Mooted Salary Cap Threatens To Drag Premier League Further Into Hell, American Style

The Premier League has failed repeatedly to figure out how to keep its financial playing fields level because, and you’ll be surprised by this, it can’t be done. Money walks, talks and occasionally throws knees into the nethers of those with less because that’s the society we seem to want in all other walks of life. But it took until this year, in which the league standings themselves have been reduced to suggestions because the profit and sustainability rules and the cloth-eared suits who interpret them keep giving and taking points away from teams while avoiding others entirely. Everyone hates the PSR, but they also hate the idea that the richest folks buy the best players over and over, even though that’s been the essential law since the fields were made of peat and the balls were made of skulls.

So the solution, as reports across the pond indicate is being increasingly considered, seems obvious—a salary cap, just like those mouth-breathing primates in America. Put down a number, nobody can spend beyond it, and everyone has to live by their wits. Except that every cap has enough built-in exceptions to allow for weaselly getarounds to be discovered by lawyers and accountants—the kind of human scum whose presence in our real lives is the exact stuff we desperately attempt to avoid by watching sports. And we hereby acknowledge that scum is getting libeled by the comparison.

But it’s not the inequities in the cap that create the most annoyance; as the oldtimers say, if you’re not kiting checks and undermining player contracts with other teams, you’re not trying. Go for it, kids. Rules are made to lift your leg on, or at this level, to hire someone to lift their legs on your behalf.

The real reason why the salary cap stinks both in concept and execution is that it has savaged the notion of what it takes to be a proper fan. It has turned many of us into Ned in Payroll, and every time someone says, “That’s an interesting trade but it won’t work because of the cap,” a litter of puppies dies. Ask any pet hospital.

The salary cap has created an army of general managers, and as we all know, general managers are less tolerable than regular people, and fans who imagine that they are general managers are the kind of people you would genuinely emigrate to avoid. They try to convince you that the game is still the thing, which is why Spotrac has videos (even if they are just of Thomas Tuchel speaking German), but the truth is you’re on Spotrac to see how player salaries fit into the cap framework, and when you do that, you become the person drinking by yourself at the dark end of the bar. And deservedly so.

The cap also makes most operators more stupid because being a rapacious pig still exists even with a salary cap—see the Phoenix Suns for the most recent proof of this. But that’s not our problem. Our problem involves the yobs and gobs in our own lives who complain about Stephen Curry because he’ll make $59 million in two years—like it’s their money he’s getting. It isn’t. He gets that if you never watch another game, if you move to Iceland, if you die. You’re not part of the deal, but shutting up about it seems beyond your skill set.

The rage against high salaries has always existed, but nobody ever applies the basic logic that no athlete has ever been paid money that the owner doesn’t have. All owners make more money than they spend because there are ways to make money off the franchise’s NIL that range far beyond what exists in even Front Office Sports’ world. There is a story of former Pirates owner John Galbreath doing a deal in Japan for his other company, and being asked how much it helped that he owned the baseball team, and he said, “I don’t know, but they knew who I was because I owned the Pirates.” He last owned the Pirates in 1985.

But salaries still aren’t the problem. It’s our insistence on pretending we know how the salary system works even when we kind of don’t that is the problem. Once we all came to grips with the salaries and then the ancillary notion of caps, we decided to ruin fantasy sports by making the athletes we select for our teams subject to our own salary caps. It normalized the idea of sports as a function of money as opposed to money as a function of sports, and it is why talking about your fantasy team to people who are not in your fantasy league is now a federal crime punishable by being stuffed into a bag with auto parts and being tossed off a bridge.

It has bogged us down in details like Bird rights, deferral, the value of rookie contracts and our particular favorite, “what’s Kirk Cousins’s amount of guaranteed money, and how much of his guaranteed money is actually guaranteed money as opposed to being provisionally guaranteed money.” And if the money is that oppressive, why did they draft Michael Penix? Because their view of money is not as actual money but a line on the budget that Arthur Blank has already declared to be affordable. He can pay them both while staying under the cap, and if he has to arse-can Cousins in two years and eat $115 million, he’ll do it easily. So why do we care so obnoxiously? Because we think we’re smarter businessmen than him, and while thinking you’re smarter than someone else is healthy and good, telling your friends you are can be a business-class ticket to Fist City.

It’s all a deep brown mess, and now the Premier League wants to adapt the cap (only the Manchesters and Aston Villa are known to object among the 20 Prem clubs) to the great detriment of its fans and those who know them. If you understand the inner workings of a salary cap, good for you. But if you understand them, you are hell-bent on sharing them with others, and if you are hell-bent on sharing them, we cannot be responsible for those long cold nights when you are home and alone because all your friends go to a different bar now. Sports is imitative by its nature, so English soccer fans are now going to be that much more like American fans. As though that were a standard worth pursuing.

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