Day in court moves closer as Sunderland hear Pompey's wage cap campaign while others ask why?

It’s a day out they don’t want to arrive.

Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 6:09 pm

But a Pompey date with the courts moved a significant step closer this week, as the club’s rhetoric over their position on the League One wage cap was ramped up several notches.

The sentiments Blues chief executive Mark Catlin has hitherto chosen to keep within the realm of private conversation, were brought sharply into the public domain deep within what was an enlightening Q&A missive on the club’s website.

Most Blues fans are now aware of the club’s position on the wage cap and much of the thinking behind it. But perhaps for those who aren't of a royal blue persuasion who are questioning how a club haemorrhaging 700k a month aren’t supporting what was voted in by clubs in financial crisis on August 7, it was a useful tool to outline exactly why Portsmouth Football Club aren’t prepared to let this go.

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Yes these are changes to the game which hit the Blues harder than most, but when shining a light on the detail of the salary cap and squad restrictions it should become apparent to neutral observers this isn’t a football club agitating and squinnying because they haven’t got their own way.

The League One ceiling, as is, purports to be a beacon of sustainability for a game desperately in need of financial reform.

It isn’t.

In fact, that probably has to be the worst thing about it. It’s trying to be something it’s not. It’s a charlatan masquerading as a saviour; a phoney dealing in self-interest rather than the game’s long-term health.

Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin. Picture: Joe Pepler

Why so?

Probably the place to start here, is the perplexing decision of the EFL to put on the table a ‘one-size-fits-all’ cap.

The fact a blanket £2.5m ceiling is in play across the division for clubs as disparate in size as Accrington and Sunderland, Ipswich and Rochdale, Pompey and AFC Wimbledon paves the way for sides to do the very thing the wage cap is supposed to avoid: put them in financial jeopardy.

It’s a point Catlin has needed to repeat ad nauseum to get his message across, yet it’s still not being heard by those questioning the Blues’ motivations and asking for forensic analysis of his claims.

Yet, the anecdotal evidence is compelling enough here when rival owners are asking the Blues’ CEO why they should pump their own cash in to keep up with his club? That question alone tells you everything about the mindset which exists even down the leagues, where businessmen are prepared to adopt such an approach.

So clubs with smaller revenues will be able to continue running up debt to that £2.5m threshold, while the Blues - whose latest accounts report a £11.57m turnover - can’t spend what they generate themselves.

The players’ perspective remains front and centre with the impact of the wage cap already being felt.

With the restrictions in place, talent is now being lost out of the EFL. Pompey have seen both Christian Burgess and Cameron McGeehan move to Belgium, while Brandon Haunstrup has gone north of the border - all unimpeded by the ceiling's restraint.

There’s no doubt, too, players who were previously considering summer switches to PO4 have now gone elsewhere. ‘They’ve got a wage cap to deal with,’ has been a recurring comment in summer conversations with both agents and players, when The News have been on the phone discussing Pompey.

Now the divisional average wage of £2,000 per week still sounds decent enough to most of us, but when agents’ fees, national insurance, bonuses and medical costs are factored into that figure the take-home amount soon dwindles. And this at a level where the average career totals seven years.

The reality now is the players effectively have to reach the Championship to earn the kind of mind to secure their family’s future.

There’s nothing particularly disagreeable about that in itself, but when it comes to clubs trying to protect key assets for their business, an illogical road bump's hit.

Alex Bass and Ronan Curtis’ futures were tied down last season, with the pair Pompey’s prized players at present. It’s been the same with Matt Clarke and Jamal Lowe in the past. Moving forward, they’d conceivably have to take a paycut to extend their deals - what’s the chances of that happening?

It’s a policy we all know is only going to extend the gap between the third and second tiers, where there’s no cap currently and a figure of £18m has been mooted if and when there is.

We could go on about clubs not being able to reinvest from players sales or spend what they earn from cup runs, but what no one should be saying is this is truly about a viable future for the EFL. Apparently most clubs aren’t even pretending that’s the case, at least.

Yes, it’s clear these are financial controls which hit the big League One few like Pompey most, and suit much of the rest of the pack in levelling the field.

But what many aren’t perhaps seeing is they aren’t asking for the whole concept to be binned - quite the opposite in fact.

A cap indexed to turnover was one of the options Catlin tried to get on the voting table, but was given short shrift by the EFL.

‘That’s probably what we should’ve done,’ admitted Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony on a recent episode of his podcast.

It’s an issue Pompey aren’t prepared to drop. And it’s not a stance adopted on a whim.

The club have been seeking advice from sports lawyers, who are briefing they have a strong case to argue the cap’s legality should they pursue the route they’re now intimidating they may.

Those taking the view Pompey are campaigning against the cap are wide of the mark, however. In fact, there’s not a great distance to travel to reach a point deemed satisfactory for all parties in their eyes.

Pompey have asked for club’s budgets to be flexed if their revenue from gate receipts is strong enough to take clubs above the £2.5m threshold. They argue this is not a difficult area to police with the receipts registered centrally with the league, and it gets clubs to a natural position where budgets fits with their size (£6.5m for Sunderland and £4.5m approx for both Pompey and Ipswich).

Additionally, they’ve suggested contract extensions should be considered as amounting to a divisional average wage to protect playing assets.

This is hardly the radical demands of ‘whining’ clubs, as Accrington owner Andy Holt put it in The Athletic this week.

The hope is the arbitration period between the EFL and Professional Footballers’ Association will arrive somewhere near this kind of middle ground moving forward, to avoid going to the lengths now publicly aired.

It’s a stance which has been championed by fans of Sunderland in recent days, as Catlin's campaign is slowly being comprehended.

You get the feeling there's still a distance to travel and ears which need to hear why this is a cause Pompey will not let lie. Likewise, you suspect there's still the mileage left in this landmark narrative to ensure that's the case.

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