Football is very different to how it started 150 years ago. It’s not just a sport, it is a business. Manchester United are valued at £2.2 billion and the Manchester City owners have spent over £1 billion buying the club, and on transfers and wages in the last 5 years. In the past, clubs were owned by local businessmen who did it for the love of the club but now it has the super-rich from all over of the world chasing success and profits on offer. 30 years ago a football player was bought for £1 million and today’s record currently stands at a staggering £80 million with wages ranging from £25,000 to £250,000 per week in the top leagues.

Players are the clubs biggest assets and are essential to the success of the club. However what happens when a footballer misbehaves or when the red mist descends? All of us will have made a mistake as some point in our career but there aren’t many professions where the mistake will be viewed by millions of people around the world and analysed 1000 times over. Mistakes are usually accepted as a part of life and the punishment will usually fit the crime.

Throughout history in football the term “flawed genius” is used to describe certain type of footballer who is undoubtedly skilful but is one moment away from causing the next big incident. In many occasions this will be positive but on occasions extremely negative. Last week Luis Suarez was the latest player to create attention for biting an opponent in the recent match against Chelsea, not his first biting incident, and shortly after being shortlisted for player of the year in the league. Looking back into history the list is endless from Eric Cantona with his famous kung fu kick or Paolo Di Canio pushing the referee to the floor during a match to name a couple.

So what happens to the player after the incident from a disciplinary point of view? The club will fine him up to the maximum 2 weeks wages and he will be hit by a ban (length in time can vary significantly) determined by the governing body. Effectively the player will be punished but with no real accountability as there is very little chance of him losing his job. Only in extreme cases (usually criminal offences) will a player be sacked from a club.

It begs the question – how do you discipline a £30million asset and when does an asset become a liability? If a player is fined 2 weeks wages totalling £200,000 but is earning £5.2million per year the effect on the player is minimal. Whilst the ban directly impacts on the player, it significantly affects the team and the club. The club is effectively paying the player (a lot of money) to sit on the side-lines and he could also be the teams’ star player. The pressure is becoming greater every year for clubs to meet their specific objectives, whether it’s winning the league or avoiding relegation. Looking at Luis Suarez, in 2011 he received an 8 match ban for racist behaviour and has now been banned for 10 games for the bite. Liverpool have 3 options, stand by the player through the ban, sell him to another club or sack him. The club will not and cannot entertain the sacking option as this would leave a massive back hole on the pitch and more importantly on the balance sheet. Selling the player who has regularly brought the wrong attention to the club (effectively creating a PR disaster on a number of occasions) would allow them to recoup the money spent and effectively pass the problem on. So for a striker who has scored 30 goals and shortlisted for player of the year in a team who is 7th in the league….does the team need the player or does the player need the team?

Ian Mael is a Consultant on the Interim team and is glad he isn’t the new PR manager for Liverpool Football Club.