Why a spending cap could signify a subtle but important power shift in the Premier League

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Why a spending cap could signify a subtle but important power shift in the Premier League

So an era of unprecedented Premier League changes could be about to move into new territory — from points deductions to spending constrictions.

The asterisks which haunt the league table in relation to punishments for clubs who have breached the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability rules may soon be followed by question marks on balance sheets across the division.



Premier League clubs to vote on introducing new spending cap

Should a majority of clubs vote through the proposed hard spending cap for the 2025-26 season, it would not only aid the competitive nature of the world’s strongest domestic league, but also enforce a subtle shift in the perceived power base of English football.

The cap is based on the concept of “anchoring”, designed to limit the amount of money any club can invest in their squads by tying it to a multiple of what the lowest earners get from the league’s centralised broadcast and commercial deals.

It would go a step further than the UEFA-mirroring new squad-cost rules, which clubs are set to vote on in June, that permit squad spending to a ratio of revenue and player sales, a small but perhaps overdue concession to those who are worried about the league’s competitive balance.

Under the additional anchoring — or hard cap — plan, a greater clarity and transparency would arrive which — so the theory goes − ensures everyone from Chelsea and Manchester City to Wolves and Crystal Palace are playing by precisely the same rules.

The multiple is the multiple. Obfuscation, workarounds, and overspends would no longer be backstage levers for the big boys to pull.

For years the ‘haves’, super-rich Manchester City, Chelsea, and then more recently, Newcastle, have seemingly had things their own way: the former pair as yet unsanctioned despite allegations potentially far more serious than those that triggered punishments for Everton and Nottingham Forest, the latter able to join the petrostate top table and enjoy some (if not all) of the benefits enjoyed by City and Chelsea over the last two decades.

If those clubs squirm at the notion of a hard cap, then many supporters outside of their fanbases will have little sympathy.

Of course, it might require slightly reduced salaries for current or new players, but the bank balance pains for those stars could be worth it for the sustainability gains. Anyone familiar with Everton’s piteous predicament would argue that if one of the league’s handful of ever-presents can sink to its knees so badly, something needs to be done to prevent it happening to others.

Everton tried and failed to chase the established ‘big six’, with owner Farhad Moshiri bankrolling a misguided spending spree that in the end has them close to rolling off a precipice.

The Merseyside club might not have been able to get into such a mess had anchoring been in place back in 2016 when their British-Iranian owner took over.

Chelsea fans protesting the proposed European Super League in 2021 (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

But how has such wider ethical concern seemingly won out over self-interest? What has got anchoring to the point of genuine consideration, where it would seem like the big boys are not getting it all their own way?

The answer could be a subtle power shift, caused by new mutually-beneficial alliances. The Premier League’s broadcast revenue sharing has always been, by European football standards anyway, a relatively noble meritocratic arrangement.

It is less that sharing ratio which clubs like Everton, West Ham and Crystal Palace are worried about — and more the consistent advantage clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea and United have accrued from decades of participation in European football.

Not only do the ‘big six’ pocket extra millions every season from being in UEFA competitions, they also get to do better commercial deals each year because of it. Newcastle and Aston Villa are doing their best to prise open that clique, but the established gap already seems fairly structural.

Two of the last five Champions League finals have been contested by clubs from England’s ‘big six’ (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

An expanded Champions League designed to ward off a European Super League, while next summer’s Club World Cup will only reinforce the gap between the Premier League’s long-standing haves and have-nots.

It took an interesting coming together of not only the top flight’s minnows and its middle classes — such as Palace, West Ham and Fulham — but also some of that upper-class elite to get anchoring on the agenda so firmly.

A move towards a North American-styled salary cap system might well have been endorsed by the likes of U.S.-owned Liverpool or Arsenal in the hope it could rein in a common foe.

If Manchester City, as widely predicted, overcome the spirited challenge of both those clubs to retain their Premier League title, their steely dominance over English football will be underlined.

Perhaps the hope from rivals is that the introduction of a hard spending cap will loosen Sheikh Mansour and City Football Group’s firm grip on Premier League success in the last decade, and start to level the playing field a bit.

For the Premier League, much maligned in some quarters with their application of PSR sanctions casting uncertainty on this season, it is another pushback against the need for external regulation. Anchoring would unlikely have gotten this far without Richard Masters recognising it as another concession to ease his ongoing scrutiny.

All that may still not be enough to make it a reality. Ultimately it is the Professional Footballers’ Association who might have the decisive say. They will need to be demonstrably consulted, listened to and likely negotiated with for the proposal to actually come into force the season after next.

Even then, if Premier League footballers revolt strongly at the potential for pay cuts it could throw the whole deal into doubt. Nobody will want the potential for U.S.-style strikes, such as the mid-1990s baseball walkout that saw two seasons left incomplete.

There would be the potential for the PFA to ask for rises in the multiple (already up from an original 4.5 multiplier to 5) until the point that it makes little difference and becomes lip service.

Monday’s vote may be the first step in a small but important change for the Premier League but the players on the field who do the running could yet stop it in its tracks.

Until such point, anchoring will remain a tantalising notion for a potentially fairer game, and a rare moment when the petro-boosted ‘haves’ were made to contemplate the fact that not everything will always go their way.

(Header photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)