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Hate the game, not the player: Leeds fans shouldn’t be angry at Wolverhampton

Are Wolves bending the rules to go up? Maybe, but can you blame them?

Wolverhampton v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Much has been written and said about Wolverhampton’s transfer market dealings this season, with a number of high-profile players coming to the team. Wolves have been “advised” by football agent Jorge Mendes, and some have questioned the links between the owners of Wolves, Mendes, his clients, and players that made their way to a Championship club from teams such as FC Porto, Villarreal, Atlético Madrid.

Even the hiring of Nuno Espírito Santo as manager raised eyebrows, as managers who list Valencia CF and Porto on their resumes rarely end up in England’s Black Country at the head of a second division side.

But raised eyebrows matter very little in football. After all, many a character has signed up to run a Championship side with a lot of fanfare and produced very little in return. Queens Park Rangers had a brief time in the Premier League, despite the influx of cash and high-profile players. Vincent Tan changed Cardiff City’s primary colour to red in order to increase marketing opportunities in Asia, only to change it back to blue after being relegated from the Premier League and angering fans. Recently, Leeds United’s Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield Wednesday have seen their fortunes go astray after spending a lot of money in the transfer market.

So how is the arrangement by Wolves, in fact, any different? If they have broken any third-party ownership rules, as it has been alleged by Aston Villa owner Tony Xia and Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani, that is something that should have been dealt with by the EFL when the players were transferred and registered. The EFL & the FA was okay with whatever arrangement that Wolves have when all of the players were being loaned and signed. If Wolves weren’t on top of the league and looking certain to be promoted, this issue probably isn’t being discussed at all. After all, Wolves were owned by the same people last season when the club barely avoided relegation and no one seemed to care about their business dealings with Jorge Mendes then.

If any meeting actually does take place between Wolves and the EFL, any breach of rules won’t be enforced this year anyway. After all, Leicester City recently paid a £3.1 million fine for breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations during the 2013-14 season. Leicester City not only gained promotion that season, they went on to win the Premier League, play in the Champions League, and have gotten hundreds of millions of pounds of television income. £3.1 million is a pittance of a penalty for a Premier League club, and it’s not like any transfer embargoes or points deductions have been talked about as penalties for violations of FFP, at least not by the EFL or FA. In fact, even third-party ownership rule violations have only resulted in a fine, as West Ham United did not suffer any points deductions or transfer embargoes as a result of the club violating the third-party ownership during the Carlos Tevez saga.

So if fans are angry at Wolverhampton for finding a loophole or market inefficiency that allowed Wolves to make all those loan deals, don’t be angry at them. Be angry that this is what it takes to sign players that can result in a chance for promotion. The gulf in income between the Premier League and the Championship means that many, many team owners will gamble with the futures of their clubs, spending ludicrous amounts of money to compete with desperate lower-table Premier League clubs and recently relegated teams sitting on a war chest of parachute payments.

If the FA and EFL were serious about making a “fair” competition, they would examine the role of parachute payments, and Premier League money in general, are having on the transfer market in England. Premier League and recently relegated clubs are able to collect talent by overpaying Championship clubs and offering high wages to players that they literally don’t play.

Striker Jordan Hugill left promotion hopefuls Preston North End for West Ham in January in £10 million deal. Since then, he’s played 12 minutes for the East London club, and Preston have won three times, drawn three times and lost twice. Preston sit in 8th place in the Championship table, four points away from the final playoff spot. Would they be in a better place in the table if he had stayed? Ashley Fletcher was signed by Middlesbrough from West Ham United last summer in a £6.5 million deal. Boro beat a number of Championship clubs to his signature, but he’s been deemed surplus to requirements after almost never playing, and was loaned out to Sunderland in January.

Could either of these players had an impact had they signed for clubs that actually would have used them? It’s impossible to know if Preston would be in 6th place if Hugill had stayed, and it’s impossible to know if Fletcher could have regained the form he showed at Barnsley FC two seasons ago while playing for current Leeds manager Paul Heckingbottom, as Fletcher helped Barnsley win the League One playoffs and gain promotion to the Championship. But both of them are examples of lower-table Premier League club or recently relegated Championshpi club simply outbidding everyone else for a 4th choice striker.

The silly amounts of money that go into the Premier League, and the resulting mad scramble in the Championship to outspend your rivals and gain promotion before the axe of FFP comes swinging has created this situation. As Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post wrote in his latest column, rather than get angry with the way the way Wolves are doing business, copy them.

When Andrea Radrizzani bought Leeds, it sounded like he wanted to run the club in a fiscally sound way, not over-spending on players in a vain attempt to vault the club into the Premier League. He wanted to invest in youth players and build from within. And as much as fans might currently be upset with the “lack of investment,” his methods are entirely correct if the objective is to run a sound business and not bankrupt the club.

However, it seems like he’s figured out that if he wants to gain the objective of promotion, he’s got to beat the other idiots at their own game. He told the BBC last night, “I want to understand the rules so I can act like them. If it’s possible I would do the same as it’s been proven to be successful for the team. If not I will do as I did in the past, which I’m happy with too.” After all, the whole reason Andrea Radrizzani got involved with the Aspire Academy is because of the fantastic youth development that takes place in Qatar, not because they’re giving him any extra investment.

Don’t hate Wolves or Aston Villa or West Ham or Leicester or even Boro for making deals and spending stupid amounts of money. They’re all playing the game of trying to get promoted and survive in the Premier League. Hate the fact that clubs have to play the game at all.