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Too Much of a Good Thing- The Rise of the Super Squad

With the start of the Premier League little over a month away, it feels as though football has not left us this summer, what with the events in South Africa being more magnified than ever , by the media and almost every shop, bar and takeaway in the land.

Charles N'Zogbia Wigan Athletic 2009/10 Arsenal V Wigan Athletic (4-0) 19/09/09 The Premier League Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International

All eyes will now revert back to the so called normality of domestic football, following the panto season that was England’s World Cup. With Fabio Capello remaining in the hot-seat and no real action to speak of apart from a few money spinning tours of foreign countries, the attention now turns to the transfer market. Yes, it’s that time again, when various tabloids link Paul Gascoigne with a return to the Premiership and Manchester United miss out on the 423rd “new Maradonna” because their agent says Salford is too cold. We also get the delight of watching Sky Sports news all day and night, just to see if something has happened, despite the fact there is never any real news for them to report other than Wigan’s new signing has a touch of athlete’s foot.

Despite the nonsense, it is probably one of the most exciting points of the season. For most supporters this is a genuinely exciting time, with the end of the World Cup upon us and the transfer market at all but a standstill, the rumour mill will be in full force by the end of the week. Whether you follow Chelsea or West Brom, supporters up and down the land will be glued to every form of media from now until the end of August. Any supporter that claims they don’t check BBC news on their lunch break, going to their teams page to see if anything concrete has gone through since the morning papers is telling you lies. No doubt following this years World Cup, there will be an influx of foreign players due to England’s dire performance (and yes, this is a prime example of why there are so many foreign players in the Premiership) and the fact that so many “smaller” nations performed so incredibly well. Who wouldn’t want to see Gyan (Ghana), Suarez (Uruguay), Cardozo (Paraguay) and Ozil (Germany) playing in the Premiership. I can’t see the logic in wanting to pay £40 every Saturday to watch the likes of Heskey and Upson cancel each other out. English football may suffer in the long run but I am yet to see how we can go further backwards and what with the home grown players rule (each club is now required to have 8 home grown players out of a squad of 25) to be introduced, it is perhaps too early to judge whether it is ability we lack or the mentality.

Thierry HENRY - 04.11.2008 - Barcelone / Bale - 1er tour Champions League.Photo : Quinho Photo via Newscom

This leads me onto something that has come to my attention over the last 12 months, regarding certain clubs transfer policies. It was first drawn to my attention in La Liga, by Real Madrid and Barcelona. The wealth of talent that both sides had at their disposal last season was phenomenal, with Barcelona having Toure, Henry , Bojan and Pedro all regularly on the bench. Similarly, Real Madrid could count Benzema, Dudek, Garay and Diarra amongst their subs, along with Van Nistelrooy who called it a day and went to Hamburg. This then diverted my attention to my club, Manchester City, who followed suit, effectively snapping up any player with a relative degree of success in the Premiership and beyond. The problem was that no-one left, although not that this was needed from a financial point of view but this must be detrimental to the game for a number of reasons.

In La Liga, Barca and Real Madrid look to be opening up a gap between them and the rest, which from a neutrals point of view makes me less likely to want to tune in at 9 o’clock on a Sunday evening, unless they are playing one another. Now, I hear you cry, the Premiership is renowned for being the most competitive league in the world and the 2009/2010 was the closest that we have witnessed for many a season. This is true. However, if English clubs with the spending power of Chelsea and Manchester City continued at such a rate, it could easily bring about a two horse race, which was witnessed pretty much every season until this one past. Man City have already spent £60m on Silva, Toure and Boateng before anyone else has started. It’s painful enough tuning into Match of the Day, without watching the same two teams winning every week.

 It will be fascinating to see how the likes of Arsenal now compete. With Wenger’s stubbornness not to spend money and the fact that, for the want of a better phrase, they don’t have two English players to rub together, they may fall by the wayside. Similarly, with Hodgson’s appointment at Liverpool who are equally as barren in the home-grown player department, you would expect a clamber for a player like Joe Cole, who is free, talented, experienced and English. Perhaps, like with the economy, the bubble has now burst and only the privileged few will rise to the top and the rich will get richer and the poor will do a Portsmouth. This is what I expect, unless there is some intervention soon. Teams should be encouraged to stay away from the quick fix and the new ruling will hopefully put the emphasis on quality coaching and also the education of these coaches.

David Villa of Spain. Spain defeated Iraq 1-0 during the FIFA Confederations Cup at Free State Stadium, in Mangaung/Bloemfontein South Africa on June 17, 2009. Photo via Newscom

So Spain don’t appear to have struggled as a result of the lack of competition in their domestic league. I can’t see this lasting though. This year they have not captured the imagination of the other nations, in the way that Ghana have. They have been functional at best. With huge squads, which will no doubt be added to over the next few weeks, can Barcelona and Real Madrid sustain the development of the Spanish national team or will teams like Valencia simply have to act as feeder clubs to the top two? Somehow I don’t think it is a sustainable model, both in football and business terms. If La Liga, or indeed the Premiership’s success are halted by the vultures at the riches clubs, the progress that has been made in European football will come to an abrupt halt. So as soon as people stop watching or paying, then teams stop winning. This is perhaps why the likes of Ghana and Uruguay were able to endear themselves at this years’ World Cup and the likes of Lyon, Bayern Munich and Fulham could do the same in Europe. Roy Hodgson did not have any selection worries and he certainly new his best team, picking Zamora or Nevland is not quite the same as Higuain, Raul, Ronaldo, Benzema and Van Nistelrooy. No wonder Manuel Pelligrini fell by the wayside so quickly.

So the “super-squad” is something of a worry both from a domestic and international point of view, whether the steps that the FA and Premier League have taken will be enough, are yet to be seen. It has to be a positive step to combat the quality of imports and indeed the quality of club and English point of view. If we see Chelsea and Manchester City at the top of the table come Christmas, then those at the top of the game still have a vast amount of work to do.

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