Could a salary cap work in the Premier League?

The recent news of Gallagher Premiership champions Saracens breaching the league’s salary cap has rocked the rugby world. Rival clubs and fans have come out in support of Premiership Rugby’s (PRL) decision to fine Saracens £5 million and dock them 35 points, leaving the reigning champions on -26 points after three games played.

But could a salary cap ever work in the Premier League, and by that extension English football as a whole? 

Collectively the teams in the Premier League are billions of pounds in debt, Manchester United alone reportedly owed a total of £500 million earlier this year.
Though none of the clubs are in immediate trouble due to the money they receive for playing in the league.

A salary cap or stricter rules on spending could help keep club costs down. It would also help to prevent situation like Bury FC in the lower leagues, where a cap would keep excessive spending down. 

The salary cap set by the Premiership means that clubs have £7 million that they can spend on the player salaries of its squad per season, and an academy credit of £800,000.

To put this in perspective, Paul Pogba has an annual salary of just over £15 million. 

Since the 2015-16 season though each club is afforded two players they can exclude from the cap calculations, commonly referred to as ‘marquee players, an example of a marquee player in football would be Pogba for Manchester United, or Cristiano Ronaldo signing for Juventus.  

In the 2019 Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa, nine players in the two match-day squads were Saracens players, and any number of these players could be considered marquee. 

The Premiership aren’t the only league that use a cap, the MLS, NFL, NHL and NBA amongst countless other competitions in the world that employ a cap successfully.

The difference with the North American sports is that they don’t have to compete with teams outside their league like Premier League teams do with European sides, and can just focus on the regulations in their league. 

The positives of a salary cap are that it keeps the overall costs of clubs down, and helps maintain a competitive balance within the league as the richer clubs can’t stack their team with more top players than their rivals.  

Without a salary cap the wealthier teams can essentially hoard talented players, these teams pay more and more for these players which inflates the price for all players, in turn widening the gap between teams.  

The Premier League is touted as the most competitive league in the world, but since 1996 only 5 teams have won the title, compared to the Premiership where nine teams have won since 1996.

Admittedly Leicester City’s inspired win of the 2015-16 title showed that some teams can still compete, but as expected the aforementioned wealthy teams snapped up two of Leicester’s most outstanding players, Chelsea signed N’Golo Kante, and Manchester City signed Riyad Mahrez.  

Despite Leicester’s win there is still no denying the shared monopoly that Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have had on the Premier League title over the past two decades.

So imposing a salary cap on the Premier League should in theory increase the competition as all teams would be able to afford the same quality of player.
It would calm the reckless spending of the clubs that has been brought on primarily by the massive TV rights deals, and in turn ensure the sustainability of the league.

Another knock on effect is it could in the long run increase the amount of homegrown talent that’s produced in the league. We see how well Frank Lampard’s academy players at Chelsea are playing as a direct result of the transfer ban imposed on Chelsea.

Preventing these wealthy clubs from overspending on talent from abroad could allow for the cultivation of British talent.

But simply put a salary cap in the Premier League wouldn’t work, it’s a double edged sword. It might help keep the league sustainable, and keep the debt of clubs low. But its very likely that a cap of some kind could reduce the attractiveness of the Premier League, there are so many world class and talented players all in one league.

These players don’t just bring competitive success to clubs and leagues, but their commercial and financial incentives far outweigh the millions of pounds a year they so willingly throw at them.

Sub-edited by Joni Ahokas 

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