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Trending: Kane carries Spurs' hopes at Real


The Champions League final: Priceless?

In spite of the global recession, more than 50,000 paying Barcelona and Manchester United fans have descend on Rome for the Champions League final.

It seems that when it comes to following your club no expense is too much, particularly when the prize on offer is the chance to say "I was there" on one of biggest nights in world sport and share in the anticipation and, hopefully, the glory.

With UEFA reducing the Stadio Olimpico's 72,689-seat capacity to 67,000 for the final, Barca and United have each been given 20,000 tickets to sell to fans and, with a further 10,000 put on sale for neutrals, there appears to be little risk of corporate "fans" outnumbering the genuine supporters.

Face value ticket prices ranged from €70 to €200 and after factoring in the additional cost of travel, accommodation, food and the obligatory drink, attending the Champions League final is not an option for those on a tight budget. Fans of last year's finalists Chelsea and United are thought to have spent an average of £600 per person en route to Moscow.

It remains to be seen how lucrative the scalpers and touts will find the sale of tickets on the black market. Usually demand is insatiable, but will it be this year?

With a day to go before kick-off, some websites were still offering neutral zone tickets for up to £2,250 while £1,195 bought you a place behind the goal at the United end.

That packages of such exorbitant cost are purported to still be available suggests that demand has not been high for the thousands of premium cost seats set aside for sponsors and corporate groups hoping to schmooze clients.

Despite the downturn in the economy, the cost of travelling to Rome and the undoubted expense of buying from a tout, up to 10,000 ticketless United fans are still expected to travel to Rome, with airlines putting on extra flights to cater for demand.

It is a long way to travel knowing that there are no big screens showing the game and that a ban on the sale of alcohol in the Italian capital will be in force before, during and after the game.

A booze ban may seem draconian given the wonderful scenes at the fan parks at the World Cup in 2006 and European Championship last year, not to mention a missed opportunity to swell the coffers of local bars and trattoria, but such is the concern at UEFA that the game pass off peacefully and without hostility, that the governing body is taking no chances.

Rather than risk the wrath of truncheon happy carabinieri and splash the cash on a trip to Rome, about 8,000 United fans have bought tickets to 11 screenings in the UK and Dublin, organised by the Manchester United Supporters Trust.

Wade Elliott's superb curling strike in Monday's Championship play-off final at Wembley was worth £60m to Burnley.

The 30-year-old's 13th minute goal earned promotion to the Premier League and, with it, lavish income from television rights, sponsorship, merchandising and a plethora of commercial opportunities. With the added safety net of two years of £10m-plus parachute payments in the event of relegation, Burnley are in the money.

But it's not just the club who are revelling in success. As a result of chairman Barry Kilby's pledge before the start of the season, around 7,000 fans will be watching Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal at Turf Moor for free next term.

Ahead of the season Kilpy promised that any Burnley fan who bought a season ticket before August 8, 2008 would get a free one for the 2009-10 season and also offered any fan who renewed their ticket this spring a refund in the event of promotion.

With adult season ticket prices starting at around £315, Kilby expects the offer will cost Burnley around £2m, but given a windfall of £60m he's still a happy man, insisting: "I've no regrets. It's a reward for all our fans and, actually, because of the new monies in the Premier League, it's not that big a percentage of our net revenues."

While Burnley are working out how to spend their Premier League windfall, Newcastle United are working out how to cope after being jettisoned from the top flight after 16 years.

With income drastically reduced, owner Mike Ashley, whose billionaire status is no more after the credit crunch halved his £1.4bn fortune in the last 12 months, faces some tough decisions.

Less than a year ago Ashley was hoping to sell the club for £350m. He then dialled down his expectation to £250m, then £150m and then took the club off the market hoping to ride out the recession - planning instead to sell the club (which he seemingly never doubted would remain in the Premier League) in a more buoyant market.

With estimates now putting the club's value at around £50m, Ashley has little choice but to stick to his guns and ride out the storm; having ploughed £250m into the club since taking over in August 2007. Selling for around £50m represents a loss that he surely could not countenance given the drop in his own fortune.

So, what's next? First things first, with income from television set to fall from around £40m to £2m a season, savings need to be made and that will come from players.

Deadwood like Michael Owen and Mark Viduka, great players on their day (or should that be "in their day"?), are free agents and will soon be off the books saving £180,000-a-week in wages. It's a good start but with 10 other players of Newcastle's 33-strong squad earning in excess of £50k-a-week, radical cuts need to be made.

Culling every high earner might be a tempting move given that no Newcastle player's contract contains clauses for reduction in wages in the event of relegation, but the club will need some new players if they are bounce back from the Championship immediately. It'll be a fine balance to make between recouping monies from transfers, cutting the wage bill and ensuring the club have the steel to win promotion.

Certainly on his way will be Joey Barton who costs £65k-a-week after being drafted in for £5.8m; if Newcastle get £2m on the open market they can count themselves very lucky indeed.

Sebastien Bassong, who is understood to be on £20k-a-week, would be worth keeping, but with a market value of around £8m will surely go. Fan-favourite Habib Beye on £50k-a-week could be offloaded for around £1m, likewise Alan Smith on £60k, while Jose Enrique on £50k could be sold on for as much as £2m.

Those staying seem likely to include Geordie boys Steve Taylor and Andy Carroll who both earn around £25k and, despite being attractive to scavenging clubs, should be the players Newcastle build around.

On a handsome £35k, 'keeper Steve Harper is well worth holding onto, as are players like Kevin Nolan (£40k), Danny Guthrie (£20k) and maybe even the ageing Nicky Butt (£40k) and, Damien Duff, a shadow of his former self who is paid £50k a week.

While players like Butt, Duff and Nolan are not obliged to accept a cut in wages, Newcastle may consider asking them to accept a drop with the promise of the difference being paid back to them if they successfully help the club reclaim their Premier League status.

Few players would accept such a deal knowing that the club is owned by a multi-millionaire, but by doing so they would ensure the support of the shell-shocked Toon Army.


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