It is hard to argue against the fact that Everton deserved to be punished for their breach of the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules.
The rules are there to protect clubs from their own recklessness, Everton knew what the rules were, they realised they were unable to comply with them and they knew a sanction was coming.
In many ways, the league’s decision to penalise Everton for failing to meet their target could even be seen as a welcome development if it is a sign that it is preparing to tackle the ruinously profligate spending that disfigures so many clubs and makes our league look like a house of waste and profligacy.
All of that, sadly, is undermined by the fact that the 10-point deduction visited on Everton for a relatively minor offence, a deduction which plunges them into the league’s bottom three, feels like a ludicrously harsh penalty and raises more questions about motive than it answers about justice.
If 10 points is the tariff for a club who spent unwisely through the scattergun transfer tactics of billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri but co-operated with the investigation into its finances, admitted its breach and made serious efforts to remedy its problems, then we are in for a wild ride when the league gets to grips with a serious offender.
Everton were hit with a 10-point deduction for a minor offence; a ludicrously harsh penalty
It is hard to argue against the fact that the club deserved to be punished but they’re a sacrifice
That is not a reference to Manchester City, by the way. They might be facing 115 charges of financial impropriety but they deny them all and it is, of course, eminently possible that they will be cleared on all counts and that no punishment will be visited upon them at all.
But if City are found guilty – or any other club, for that matter – the Premier League has surely given notice that the consequences will be apocalyptic. The league has set a low bar for severe sanction. If it successfully prosecutes a serial offender, it is to be assumed that instant relegation is the least that can be expected.
That is the only logical and fair conclusion to draw from the league’s swingeing punishment of Everton. It would not be unreasonable now to speculate that English football might witness a scenario similar to when Rangers were relegated to the fourth tier of Scottish football in 2012.
Let’s get it right about what has happened to Everton: they are a blood sacrifice, a club defenestrated by the Premier League to show the authorities that it is capable of bringing some order to a division that it has allowed to become football’s version of the Wild West.
They know an independent regulator is coming and they have what the novelist, Martin Amis, once described as ‘species fear’. They can see a place further down the track where the gravy train is going to come off the rails and they are petrified about it. And Everton are their sacrifice.
Farhad Moshiri conducted scattergun transfer tactics but co-operated with the investigation
A whole raft of extenuating circumstances mitigated the club’s infringement of the rulebook
Everton are their anointed victim, partly pour encourager les autres but mainly to try to show the grown-ups that, despite all previous evidence, they can be trusted with the governance of the game. It’s a bit late for that.
They picked the wrong club with Everton, too.
I don’t mean that in the sense that they will feel the force of the fans’ fury, although the atmosphere at Goodison Park when Manchester United visit next Sunday will be supercharged with defiance and anger.
No, they picked on the wrong club to hit with this level of punishment because, despite the commission’s claims to the contrary, there was obviously a whole raft of extenuating circumstances that mitigated the club’s infringement of the rules.
How can you, with a straight face, claim Everton should have anticipated the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war and the resultant loss of a £200million naming rights deal for its new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock on the banks of the River Mersey?
The Premier League has now created a situation that may change the football landscape
Everton could not have anticipated the loss of a £200m naming rights deal for its new stadium
How can you, with a straight face, claim that they should have anticipated the arrest of so-called Player X, one of their star players, who was later dismissed from his contract without Everton recouping any money for him?
And that is before you consider that the evidence of the last four transfer windows, where Everton’s net spend was effectively zero, shows that the club recognised their plight and were doing everything they could to comply with the rules.
The fact remains that the club deserve punishment because they broke the rules but it is clear to most that the level of the punishment is absurd.
It is also clear that the Premier League has now, inadvertently or otherwise, created a situation that may change the football landscape in this country dramatically.
If Everton get 10 points for a minor infringement when they were trying to be open and compliant with the league, even a passing nod to consistency of punishment means the game is looking at serial relegations for more serious cases.
Manchester City are facing 115 charges of financial impropriety but have denied them all
The few who approve of the scale of the sanction visited upon Everton – a point more than Portsmouth received in 2010 for actually going into administration – will argue that making an example of Everton now will discourage others from going down the same route.
That might carry more weight if Manchester City were not already facing those 115 charges and Chelsea were readying themselves for the prospect of an FA and Premier League investigation over Financial Fair Play breaches, among other things, during the Roman Abramovich era.
That might carry more weight if it were not the Premier League who had ushered in this era of crazed spending and continued its tacit approval of excess by allowing the Saudi Arabian state to purchase Newcastle United in 2021.
The Premier League created this mess. They created this dysfunction. They created this greed. They created this player wages arms race. They cannot just wipe that clean by cutting Everton down.
They have treated one of our proudest clubs as collateral damage in a transparent attempt to limit the effects of independent regulation but the die is already cast.