Principles beat practice 16-0 in Brussels when European footballs fat cats agreed to limit, ever so slightly, the amount of cream in their players feeding bowls.

The G-14 group of top clubs – contrarily it has 18 members but Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund were absent- was striving to prove it really does have the game’s wider interests at heart.

The 16 present, who included Manchester United and Arsenal, represented by their chief executives Peter Kenyon and David Dein, supported a proposal which will irritate players unions and provoke a sceptical response virtually everywhere else.

The cost control concept is admirable in principle: G-14 voted to introduce, by 2005-06, a maximum limit on wages (players, directors and all other backroom staff) of 70 per cent of turnover. This would be supported by a players performance pay-related system whose details have yet to be fine-tuned.

G-14 also voted to recommend the concept to other European clubs as well as to UEFA and to check with the European Commission that it is both legal and practicable.

Kenyon, a vice-president of G-14, took the honest approach when he said: “We represent some of the clubs who have caused the inflationary spiral in football and we are now taking a good look at ourselves and what we can do to keep our industry viable.”

In fact, the 70 per cent limit appears generous enough to suit most G-14 members while controlling the inflationary ambitions of potential challengers. Manchester United, for example, spend only around 50 per cent of their œ146million turnover on wages.

Florentino Perez, president of both G-14 and super-inflationary spenders Real Madrid, said: “No-one can afford to buy a Zidane or Ronaldo every year. This is a highly important gentleman’s agreement.”

Cynics will consider he was almost too close to the truth. The snag to G-14s pursuit of clean financial health for European football is that the system will be self-regulatory. Compliance will be verified by each club’s own auditors.

Further, G-14 possesses no powers to punish clubs which fail to comply.

As Thomas Kurth, the chief executive, said: ‘We are not that sort of organisation.”
By Keir Radnedge