In any walk of life, effective disciplinary measures should not only punish the guilty party, they must also act as a deterrent against future misdemeanours. There can, therefore, be few practices more pointless in modern football than the use of financial penalties to penalise football players, clubs and governing bodies. Fines have long been used to deal with breaches of discipline, but their impact has lessened dramatically over the last 10-20 years.
The game is now awash with money, thanks to TV deals, billionaire owners and other revenue streams: as a result, managers and players who operate in the upper echelons of club football earn salaries which, to some, could be considered obscene. Yet those who step out of line continue to be ‘punished’ by being asked to hand over sums of money which are the millionaire’s equivalent of loose change.
In March last year, Sir Alex Ferguson was fined £30,000 (along with a five-game touchline ban) following comments he made about referee Martin Atkinson. For many people, such a figure is equivalent to a couple of years wages. However, it’s not likely to make much of a dent in the finances of a man who, according to FourFourTwo, has a personal wealth of £27million.
Then there’s El Hadji Diuof. He received a penalty of £5,000 for his conduct during Rangers’ Scottish Cup replay loss to Celtic last season, where he was sent off after the final whistle. The broad smile on Diouf’s face as he left a hearing at Hampden Park told it’s own story – when you can afford to pay a reported £300k for a car, money tends not to be an issue.
Clubs and national associations are no different. In October, Chelsea were fined £20,000 for failing to control their players during the controversial loss at QPR. That’s the same Chelsea who are owned by Roman Abramovich and benefit from a TV deal with Sky, the amount of which could feed a small country.
In November, the Bulgarian FA were asked to shell out £34,250 following racist chants from their fans during a Euro 2012 qualifier against England. This pitiful amount was consistent with other fines handed out previously to the governing bodies of Croatia and Spain for similar offences.
There has to be change. If fines were to have an impact, players and clubs would have to be deducted huge amounts – at their present levels the games decision makers are doing little more than urinating into a very strong breeze.
The guilty parties have to be hit where it hurts. For players, that means extended match bans. All the money in the world will provide little consolation should they miss out on a league decider or a cup final as a result of a previous misdemeanour.
UEFA recently had the chance to lead by example, but they missed the opportunity to basically deny Wayne Rooney his place at Euro 2012 when they reduced his ban for lashing out at a Macedonian opponent. At least the FA provided Luis Suarez with a significant suspension – eight games – after the incident with Patrice Evra, but again, what difference does the £40,000 fine make?
For clubs points deductions and stadium closures are the real fear. Using the Chelsea example, perhaps Andre Villas-Boas and his players would give more thought to their conduct if it were to have a genuinely negative impact on their title challenge.
Any punishment should also include a social aspect, almost like football’s version of community service. Due to the obscene salary levels now prevalent in the game, the gap between players and ordinary fans is the widest it has been since the creation of the game. Anything that helps to bridge that divide can only be positive.
Rather than asking for an offender to hand over a sum of cash that means very little to them, involve them in something that benefits them as individuals and the local community. Imagine the goodwill that would be generated from players and managers coaching kids, helping out with amateur clubs or even attending training sessions with referees. Such a system may be difficult to administer and enforce, but it has to be preferable to the current process.
In years gone by, the fining of top-flight footballers worked because their earnings were such that a deduction was noticeable and significant. The huge hike in salaries over the last 20 years however, means that alternative penalties must be sought.