Robin Sainty: Time for a morality check with football's funny money

Chelsea fans celebrate after the Premier League match at Carrow Road, NorwichPicture by Daniel Ham

Chelsea fans at Carrow Road on Thursday - what does the future hold because of their club's owner's links with Russia? - Credit: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd

I really felt for the fans on Saturday.

Fans who have backed the team throughout a horribly disappointing season, fans who have willingly turned out for midweek away games knowing that they won’t be home until well into the early hours, and who will, in some cases, have spent well over £1,000 in following City around the country this season.

For them to turn up for a season-defining game against one of the few clubs in the Premier League that could be considered to be on a similar level to City only to see the players that they have backed all season turn in a performance that offered neither guts nor guile, was a massive kick in the teeth and must have finally extinguished the hopes of all but the most wildly optimistic that this season won’t once again end in an ignominious relegation.

Grant Hanley of Norwich City shows dejection after the Premier League match at Carrow Road, Norwich

Grant Hanley has that sinking feeling against Chelsea - but at least they showed some second-half fight - Credit: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd

All the usual ingredients were there against Brentford. Two early chances were wasted, the midfield offered little power and even less creativity and poor defending gifted goals to hand the game to the visitors on a plate.

We’ve seen it in virtually every key game this season so it’s hardly surprising that so many fans streamed out early, and their frustration is both palpable and justified.

Whilst some belated fight did appear after Thursday night’s game against Chelsea had been surrendered in a pitiful first-half performance it changes nothing.

The fact is that the self-funding model has now twice been tested in the Premier League and, barring a miracle, it will have failed by a distance on both occasions. Once again, the squad has proven inadequate at this level and the clear playing identity of the last few seasons has gone, along with Daniel Farke.

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It's a tough time to be a City fan and inevitably there will be the usual calls for change. I’m not going to revisit the arguments for and against the various options because we are all familiar with them, but do I think it’s important to look at the situation in the context of the wider problems in football itself.

Recent events, and particularly the war in Ukraine, have again highlighted the issues raised by the Fan Led Review, particularly the huge and widening gap between the Championship and Premier League, with seven of the 15 teams promoted over the last five seasons going straight back down, and two more dropping after their second season, despite big spending.

Given that the Premier League is the world’s highest revenue-generating sports product, with licensing income in excess of £3bn per annum compared to around £120m for the EFL, it's hardly a surprise that it’s getting harder and harder for promoted teams to stay up or that the EFL is backing the recommendations of the Fan Led Review while the Premier League is fighting tooth and nail to block them.

However, cracks are appearing, firstly in the form of the ongoing threat of a European Super League and secondly in the imposition of sanctions against Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovitch.

For too long football has turned a blind eye to sportswashing as long as the cash kept rolling in. In the words of John Nicholson of Football 365: “The love of money and of football have been mated and spawned a monster.”

Listening to Chelsea fans on Thursday night lovingly chanting the name of a man that the government has sanctioned as a pro-Kremlin oligarch who has been involved in destabilising Ukraine, shows how that monster has warped any sense of morality in football and something must change.

To quote Nicholson again: “Now is the time to stop this madness. Kick the habit and return football to a more sane, modest financial regime. I know it is hard to stop this bingeing once you get a taste, but we must decouple from the mindset. Look at who we have hitched our wagon to to feed it.”