London - He’s got a big mouth, Dave Whelan. Comes in handy on occasions, though. Like last week, when he used it to reveal the driving force behind the move to impose financial limitations on clubs in the Premier League.
Manchester United are the architects here. Who would have thought it? Whelan, as chairman of Wigan Athletic, supports the plan. Some smaller clubs’ owners do because they think it will mean spending less and lead to greater competition at the lower end. What did Whelan give as United’s motivation for such a game-changing move, however? An altruistic wish to safeguard club finances? The desire to move towards competitive equality? Not exactly.
‘I think Manchester City have shaken them up a little bit,’ said Whelan. Oh, Dave. Bigmouth strikes again. You’ve said the loud thing quiet and the quiet thing loud. People aren’t meant to know that. They must continue believing that football’s established elite want financial controls for the good of the game; not to maintain a cosy monopoly.
If they realise that United fear City on the pitch, so must legislate them out of contention instead, the whole plan falls down.
It is increasingly tough at places like Wigan, we know that. Yet Manchester United don’t care about the little guys. David Gill, the chief executive, simply intends upping the drawbridge on the clubs challenging United’s supremacy. He wants one specific element of football finance - yearly profit - to be analysed and used as the marker.
Gill won’t lobby for other forms of debt to be considered because, thanks to the business models of the Glazer family and of Sheik Mansour, United are hundreds of millions of pounds in the red and City don’t owe a bean.
Various proposals are being considered and some club owners favour salary curbs. Not United. They can afford big salaries and want to keep it that way. City can match them, too, and more. It is this power that frightens their rivals. There was no talk of curbs when United were the Premier League’s biggest beasts, unopposed.
The new financial rules focus on one element of a balance sheet, as if that is the entire economic picture. And football in 2012 is a snapshot, a mere moment in time, some clubs are up, some are down, some are in flux.
The clubs pushing hardest for controls are those who have the largest capacity stadiums already in place, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Why Liverpool would support such a measure, who knows? They are limited by the size of Anfield and behind many of their rivals commercially. Nobody heard about financial fair play from Arsenal when they were boxed in at Highbury.
And, if limitations on spending linked to revenue are introduced, how quickly can any club grow? An elite cabal would map the landscape in English football for decades.
Every club have at some time spent money they did not have. Manchester United started that way. In January 1902, Newton Heath had debts of £2,670 and were served with a winding-up order. Harry Stafford, the captain, recruited four local businessmen to invest £500 each and on April 24, Manchester United were born.
This may seem like ancient history, but there is not a club in existence who have not at some time used money that was not generated by the business to propel their advancement. One of the most outspoken critics of owner investment in Europe is Borussia Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke. Yet roughly a decade ago Dortmund received £1.6million to keep them afloat from - get this - Bayern Munich. The deal was so wholesome it has only just come to light.
Dortmund were close to being the Leeds United of the Bundesliga. Spending money they did not have almost killed them; yet it also brought great success initially. Now the club are financially solvent and on top again, was part of their vast and lucrative support not maintained by the days when Dortmund won trophies by flouting economic logic?
And is it therefore not the greatest hypocrisy now to campaign against clubs who use legitimate owner investment, without going into debt, when Dortmund benefited from a considerably more dubious practice?
The Premier League clubs will now consider the various regulatory proposals and a majority vote of 14 is required for change. First, they may wish to consider who is doing the proposing and why. Ask what’s in it for them. For Manchester United, that’s the bottom line, always.