THE EFL’s decision to propose a salary cap for Leagues One and Two was almost certainly made with the best of intentions. Stung by the intense criticism that accompanied Bury’s expulsion from the Football League last season, and fearful of the dire financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the EFL board no doubt felt compelled to act in an attempt to prevent more clubs crashing out of business.

But just because the starting point of the discussion was laudable, it does not mean the end result that was voted in last Friday is a welcome move. Instead of creating a safety net for the most vulnerable clubs on the lower half of the professional football ladder, it has instead established a level playing field that is actually little more than an unseemly race to the bottom. Rather than raising standards, which should have been a key ambition, the EFL’s new salary cap rules drive the 48 clubs in Leagues One and Two in the direction of the weakest club in their respective division. Aspire to get better? You’ll soon find there’s a ceiling blocking your climb.

The chief criticism of the current regulations can be boiled down to a simple question. Why should a club like Sunderland, with an average home attendance last season of more than 30,000 and an annual turnover of £58.6m (a figure admittedly swelled by parachute payments) in their last published set of accounts only be allowed to spend as much as a club like Accrington Stanley, with an average home attendance last season of 2,862 and an estimated annual income of around £2.6m?

How is it fair or equitable that while spending £2.5m on wages, the ceiling of the League One salary cap, might mean Accrington running at a wage to income ratio of nearly 100 per cent, it would be around 20 per cent for Sunderland even if parachute payment income is stripped out?

Why shouldn’t Sunderland be able to benefit from being a bigger club, with more supporters and an ability to generate more revenue? If they want to spend some of their additional income on wages, attracting better players and gaining a theoretical competitive advantage, why shouldn’t that be allowed?

“We really hoped it wouldn’t get voted through,” admitted Black Cats boss Phil Parkinson. “I feel it’s a decision where people have voted for their own best interests. If you want to spend £2.5m and that’s all you have to spend, that’s down to you, but it’s been voted in by clubs to reduce the ability of clubs like ourselves and Portsmouth to spend that little bit more to get the better quality players.

“There was no need for this to come in. I feel it’s a decision certainly not made in the best interests of football in general, and certainly not for those players out of contract, who now not only find themselves looking for work with the coronavirus and tough times everyone faces, but also now with clubs having restrictions with this salary cap. I’m very disappointed with the outcome.”

Clearly, there is a degree of self-interest to Parkinson’s comments, but having steered Bolton through a financial meltdown that resulted in him and his players having to forego their salary for months at a time, the Sunderland manager is hardly unaware of the dangers that are inherent in clubs attempting to overreach.

Parkinson’s comments reflect the frustration felt within the Sunderland hierarchy, and also at some of League One’s other ‘big clubs’ such as Portsmouth and Ipswich, that their ability to compete with Championship clubs for players has been completely stymied. As Parkinson admitted earlier this week, Sunderland have already had to abandon the pursuit of some of their previous targets because they know even the smallest Championship club has the ability to markedly outbid them.

Might there be benefits to the salary cap? In the long run, it might force clubs such as Sunderland to be more creative and forensic with their recruitment, and even the most ardent defender of the Black Cats’ recent transfer business would have to concede they have made a succession of bad decisions when money has been no object in the past.

Given that players under the age of 21 do not count towards the cap, the importance of having a good academy should be accentuated, and having stumped up around £4m-a-year to maintain category one status at the Academy of Light, Sunderland should be well positioned to benefit from the increased value of homegrown talent. The size and stature of the club remains intact, so perhaps if players are pulled towards Sunderland because of the lure of playing for such a historic, well-supported club instead of purely financial incentives they will be less mercenary and more committed to the cause.

Ultimately, though, it is undeniable that Sunderland find themselves in a less competitive position than they were before the vote went through last Friday, and perhaps the biggest irony in all of this is that the EFL already had regulations that were supposed to ensure Financial Fair Play.

The league’s previous FFP rules stipulated that League One clubs could only spend 60 per cent of their turnover on wages, but they were never adequately enforced and were always seen as something of a weak deterrent. You only have to look at the mess that the EFL have got themselves into with Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship to see that the FFP regulations were not fit for purpose, but they could have been rewritten and much more stringently managed.

A sliding-scale salary cap, calculated as a percentage of a club’s income, would have guarded against financial meltdown while still allowing bigger clubs like Sunderland to maintain a competitive advantage. Instead, the EFL have introduced a system that acts as a barrier to success not financial ruin.