It is summer time; most professional players are enjoying a couple of weeks of well earned R&R. Their managers try to add more quality to their squads by acquiring talent from outside sources. It has always been this way on every level in any country. For any supporter or fan the summer is the time one gets excited for the next season, expectations are build and supports start buying their season tickets. A supporter is ready to endure disappointment, changing weather conditions for moments of Euphoria.
Last night I watched a few matches on VHS Video tape, from the late 80’s. I found in a box whilst cleaning the house. I started with the European Cup final for Cup Winners (yes UEFA Cup II) between Ajax Amsterdam and former DDR club Lokomotive Leipzig. The game was played in Athens and 22 yrs old Ajax Player Marco van Basten produced the winner with a decisive header. Later on I watched the UEFA Cup I final (Champions League nowadays) between Bayern Munchen and FC Porto, which saw an enlightened Paulo Futre play for Porto in a match that for always will be remembered by the decisive back heal winner of Algerian Striker Rabher Madjer.
First of all I really enjoyed both matches; after all it is pure nostalgia, goalskeepers were still allowed to pick up back passes from defenders with their hands. Secondly the pace of the games was a bit different compared to today, nevertheless so was the ruthlessness. Tackles from behind were quite common, diving not really done, the occasional elbow tolerated, or not spotted. Referee’s still commanded a certain form of respect from the players on the pitch, managers where puffing away fags at an alarming rate. Was the quality of the games better or worse? Hard to say? Would Paulo Futre be the player today he was 20 yrs ago in the current football climate? Hard to tell
What I can tell is that Paulo Futre was still playing in Portugal in his young twenties. The same can be said about Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman ect all of those players still played in their domestic leagues.
22 years later the football map looks very different; the European Cup for Cup Winners does not exist anymore, it merged almost a decade ago with the UEFA Cup III, which in turn has been renamed into the Euro League. The chance that teams from The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Portugal, Greece, Turkey ect will reach a champions league final are relatively slim, the Euro League seems to be the domain for all the representatives from those leagues, basically if you are not in the Premiership, Primera Division, Bundesliga and to a lesser extent the Serie A forget focussing on winning the Champions League because the chances are slim if not next to none.
Ever since the Premier League established itself in the early 90’s football has slowly evolved into a global brand; the creation of the Champions League with its’ groupstages has further contributed to the development of the brand called Football.
The World Championship of 1994 held in the USA were the first tournament where matches where being played in, for the players, unbearable heat in order to serve the audiences in Europe and Asia and the tournament did attract record advertisement revenues (for that time a record)
In 1995 an unknown Belgian Player, Jean-Marc Bosman won an appeal at the European Courts that would allow him to leave to another club at the end of his contract period without having to pay compensation to his former employer. Clubs could now attract talent at the end of a contract for free, as a result player wages increased at the same time TV revenues in all European leagues increased. New stadiums were being built all over Europe. Ajax Amsterdam in that year won the Champions League in Vienna in a close fought match against Italian Giants AC Milan. Goalscorer was an 18 yrs old substitute called Patrick Kluivert. As a result of the Bosman Ruling 12 months later Italian giants had signed 4 players from the Champions League winners for free selling all 4 within 20 months of their signing for massive profits.
With the signing of the Schengen Treaty allowing free mobility of all EU citizens holding an EU passport and the Bosman ruling; the golden age for players had arrived in combination with the rapid commercialization of Football. Most average national league players saw their income rise spectacularly, whereas a transfer to a different nations’ league before the Schengen-Bosman era had only be for the top players of a league now anybody could fulfil their dream of playing abroad.
In the mid 90’s especially Italian serie A, the Spanish Premiera Division and the German Bundesliga were signing foreign players by the carload. By the end of the 90’s the English Premiership and the Scottish Premier League had joined the rat race. Any player slightly talented could now sign freely for any club willing to meet his demands, provided he was a free agent or about to be one. The exodus from the Scandinavian, Dutch/Belgian and other Leagues was massive. Leaving huge gaps to fill in the domestic league, guess what? Those gaps where also filled with foreign talent. Fans and supporters could see teams where nobody actually spoke to native language of the league. Most notorious example was Belgian Antwerp based football club Beveren, who fielded a team of 11 extremely talented players from Ivory Coast (Jaja Toure, Kolo Toure being the most famous ones) another good example was Italian Serie A teams Lazio Roma & Inter of Milan
By the time the early millennium had introduced itself, the cards of international football had been reshuffled, commerce had taken over, leaving the commercially unviable teams left behind.
By 2002 Real Madrid set the standard not only by attracting the biggest stars in world football (Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, later David Beckham) but also establishing its self a brand name. The transfer of David Beckham form Man Utd to Real Madrid being the best example of how a $ 25MLN transfer fee (cost) was turned into a profit by merely the sales of club’s shirt with the name of Mr. Beckham on it. Real Madrid, the brand, suddenly established itself in Asia where David Beckham was at his peak of commercial popularity. Real Madrid was not the only team to establish and capatilize on its’ brand name; English giant Manchester United had gone down the same route and continues to do so.
Mid Millennium; Chelsea F.C. based in the posh part of London changes ownership, Mr Ken Bates sells the club to Russian Oil Tycoon Mr Roman Abrahamovic, until that day the general public had never hear of the individual, for a record $300MLN. The Premiership has just closed a mega TV deal guaranteeing the entire league and its clubs mind boggling volumes of money for a certain period. Chelsea’s new owner has only one goal: dominate England and Europe. He contracts the man who performed a miracle by winning the Champions League with Portuguese giants F.C Porto and basically orders him to only buy the best available at the market against any price. So it did happen. Nowadays almost all Premiership clubs are owned by foreign investors. The Spanish Premiera Division is currently going through a similar phase with foreign ownership at Racing Santander, Malaga and rumoured interest in clubs like Getafe, Espangol Barcelona ect
The current state of affairs around Europe is as follows; The English Premiership is the richest and best paying league in Europe; followed by Spain and Germany. France is slowly developing and more focussing to catch up with the Italian Serie A, which has both financially and competitively lost it edge over the last 5 seasons.
Leagues like the Dutch, Belgian, Greek have a hard time competing if at all. Leagues like the Turkish and Portuguese; well the top teams can compete financially with the bigger leagues but not in exposure.
Financially on the leagues of Russia, Ukraine and the Middle East can outrun the big 3 in Europe, however not in exposure or branding.
Do the above have any victims?
– Leeds United to be one year Semi Finalist in the Champions League and two seasons later playing in the Championship?
– Deportivo La Coruna if they really enjoy the Segunda Division?
– Borussia Dortmund deprived of Championships and Champions League football for almost a decade
– The French League all talented players leave the country before they have played even a single game at the highest level?
– AJAX Amsterdam to play qualifying rounds for the Champions League and not qualify
– Anderlecht Brussels how it feels powerless against any foreign opposition
Fact of the matter is that anybody above average talented outside of the big 4 leagues will by the time he is 16-17 yrs old be lured, including parents, into a move to the English Premiership and to lesser extend to other leagues
Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger is often seen as a pioneer cultivating, developing young talent for Arsenal FC, often he fumes in public over the exorbitant spending of the Man City and Chelsea’s of this world.
He seems to forget that he might not spend big money on players but he has robbed a lot of European Leagues of local talent and revenues so needed for these clubs.
Sometimes I just yearn back to the days that Football was just Football….
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