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Oct 8, 2008

Wage caps the answer to debt?

In the current global financial climate is it really possible to justify paying star footballers in excess of £100,000 a week?

It has always seemed strange that the likes of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry earn more for a week's work of kicking a ball around than a nurse or fireman can expect to make in about three years, but now it appears FA chairman Lord Triesman is keen to do something about it.

And about time too. The summer was filled with transfer gossip surrounding players like Frank Lampard who put Chelsea and their fans through hell, flirting with the possibility of leaving for Inter Milan if he wasn't given an extra £10,000 a week.

Ultimately the tactics worked with Lamps and his agent securing a tidy deal of around £140,000 a week making the Chelsea man the highest paid player in the league, but it wasn't the first time a wage issue had come to the fore.

The now infamous Ashley Cole saga saw the end of his time at Arsenal after he ''nearly swerved off the road'' after being offered just £55,000 a week and such behaviour served as a warning that players were beginning to hold too many cards in their contract negotiations.

While the issue Triesman was primarily addressing, that of lowering the league's debt, is slightly different to that of player greed, it can't hurt to kill two birds with one stone. A salary cap of £100,000 a week is more than enough for top players to maintain their playboy lifestyle, while also lowering the amount spent on wages.

At the end of last season a survey by Deloitte suggested that wages paid by top-flight English sides grew by 13% from the previous season to £969million. With the top four clubs leading the way in terms of pay: Chelsea - £132m, Manchester United - £92.3m, Arsenal - £89.7m and Liverpool - £77.6m.

And with the figures set to rise with the injection of cash that the new owners of Manchester City, and potentially Newcastle, will bring, things don't look like improving. City were reported to have offered Ronaldinho £200,000 a week to join them, which suggests the English clubs may now have more money than sense.

Indeed across Europe the Premier League is leading the way in spending on wages, Spain come in second only slightly ahead of Italy, Germany and France; and wage bills in those four continental leagues is roughly half as much as in England.

It is understandable that the Premier League wants to be competitive in their bid to attract new players, but the idea of a salary cap will only work if there is a general rule across the board for European sides. Otherwise it's one rule for us and another for them.

A stumbling block in actioning any such cap is, of course, the fact that EU law currently forbids the 'restraint of trade' and obstructions to the free movement of persons (the same regulations that led to the Bosman ruling).

In principle though, capping a player's salary has the potential to reduce the mounting debt of the clubs and the league, while also striking a blow for moderation in an ever-increasing game of greed.

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