The current EFL Salary Cap will not save League One & League Two clubs from financial oblivion

By Freddie Webb

In a drastic attempt to save Football League clubs from the financial mire, the EFL frantically pushed through a salary cap for the third and fourth tiers of English football.

Reminiscent of the player maximum wage – abolished in 1961 – the cap will limit the amount of money clubs can spend on player salaries.

Teams have an annual wage limit of £2.5m in League One and £1.5m in League Two: including performance bonuses, signing-on fees and agent fees.

With the financial impact of Covid-19 and no clear date for fans returning to grounds, the plans seem sensible on paper.

But the plans pushed through by the league and self-centred owners are a financial red herring.

Not only does the cap discourage clubs from utilising the income they generate, but it actively discourages clubs from living within their means.

A hard cap will not change the current culture of reckless spending.

As a club’s turnover is not considered, larger clubs like Portsmouth are hamstrung into spending only a fraction of what they generate, whereas smaller clubs have the capacity to overreach themselves and spend to the cap ceiling.

It’s not as if Pompey are spending money they don’t have.

Due to player sales, deep cup runs in the FA Cup and EFL Trophy, and the 2nd highest average attendance in the League One, the club increased their revenue by 30% and made a profit of £2m in 2018/2019, alongside cash reserves to counterbalance the losses due to the pandemic.

And Pompey’s reward for championing an organic growth strategy? A kneecapping of their competitive edge on and off the pitch.

Now, this isn’t just me ranting about how bad this decision is for Portsmouth – it is potentially a disaster for the entire league.

In principle, the cap adds more security, and with the wage bills of many clubs being an excessively high percentage of their income, some regulation is necessary.

Although, the cap will be a detriment of the product on the pitch, especially in League One.

Relegated teams from the championship have just as much of an huge edge as smaller sides.

Players currently on the books at Hull, Wigan and Charlton will all have their wages averaged out, meaning that they still have the capacity to pay for better players and still be in line with the cap. Relegated clubs in the future will also have this loophole.

Clubs like Portsmouth, Sunderland and Ipswich will be stuck in the middle; they won’t have the advantage of the relegated or smaller sides.

The cap is a kneejerk equality measure, not a safety net, and the gap between the Championship and League One will only become more of a yawning chasm.

Players will leave the 3rd and 4th tiers in droves to seek better contracts elsewhere, either by dropping down to the financially unchecked National League or seeking a move abroad.

Cameron McGeehan and Christian Burgess have both left England to sign lucrative long-term contracts in Belgium, and this “brain drain” will only continue if the cap is implemented.

In the current climate, the only way most 3rd and 4th tier clubs can fill out their squad is through academy prospects, specific free agents or loan players.

With the best will in the world, what fan wants to see their team made up of mainly Premiership and Championship loan players?

Karl Robinson’s prophecy of a Premier League 2 may sound hyperbolic, but fans have already seen this happen in the EFL Trophy.

As U21 players are exempt from the squad limit and cap, clubs have all the more incentive to sign Premiership loan players if they’re better than their academy prospects.

We’ve already sign attendances in the EFL Trophy fall through the floor because of B teams, so it’s a distinct possibility that the same could happen in the league, if loan players are prioritised over home-grown talent.

Not only will the on-pitch product be at risk, the cap will not change anything.

The EFL has allowed for an ethos of short-termism and reckless spending for far too long, and a cap is only the equivalent of putting a bandage over a gaping wound.

League One and Two clubs are still losing money hand over fist, and the anaemic FFP rules can’t stop it.

Some clubs are actively not being transparent with their finances by using abbreviated accounts, and chancers can still buy and destroy football clubs due to the ineffective owners and directors test.

You just have to look at the three relegated Championship clubs: Charlton, Wigan and Hull City: need I say anymore?

The only solution to this is a complete reimagining of the current cap, tightening FFP, employing an independent regulator to look at team finances. In effect, change the culture and take responsibility.

Basing spending on club turnover could be one solution, and another could be adding a luxury tax or “soft cap”, where teams can spend over the cap if they reinvest money into the league itself.

But this won’t happen, as the EFL have historically proven they are unable to make tough decisions, and most owners in League One are happy with any competitive advantage given to them.

East Anglian Daily Times journalist Mark Heath compiled the opinions of some owners in League One, and their self-interest is apparent.

Darragh MacAntony acknowledged that the system is unfair, but voted for the current cap anyway as it benefitted his team.

The brotherhood of the Football League is dead, and self-interest will reign supreme, as Tranmere chairman Mark Palios eluded to.

Although the cap may be scrapped if the PFA’s legal challenge is successful, it will not stop clubs from being vulnerable short or long term.

True change is needed, and this isn’t it.

Photo: Portsmouth FC

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