With League clubs’ financial departments having been brought back from Planet Zog – thanks to the generosity of ITV Digital – and the Conference’s introduction of a salary cap, one might have thought the days of mismanagement were over. Not in south Essex they’re not. How exactly have Hornchurch, who pull in 400 punters on a good day, been allowed to sign upwards of a dozen full-time pros? Latest rumours have them offering £100,000 for Chester’s Daryl Clare and a contract worth almost £3,000 per week. How do Weymouth feel now about their investment in Steve Claridge when the stakes have been raised to ridiculous levels in Conference Two? From Chelsea to Hornchurch, the practice of deliberately running clubs as loss-making concerns remains football’s biggest problem. Someone needs to sort it out, but I don’t suppose they will.
Alan Dawson, London W10
The anti-play-off brigade continually quote the case of the team who finish third but don’t go up. But can you compare like with like? Going into the last game of the season, if the top two places are out of reach, consider the team in third place who can finish no worse than fourth. Both places carry home advantage in the play-off semi-final second leg, so if a few pivotal players are carrying niggling injuries, in these days of squad rotation it would come as little surprise to see them sit out that last game of the season. If the team ends up fourth, they won’t be too bothered. I think it is fairly safe to say that if it was straight three-up with nothing for fourth place then a full-strength team would have played in that final match. But would the league placings leading up to that game have been the same anyway? For example, in a straight three-up scenario, run-in games against teams in the vicinity of sixth place would be against opposition with nothing to play for/nothing to lose and one eye on the family holidays. In a play-off situation where the top-six teams effectively make the cut, those games would be played against teams fighting for a play-off place and dreaming of a slice of the Murdoch millions. Two almost entirely different sets of circumstances, potentially leading to different outcomes. I admit that if the team in third is ahead of the fourth-placed team by the proverbial mile then some of this loses credibility. But nothing’s perfect. A bit like the play-offs, really.
Alun Thomas, Leatherhead
All the recent talk of star players being over-tired at the recent Euro 2004 seems to be missing the whole point of the tournament. Just like in last season’s Champions League, star players have become a lucrative irrelevance to the game at the highest level. It is the managers who are the most important factor. Surely it is not a coincidence that the finals of both tournaments were contested by the two best managers? Football is a team sport and astute tactics will always win over individual talent that is not applied in a proper set-up. Even the much touted Wayne Rooney disappeared for half an hour when shackled by the tactics of Felipe Scolari. Football must learn two things. First, the attempt to do an NBA by heavily promoting good looking stars has become an embarrassment and should be stopped. Second, nobody can expect to win a major tournament by simply picking their best players and throwing them on to the pitch any old way. The FA should have thought of this before they gave Sven another wad of ill-deserved cash.
John Cotter, Waterford, Ireland
It seems to me that the biggest problem caused by the absurd advent of The Championship is that the top two levels in English football now have dramatic-sounding names and the fifth and sixth levels have one that is at least engagingly eccentric, but levels three and four have been lumbered with labels that are both prosaic and misleading. Clearly, League One and League Two require something better. May I suggest The Reckoning for level three and The Struggle for level four? The Reckoning suggests both a showdown and a frantic calculation, such as those often undertaken by the hard-pressed directors and administrators in charge of lower- division clubs. The Struggle is appropriate for the lowest fully professional league for obvious reasons – and “We’re gonna win The Struggle” has a certain ring about it, don’t you think?
Dave Jennings, Bradford
Am I the the only person getting worried about loan deals, especially those with “you can’t play against us” clauses written in? The main concern is of course with Chelsea, who at the time of writing have three international players out on loan plus at least one other potential international in Carlton Cole. If Arsenal or Man Utd for instance draw Milan in the Champions league knockout rounds and Hernán Crespo does some damage, they will effectively be undone by a Chelsea player, paid to some extent by Chelsea money. If Chelsea get Milan in the next round and Crespo is ineligible, surely Chelsea are getting an unfair, albeit “legal”, advantage in both instances? With Chelsea paying over the odds and putting players on presumably unmatchable wages, it could reach a stage where they might be destabilising competitions as well as the whole transfer market. Of course the solution is simple, ban loan deals or at least eliminate wage subsidies and ensure “ineligible” clauses are forbidden. Or is that too simple?
Martin Ling, London E2
I would like to make a few very important clarifications with regards to comments about Greece in the Euro 2004 diary (WSC 210). First the kid that appears on Angelos Charisteas’ T-shirt (post-scoring the winning goal at the final) is his nephew, not his son (makes it even worse, doesn’t it?). Coincidentally, Angelos displayed another T-shirt, with the inscription “Micoud”, after scoring the winning goal in the quarter-final against France. The story goes that his good friend and team-mate at Werder Bremen, Johan Micoud, phoned Angelos on the morning of the quarter-final and asked him to “stuff one past Jacques Santini” (who cut Micoud from the France squad just before the finals). Angelos duly obliged and dedicated the goal to Micoud, who is probably now wanted for treason in France. The grey-haired gentleman doing the piston arm dance at the final was Greek FA (EPO) president Vasilis Gagatsis, not prime-minister Costas Karamanlis. The flabby-armed, white tank-topped lady next to him was the FA president’s wife. Apparently the Portuguese TV director mistook the FA president for the prime minister, so we were treated to a non-stop display of Gagatsis looking at the sky (a higher being gifting Greece victory, you see), gesticulating, and (fake) crying throughout the entire final. Prime Minister Karamanlis was the rather rotund balding gentleman, sitting to the right of Gagatsis. To the right of Karamanlis was his glamorous, Lady-Di lookalike, wife Natasa. Surely this publicity couldn’t have been reserved for the president of an FA, albeit one whose team had reached a European Championship final. It appears that, after all, the Portuguese TV director did not lose his job for missing Maniche’s screamer into the top-corner at the Portugal v Holland semi-final.
Costas Tsioras, Greece
From WSC 211 September 2004. What was happening this month