strike. Up to £300 million spent by Chelsea. Around 70 per cent of train services were disrupted by the walkouts. Around £107 million was spent on Fernandez, who has played a whopping 29 times for Benfica. An astonishing 100,000 civil servants protested over pay. An astonishing £88m was lavished on Mudryk, who has turned out for Shakhtar Donetsk just 44 times.

This surreal Dickensian tennis match was hammered back and forth between the haves and the have-nots with no comparisons made. And maybe there isn’t one. Emotional comparisons between underpaid teaching assistants and Chelsea’s new gaggle of uber-wealthy benchwarmers is lazy tabloid titillation, guaranteed to enrage the forums and demonise those working-class lads blessed with a rare sporting ability (a demonisation that largely spares golfers. Funny that.)

But the wilful inability to poke one’s head through the EPL cocoon to gauge the current climate of industrial unrest is almost admirable. Never mind the bollocks about a cost of living crisis, here come those sexy signings at Stamford Bridge.

So let’s do what Gary Lineker and Gary Neville are told to do on our hourly basis on social media and stick to football. In January, Chelsea outspent every club in the Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A combined. While the English Premier League spent four times the combined transfer expenditure of those four other major leagues of Europe.

European Super League looms

For some, this is Darwinist economics. Serie A ruled in the 1980s. La Liga took over at the turn of this century and now it’s English football’s turn, doing all it can to retain the entertainment dollar in a crowded marketplace.

But this level of spending is not a passing of the baton but a tectonic shift with considerable sporting and financial consequences – you’ll decide which is the more important – as the EPL takes a Marvel-like grip over its global audience with weekly matches streamed onto screens in almost 200 countries.

American director Martin Scorsese foresaw the consequences of cinema being dominated by theme-park rides, as he called them, superhero blockbusters that squeezed independent movies out of the multiplexes and onto streaming platforms. Serie A and La Liga don’t have Netflix – yet – but they do have that perennial trump card: The European Super League.

Rather than obsess over the transfer figures, busy clubs like Wolves, Southampton and Bournemouth might want to ponder the 500,000 TV subscribers that Serie A has lost in Italy. Like the Avengers at the multiplex, the EPL is swamping screens everywhere, encouraging Boehly and his private equity mates to keep splurging, leveraging their shopping sprees against future TV revenues and those pre-season trudges around Singapore and Sydney.

Great for Chelsea, maybe, but certainly not great for Serie A and their vulnerable friends.

They want their entitled slice, their lost slice, which can only realistically come from leaping onto the EPL bandwagon and snatching a little of English football’s global goodwill, via lifelong admission to a European Super League, where normal rules do not apply. This private member’s club is above the tacky machinations of relegation, a club where the likes of Wolves, Southampton and Bournemouth will almost certainly not be welcome.

Maybe Boehly is privately hoping for cash-strapped Spaniards and Italians to make their desperate play one more time, to bridge the chasm between the EPL and the rest, through a European Super League. Or maybe the Chelsea owner assumes that EPL dominance will suffice, an unregulated toy controlled by foreign owners who move massive sums from one money pit to another, away from the game and into off-shore accounts.

This is the end game for Boehly and his partners: to produce a return on their investment and cash out in the future, which means more outrageous transfers leveraged against future global revenues. The gap grows. Other clubs – and other leagues – get left behind. And when this unsustainable model starts to squeeze vulnerable rivals, the European Super League proposal will return like a bad smell.

And Chelsea will be warmly embraced at the top table. Will your club?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. There’s already a super league flourishing within the EPL. The one-percenters have taken complete control, unashamedly flaunting their wealth by moving players and clubs around like kittens pawing at balls of wool. For profit. For fun. Who cares?

The English Premier League is a private game among friends with benefits now. And it stinks.

The one-percenters have taken complete control, unashamedly flaunting their wealth by moving players and clubs around like kittens pawing at balls of wool. For profit. For fun. Who cares?

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

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