Football League Salaries Comparison

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In terms of football salaries, the Premier League lives up to its name in every sense. Players there earn almost twice as much as the next league in terms of wealth, La Liga, which is just slightly ahead of the Bundesliga followed by Serie A, and Ligue 1.

The MLS – the main US league – is sixth on the list – but the average salary there is less than a fifth of what a player can expect to earn in the top flight in England. In fact, the average US player is slightly better paid than their equivalents in countries like Turkey, and the second tier of football in England and Germany.

In reality, the gaps between the haves and the have-nots is starting to widen, not shrink, and the effect of the global pandemic has served to exacerbate the differences between those who are backed by wealthy owners and those who lack such generous benefactors.

FFP (Financial Fair Play) was meant to align salaries more in terms of clubs’ incomes, but those rules are being relaxed as the football authorities recognize the need for balance sheets to be strengthened following the global health crisis and more than a year of playing in front of empty stadiums.

There are always outliers. For example, PSG in France have recently topped the global salary list with an annual wage bill estimated at over US $350 million, Lionel Messi alone accounting for US 41 million of that.

However, it does not mean all French clubs can afford to pay those sorts of wages. Players at clubs like Troyes, Clermont and Anger will be lucky to earn in a year what Messi gets in a week.

Similarly, whilst Premier League clubs are regarded as big payers, there is a world of difference between what a player can earn at a club like Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, compared to those who play for less fashionable sides like Brentford, Norwich City, and Burnley.

And, in some cases, salaries are artificially constrained. Spain is attempting to address the issue of deteriorating club finances with their own version of FFP and the imposition of a salary cap. That has already led to the failure of Barcelona to be able to re-register Messi as a player, and may mean that La Liga begins to fall in the pre-eminent position that it occupies in the “salary league”.

That, in turn, may have a knock-on effect in future, on the league’s ability to attract the world’s top players.

And the MLS has its own salary cap, with the budget each team is allowed to pay their roster set each year, with the exception of the Designated Player rule which allows them to acquire up to three players whose wages exceed that limit.

Whether salary caps are good for the long-term good of a league is another question entirely. Whilst they may lead to a levelling out of teams, there is an argument that they also encourage mediocrity, in that they not only cap wages but also ambition. And, as the recent case of Inter Miami shows, there are always those willing to game the system.

As in any profession, how much people earn is of endless fascination, not only to outsiders, but also to those who are engaged in it.