“They bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into… I say let ‘em crash.” This is probably one of my favourite lines from the movie Airplane and it popped into my head as I ploughed through articles about the proposed Anglo/French cup competition.
There’s a lot of money swilling around the Top 14 and pressure from within the English Premiership to increase salary caps to allow them to compete. It’s not difficult to see why teams from both sides of the channel continue to press ahead with a new competition that vastly increases financial benefits for their individual teams.
There is an invitation for Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Italian clubs to join but, with the exception of the Welsh other teams are restricted by involvement from their individual unions. The financial incentive for Celtic and Italian teams to join the new competition also seem negligible.
The announcement could be interpreted as sabre rattling in advance of a meeting of European Rugby’s board today. An attempt to get some movement in stalled talks over the future of the Heineken Cup. However the French and English teams seem to be labouring under the impression that they are holding all the cards. Whilst it might be a bold move there is an argument to be made for Celtic teams to stick two fingers in their direction and simply walk away.
It’s clear the Top 14 and Premiership are on course for a big financial expansion but at what cost? You only have to look at the English Premiership to see damage money and foreign signings has caused to the quality of the national team. Indeed the blame for the Scottish Premiership’s obliteration lies mainly with the pursuit of TV money.
Already in France there are signs that money and foreign singings which have poured into the Top 14 have had a detrimental impact on the performance and quality of the national team. The same might not yet be true in England but if they are looking across the Channel for competition the removal or lifting of the salary cap can’t be far away.
There is nothing to stop Celtic and Italian unions from starting up their own knockout cup competition to run alongside the regular league. This would increase the number of games and therefore the number of opportunities to give development players more game time. In fact why stick to one cup competition? Why not run a under-21s cup and a club cup and sever all ties with English and French leagues at all levels.
Of course this will always be about money but purely focussing on financial considerations and the lure of TV revenue never ends well. Just ask the Bradford Bulls or Oldham or any number of clubs in Rupert Murdoch’s Super League. Mo’ money; mo’ problems. German football, on the other hand, continues to flourish with clubs offering cheap season tickets and investing in young players.
One thing the French and English teams have right is the need to start with a blank sheet of paper. However there is no reason for Celtic and Italian unions to unpack their pencil cases at the same table.