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Lessons from the US? Calls for soccer industry shakeup

Friday, 17 Jan 2014 | 6:36 AM ET
'Industry is to blame' for soccer stars' high wage: Air Asia CEO
Friday, 17 Jan 2014 | 2:45 AM ET
Tony Fernandes, group CEO of AirAsia and majority stakeholder in QPR soccer club, said the industry is to blame for astronomical player wages and poor mentality.

The English Premier League - the most watched domestic soccer league in the world - needs to "correct itself," according to the chairman of London-based team Queens Park Rangers (QPR), who argued that greed in the industry has rendered it unsustainable.

"There are many players who don't take it as life or death," Tony Fernandes, who is also group CEO of AirAsia, told CNBC Friday.

"There are guys who just put on the shirt, who are so excited to play and just want to play. And there are a lot of guys who take a lot of money and maybe it's not 'do or die.'"

Instead of blaming the players directly, Fernandes said the industry had created a problem of over-inflated wages, which meant some professional players were not fully committed to the game.

(Read More: French soccer players go on strike…but will they make the cut?)

"The industry has created what we see now and the industry has to correct itself," he said.

Fernandes also called for changes in the handling of agent fees.

Alex Livesey | Getty Images

In the U.K., agents are paid directly by the clubs after a player transfer has been completed. The Premier League said in November that a total of £96.67 million ($159 million) was spent by its 20 clubs on agents over the previous year.

The club that spent the most on agent fees was Chelsea. It paid out nearly $14 million between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013.

In the league below, Championship clubs spent a total of £18.6 million over the year ending June 30, 2013.

(Read More: Soccer clubs slash spending amid finance crackdown)

Greg Clarke, chairman of the Football League which represents The Championship, League One, and League Two, said in a September press release that agent fees were a "considerable amount" of money to be leaving the game.

"The real challenge is to ensure that such payments are part of a sustainable financial model with clubs only spending what they can afford," he said.

Fernandes called for this model to be changed, arguing that it should be the players themselves that pay the fees - which would then slice into their own pay packages.

"(Agents) pray on... players, they play on owners, they pray on managers," he told CNBC.

"I would like to see a system where the player pays for the agent like in America. I think that makes a lot more sense."

(Read More: Soccer Success! The stocks ready for a World Cup bounce)

But despite his concerns, Fernandes said he was buoyed by his belief that soccer clubs were spending more sensibly, as industry professionals become more business oriented.

Soccer clubs in the English Premier League splashed out a record £630 million ($980 million) in 2013's summer transfer window, according to Deloitte, with major signings made in the final hours. The previous record -- of £500 million – was set in 2008.

By CNBC.com's Matt Clinch. Follow him on Twitter @mattclinch81

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