Salary cap just sleight of hand
December 18, 2009
The likes of Stade flanker James Haskell are unlikely to be affected by the salary cap © Getty Images
At first glance, the new salary cap, which was announced by the Ligue National de Rugby (LNR) on Thursday, seems like a genuine step towards reining in the budgets of France's biggest clubs.
From next year, an €8m (£7.1m) cap will be placed on the Top 14 clubs, in addition to the already existing limit that the wage bill must not exceed 50% of overall turnover. In theory at least, it means that the smaller Top 14 sides like Albi and Bourgoin would no longer have to worry about the continuation of what has been a sizeable increase in wages over the last five years or so.
The news would have also brought a smile to the faces of those involved with the Guinness Premiership clubs. With the gradual weakening of the pound against Euro over the last year or so, what was once a trickle of English players moving across the channel became a torrent, thanks in part to the purchasing power of the Euro and a bunch of chequebook-waving millionaires.
Sadly for the club chairmen of the Premiership, Christmas didn't come early. In fact, Thursday's announcement is little more than a bit of sleight of hand by the LNR to appease a sporting public who had grown uneasy by the bigger and bigger salaries enjoyed by the top players. The figure of €8 million is 5% in excess of the highest official wage bill in the Top 14 at the moment. So not a single Top 14 club will be looking at decreasing their current wage bill.
Furthermore, that €8m still represents a healthy difference when you remember that the salary cap in the Guinness Premiership stands at £4m. Even considering the weakness of the Pound against the Euro, a sizeable gap in financial terms remains between Europe's two biggest domestic leagues. Time for the Premiership clubs to raise theirs? I suspect the phone calls have already begun.
How the salary cap will be policed will also be a matter of debate. Traditionally, the French government takes the issue of money in sport extremely seriously but the dazzling, complicated nature of the French administration could very well mean that clubs will find other ways to pay their players. Last season, it's rumoured that one big, overseas name was paid less than 40% of his total income as a salary. Given that there's going to be no reduction in any club's wage bill - added to the fact that the clubs will no doubt persist in finding cheaper, 'hidden' ways to employ star names, it's seems unlikely we're going to see any change to the status quo anytime soon.
Ironically, there might be one Christmas cracker to share as a result of all this. Call it miscommunication, lost in translation or whatever else, but the new salary cap puts to bed for once and for all the ridiculous notion - held outside of France - that Top 14 clubs were working with wage bills of €20 million plus. If that were the case, the Toulouses and Toulons of this world would be looking at offloading half their squads after this announcement. Clearly, that's not going to happen. After all, when was the last time you saw turkeys voting for Christmas?