(Photo credit: Matt Churchill)
Former Manchester United star Gary Neville yesterday condemned the Football Association's proposed sale of Wembley Stadium to Fulham owner Shad Khan.
"The FA feels to fund the grassroots programme, they have to sell a national asset - it's quite simply ridiculous," said the ex-Manchester United defender.
The FA believes the £600 million war chest generated from selling the home of English football could fund improvements to poor quality publicly owned football facilities across England, which have suffered severely from the Conservative government’s budget cuts to local authorities.
Sport England has also backed the sale, citing a recent national assessment which found 63% of pitches to be “poor or standard”, explaining the organisation's research found a “clear link between poor-facility experience and [lower levels of] participation” and that improving facilities would lead to more people playing football.
Speaking to MP's at a Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport parliamentary hearing, Neville said he had sympathy for the FA which is looking to increase investment by £70 million a year to £100 million annually on artificial pitches, grass pitches, coaching and other initiatives.
However, as the former England international rightly points out, £70-£100 million a year is a drop in the ocean for football's governance, and in particular, the Premier League which exists as a separate entity from the FA.
"They are talking about an extra £70 million a year for 20 years - that's a pittance in football, it's a pittance in government, it's the price of a full back," said the 43-year-old.
Many will argue, though, that the highly lucrative Premier League, operating on British shores, has a duty of responsibility to support grassroots football – however impractical football's multi-layered hierarchy may be.
A pundit for ITV during the World Cup and a former England coach, Neville put across a set of radical reforms to stop football's soul falling into foreign, cooperate hands.
First, as top-flight clubs earned between £94 million and £150 million last season in prize money and TV income, Neville suggested each side receiving £3.5 million less, which would raise an extra £70 million.
Second, as more than £200 million was spent last season by Premier League clubs on agents, he suggests that they should take a 25% cut to help further fund grassroots football.
Although these reforms may be hard to implement given the separation of powers between the FA and Premier League, Neville's opposition to the Wembley deal is most welcome.
It defies logic that the Premier League has such an abundance of wealth, yet the authority that, in theory, oversees English football cannot afford to invest in ground-level football.
It is absolutely correct to desire improvement to facilities for amateurs and youngsters. But with the river of money sloshing in and out of the beautiful game each year, there has to be better ways of paying for it than by selling the jewel in your crown.
And do we really trust the FA with such a large chunk of money? The desire to repair the damage caused by slashing government cuts is admirable. However, given the organisation's poor record, can the FA use the money with the necessary discipline? £600 million can disappear pretty quickly if misspent.
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