Thanks to a couple of my coworkers who decided they were too cool to stay at the company and instead went to Brazil to see the World Cup first-hand, I got handed their regular football column where they provided their expert and amusing insight into mostly the Premier League. I can only hope to come close to matching their efforts and wit.
I started before the World Cup, then the column got put on hold for the tournament but was resumed two weeks ago. These are the result of my fledgling, wannabe football punditry so far, starting with the most recent.
–Real’s Rodriguez signing might be Galacticos part two but not a success
–Back to business for players and clubs after the World Cup
–Results didn’t tell the whole story about the European Champions League final- written in May
My column this week was about something that bothers me about football.
Real Madrid is one of the biggest football clubs and the richest sports club in the world, boast a star-laden squad that feature Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, and one of the best football legacies. In other words, they are a filthy rich and talented side. Last week, they went out and signed Colombian James Rodriguez, who topscored at the World Cup and was considered the best player of the tournament by a lot of observers, for 63 million pounds ($107 million). Basically the rich got richer. Big clubs win trophies, attract players, then go out and buy more players, and win more.
The flipside is that smaller clubs often can’t hold on to their players or maintain their success. Because once they achieve any success and their players do well, bigger teams, such as Real Madrid or say, Chelsea or Manchester City, swoop in and buy off their best players. It happens a lot, but the most recent example could be one of the worst instances where a team has its heart ripped out by having its 5 best players leave at the same time for wealthier teams.
I’m talking about Southampton, who are a small team that does not win much but is noted for its youth academy that produces young players who go on to become really good or great (Gareth Bale is one such example). Southampton came eighth last season, which sounds average but is fantastic for a small side, with a young, talented side. Several of their players got called up for the England international team during the course of the season, including an 18-year-old. For their laudable achievement, they’ve had five of their best players, including three England internationals who went to the World Cup and one Serbian international, leave for Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. That may not be all because two of their other good players are being targeted as well. Southampton did receive a lot of money for these players and may be in the enviable position of having over 100 million pounds to spend on new players. But given their status as a feeder club to the big teams, the question is who can they really spend these big bucks on? As this ESPN piece puts it, Southampton have merely succumbed to football’s unforgiving hierarchy.
Ideally, teams like Southampton would thrive, allowing for more competitiveness and excitement in leagues. And also, strong, wealthy teams would build up their teams around homegrown players and a strong core, rather than keep on buying up good players from other teams whenever they want. The great Barcelona team in the last decade, the fine Manchester United team in the late 90s and early 2000s, and AC Milan’s 2-time Champions League winning team in the 2000s were all built on cores of mostly homegrown players as well as players brought in from elsewhere who stayed for a long time.
UEFA (Europe’s football body) has tried to alleviate this problem of wealthy teams maintaining supremacy by implementing this Financial Fair Play program which sets a limit on the losses teams can incur, thus preventing them from overspending too much and in essence, preventing teams with wealthy owners from having an advantage over other teams that rely more on their revenue. This will affect teams like Chelsea and Manchester City, owned by a Russian and UAE billionaires respectively, who can’t stockpile players now and are actually being forced to balance their budgets. But unfortunately, not teams like Real Madrid who pull in obscene amounts of revenue.