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Jan 26, 2012

Money for nothing

'Money,' sang Barrett Strong in one of Motown's first hits, 'that's what I want'. While it could seem the Premier League's anthem, the division's relationship with pounds and pence is a little more complicated. Their greed is almost taken for granted but while most clubs have never been wealthier, many have rarely been in more debt. The more they spend, the more secretive they try and become about it. Transfer fees are often undisclosed and even lengths of contracts can be glossed over.

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Readers of ESPNsoccernet's sister sites may have noticed that the exact levels of remuneration of players from teams like the Miami Heat or New York Yankees is displayed. The same is not true of Manchester United or Chelsea footballers - but not because of editorial oversight. There is no culture of openness, least of all when it comes to cash. It is a sign of unease about lavish expenditure.

Occasionally, however, important details cannot be denied. It is undisputed that, in January 2011, Chelsea broke the British transfer record to spend £50 million on Fernando Torres while Liverpool, in turn, made Andy Carroll the most expensive Englishman ever by paying Newcastle £35 million for him. As each approaches an unhappy anniversary of his arrival, it is impossible to argue either has been a success.

Each, rather, is an expensive embarrassment; an indictment of Roman Abramovich and Kenny Dalglish respectively. The impotent strikers are trapped by their transfer fees. To sell either at a huge loss would be humiliating, while it is utterly implausible any offers approach their inflated values of 12 months ago.

Moreover, with every failure, their fees appear still more excessive. They are quoted as the case for the prosecution mounts with every skewed, sliced or scuffed shot. Yet, compared with the references to Carroll's cost, count how often Liverpool's other attacking addition last January is deemed 'the £22.8 million striker Luis Suarez' with references to Carroll's cost. Torres' team-mate Ramires was an £18 million midfielder when he was struggling to adjust to life in England; his price tag is often ignored now he is possibly the club's player of the year.

David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Juan Mata and Phil Jones were all hugely expensive but reasons for their recruitment are apparent so the outlay becomes less of an issue in analysis of their performances. Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, David de Gea and David Luiz came at exorbitant cost that, to varying degrees, is yet to be justified. Then their fees are a factor.

By focusing on what appears a misuse of money, both public and press show society's values. But that seems a source of irritation to managers, who exhibit either a naivety or a wilful ignorance of the outside world to imagine money doesn't matter. The notion that they - or in Chelsea's case, the owner - can be judged on their spending is embraced by those who have bought well and resented by those who have not.

It is part of a wider managerial hypocrisy; coaches complain about criticism of how they have spent while calling for reinforcements at every opportunity. While a select group, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, David Moyes and Roberto Martinez, do not believe money is the automatic answer to any problem, plenty presume there is bottomless pit of cash.

It is often the argument of the underachieving manager, a game designed to shift the blame, bringing attention to the chairmen and chief executives who are vilified simply for balancing the books. Words like 'ambition' are used as euphemisms as if there are no ways of demonstrating a sense of aspiration or realising goals without heavy expenditure when actually, as Swansea, Norwich and Newcastle are showing there is another way.

The Premier League, with its seeming objective of world domination, can appear one of sport's financial success stories of the last two decades, drawing in money from across the planet, whether from supporters or owners. Yet no player, we are often assured, was motivated by money as a child.

Neither, originally, were many adults. The game has come a long way since a schism between public school amateurs and northern professionals in 19th Century England. The latter were the victors, setting up the Football League. Eleven years later, in 1899, the FA considered limiting transfer fees to £10.

It is a policy that may get belated support from Stamford Bridge and Anfield. A simpler solution would be to deny their fans information and ape other clubs' policy of refusing to reveal fees. Then, perhaps, they would spend less time on the defensive.

A reality check would help, though. Strange as it sounds, some managers seem surprised that more is expected of a £35 million forward or a £50 million striker than his cut-price counterpart elsewhere. In a season when Torres and Carroll are being outscored by Heidar Helguson, Danny Graham, Grant Holt and Steve Morison, the evidence that money does not necessarily buy success is particularly compelling.

By doubling up as soap opera and sport, the Premier League offers escapism in abundance. Yet sometimes it reflects reality. In two high-profile cases, the mocking choruses of "what a waste of money" from opposing fans have a truth. As the gap between rich and poor grows, the example of Torres and Carroll shows it is not necessary to succeed to accumulate unimaginable wealth. They are anti-heroes for the modern, moneyed age.

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