Earlier this season, a player in the eircom League was offered a two-year deal worth in excess of €175,000. He turned it down, holding out for a better offer. That was six months ago. He is now out of contract, and has no offer on the table from anyone. Times are changing.
In this country, 79 per cent of all playing contracts expired a month ago. It's poor timing for the players involved, but for the clubs it's a chance to address the overspending which has caused most of the negative press associated with the league in the first place.
With greater numbers looking for work in an industry that now employs fewer than before, the clubs have the upper hand for the first time in years. There was a time when players out of contract would know their options well before the end of the season. They would fully expect to be on the payroll as soon as the season finished, whether at the same club or a new one. Now clubs can sit tight and avoid having to pay a player while he goes on holiday for six weeks. It would be wrong for any club in the league to claim to be in a position of strength, but the balance of power has shifted considerably in this regard, all brought about by the lack of money everywhere.
At St Pat's, we were not in a position to offer new deals to any of the nine lads out of contract. Their ability wasn't even considered; economic realities took over. For their part, the FAI have warned they'll be keeping a much closer eye on projected expenditure for the coming season, as common sense would suggest generating revenue next year will be a greater challenge than ever before.
Accurately forecasting income is near impossible. Funding from supporters may dip, sponsors may go bust, and already low attendance figures may drop even further. Doing business of any kind is tougher than it's been in years, so chasing trophies or investing in infrastructure may not get the attention it once did at some clubs. Mere survival will be the aim for many.
Professional footballers in this country are now faced with the stark reality that they are unlikely to ever again be offered wages anywhere close to what was available in recent years. Some will go abroad, others will just be happy to get a club regardless of salary. Quite a few are now forced to seek employment in the real world, a daunting prospect given that most lack experience or training in other lines of work. And their plight is all the more difficult given the competition for jobs everywhere.
Of course, contracted players are immune from the threat of redundancies, but cutbacks are happening everywhere. Recently, even Chelsea announced they were looking into the possibility of making their players pay for their own lunches after training. A move which might not cause widespread panic in that particular dressing room, but one which, nonetheless, shows clubs are aware that times are changing and appropriate action must be taken.
As you might expect, the top players in the UK remain totally unaffected. At a time when Christmas parties are being cancelled all over the place, one team flew to Dublin for theirs. Not interested in seeing what deals could be had on the internet, they chartered a flight for themselves.
I know one Premiership player who drives a car worth over €1.4m, and it's not the only car he owns. I know of another who was asked recently to put his name to a development project abroad.
He would be expected to do three press conferences and three public appearances in exchange for a villa in Cyprus worth €2m. For reasons I will never understand, the eejit turned it down.
A couple of months back, I went out with the lads I used to play with at Millwall, and one of the better-known players bought the first round when we got to the nightclub. There were only six of us there, but whatever he bought it came to £1,600. This impressed one or two of our company, but I was just annoyed they didn't serve Guinness. In a conversation I had with one of them later that night, he mentioned his friend borrowed money from him earlier that week. The amount involved was a little over £400,000. No sign of a credit crunch there it seems.