TIME FOR CHANGE: IMPENDING DISASTER AT DERBY COUNTY HAS TO BE THE FINAL STRAW FOR THE EFL
Despite the excitement around Wayne Rooney being confirmed as Derby’s permanent manager on Friday, Pride Park is still drowning in uncertainty.
It was revealed just over a week ago that the club had failed to pay some of their players in full for the month of December, as a protracted takeover by Derventio Holdings continues to rumble on without completion.
Derby continue to insist that the company owned by Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan will go through with the purchase of the club, with CEO Stephen Pearce telling a host of media outlets that the failure to pay wages was simply an issue of timing.
However, John Percy of The Telegraph reported last Wednesday that cash reserves at the East Midlands’ club are running low and that there is a very real threat of them being placed into administration.
Since current owner Mel Morris purchased a controlling stake in Derby in September 2015, the club has consistently walked a Financial Fair Play tightrope; regularly spending big in the hunt for Premier League football and even selling Pride Park to a company owned by Morris in order to abide by profit and sustainability rules.
Whilst there is likely to be little sympathy for well-remunerated footballers being paid slightly later than usual in the current climate, the unsustainable way in which Derby have been run since Morris gained control of his boyhood club scratches at the surface of an issue that has dogged the EFL since long before the outbreak of Covid-19.
Derby aren’t even the only club to fail to play their players in recent weeks, with Sheffield Wednesday – another side who have been charged for not abiding by FFP rules – also failing to fully pay wages on time in December.
Falling into administration can obviously be a significant step on the path to oblivion, and the gut-wrenching waste of two historic Football League clubs in Bury and Macclesfield in recent years is more than enough evidence that the EFL is not doing enough to regulate its member clubs, neither in terms of who owns them or how they are run.
The introduction of wage caps in League One and League Two in the summer was a positive step, but even that was only brought about by the economic impact of having to play games behind-closed-doors and it wasn’t introduced in the Championship; the league that is most likely to see clubs overspend in a desperate attempt to reach the Premier League.
Whilst it would be wrong to suggest the plight of the likes of Bury, Macclesfield and Wigan were caused by exactly the same circumstances, in all cases more could have been done to prevent their downfall.
Capping spending across all three divisions and introducing a more stringent test for potential owners and directors of EFL clubs is something that can be done with little effort and would remove the loopholes in FFP that overly ambitious chairmen have tried to exploit, but truly protecting their long-term future would be done best through fan ownership.
Exeter City and AFC Wimbledon are the only majority fan-owned clubs currently in the EFL and both should serve as a model for how clubs should operate going forward. The Dons have recently moved into a wonderful new stadium on the site of their former home at Plough Lane thanks to a bond scheme funded by their loyal fans, showing fan ownership doesn’t have to come at the cost of ambition.
The 50+1 fan ownership rule also works well in Germany, with clubs far more attuned to the wants and needs of their most important stakeholder – the supporters.
The Premier League is obviously a massive issue in this debate. EFL clubs and owners have only been so desperate to spend lavishly due to the riches on offer in the top tier, creating a vacuum for clubs like Derby and Sheffield Wednesday who fall just short of promotion; they become stuck with a top division wage bill but have only a second tier income.
Premier League clubs almost certainly won’t change in order to help the EFL, why would they forgo the riches they receive for the good of others? So the EFL should focus on protecting its own member clubs and allow the Best League In The World™ to break apart as its wealthiest clubs seek to safeguard their own back accounts with no thought for the future of the football pyramid.
Clubs have been keen to tell all who will listen how important supporters are as we reach almost a full year since some stadiums welcomed fans, well now is their opportunity to prove it. For the sake of more clubs not suffering the same fate as Bury or Macclesfield, it’s time for them to hand over control.