Milan lead the way as wage bills revealed

La Gazzetta dello Sport has just printed a handy guide for anyone wishing to browse through the salaries of each and every current Serie A player gathered from Italy’s biggest-selling sports paper’s own sources.

According to the Milan-based daily, in total, the 20 clubs in Italy’s top flight will shell out €802 million this year - from AC Milan at €130 million, right down to Cesena on €8.3 million – some €700,000 less than Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s basic take home pay for the year.

However, these figures do not tell the whole story of the final salaries amongst the elite of Serie A who have leapt at the carrot of incentive-based bonuses.

Inter led the way last season when the first-team squad was awarded with €600,000-a-man for lifting the Treble – and with a good run on the transfer market this summer more and more players are accepting less in their basic but looking to top it up if the team reach certain pre-defined targets.

So, for example, Ibrahimovic may have seen his salary drop from €12 million to €9 million after his switch from Barcelona, but if Milan have a successful campaign then he may climb beyond even the figure the big Swede became accustomed to in Catalonia.

Samuel Eto’o moved in the opposite direction to Ibra last season and was offered €9 million which, of course, he duly accepted.

However, looking at the figures for this season, the striker’s published salary is €8 million which suggests that the shortfall plus the rest will be made up in bonuses and incentive schemes in whatever they may come in – scoring a hatful of goals being the obvious example.

On top of that, there are “grey areas” where an undefined bonus can be added to the contract at the end of each season – a little extra to squirrel away in a off-shore account, hand over to charity, or whatever the player wants to do with it.

So how have these “flexible contracts” suddenly become all the rage?

Well, of course, never far from the surface of any upheaval is the new influx of television money which is now beginning to wash into the Italian game.

The clubs pitched in together on a collective bargaining scheme to get as much as they could out of the TV rights right across the board and the Players’ Association have also gone down the same route in their own negotiations with the Football League.

As part of a new collective, players can earn bonuses of up to 50% on top of their current contract- and the clubs have welcomed the new initiative for one simple reason: it looks good on the balance-sheet; well, it doesn’t actually appear on the balance sheet.

We will not know what the likes of Ibra and Eto’o are earning beyond their basic salary this season because that is the figure in print – and the true amount may never come to light, with bonuses showing up as one figure in the accounts a year down the line.

It paints nothing more than a false picture, just as the loan-to-buy deals that have become in vogue this summer fail to provide a clear indication of how much money is disappearing out of the club accounts over the course of a year.

There is little doubt that many Italian clubs are playing a dangerous game that is not in keeping with UEFA fair-play finance plan where by clubs will be forced to live within their means.

Even by the end of last season, salaries were accounting for 70% of revenue amongst Italian clubs and it seems increasingly difficult to reverse the trend.

The television money has opened eyes to the financial rewards to be reaped, but with no income as such from stadiums and merchandising only slowly catching on there is still a substantial hole to fill - and unfortunately it may turn into a black hole when it comes to the true cost of player salaries.

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