Four months later comes another stark reminder that football is not working properly. Something – some things – really need to been done about it.
In fairness to the Government they responded to the attempted coup with a fan-led review of how the English game is run. The Yorkshire Post took soundings from fans of Leeds United and Halifax Town, more or less opposite ends of the spectrum, encouraged by its initial findings. When they become hard recommendations this autumn, they need to be effective.
Arguably the world’s greatest all-time player being unable to play for one of the best-supported clubs on the planet because they are in so much debt they could not get him into their squad even if he offered to play without pay is bonkers.
Sad though the fallout is, it is good La Liga played hard-ball with Barcelona and enforced financial fair-play rules which say they cannot sign players if it pushes their wages-to-income ratio above 70 per cent. Barca’s is 95 per cent.
But the equivalent European rules, relaxed for the pandemic, allowed Messi to join Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Angel Di Maria, new signings Sergio Ramos, Euro 2020 player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum and Achraf Hakimi and numerous other ludicrously well-paid superstars at Paris Saint-Germain. Maybe we should be grateful they could afford to keep him in the game.
Meanwhile, Manchester City could make two £100m-plus signings this summer if they add Harry Kane to Jack Grealish. That they can even think about it must sit uncomfortably with managers like Doncaster Rovers’ Richie Wellens, desperately trying to scrape a few extra quid to strengthen his squad without bankrupting his club.
Just because the alternative proposed was rubbish does not mean the status quo is great.
Sheffield Wednesday, who have consistently failed to pay players in full and on time in the pandemic, have signed 13 this summer. They have all been loans and free signings but there is no such thing as a free signing. It is only in his transfer fee Messi was cheaper than Harrogate Town’s Luke Armstrong.
Financial fair play in its various guises is supposed to ensure clubs do not spend themselves into oblivion, yet it allowed Barcelona to run up more than a billion euros of debt.
The Owls must be laughing at Barcelona unable to sign Messi because of a 95 per cent wages-to-revenue ratio. Theirs was 161 per cent for 2019-20, down seven per cent in two years. Spending more than you bring in is pretty much the norm in the catastrophically crazy Championship. Wednesday faced a choice between trying to keep up or accepting their fate a la Hull City in their last second-tier season. Neither got it right but it is now too difficult an equation.
Clubs like Halifax and Scarborough went bust, albeit doing a good job of starting again, and far too many community institutions have sailed very close to the wind but for the survivors it is about making it fair, so Leeds United escaping Premier League relegation is not a big achievement, and Championship clubs competing with those whose relegation was subsidised have a fighting chance.
Football remains a great game, and the fact fans are back to enjoy it again is genuinely heartwarming but it is a long way from the sport it should be. The aborted breakaway and now this very messy business have to trigger proper change.