Champions League

What to do With A Problem Like Manchester City?

The football world was shaken to it’s core on Friday evening with the announcement that UEFA had banned Manchester City from European competition for two years. The governing body of European football took this momentous step because of financial fair play (FFP) breaches along with misleading information provided by the club.

This is a talking point that rumbles on almost a week later. This appears a solitary case, but the ramifications of this could spread far beyond Europe. For now the dispute rumbles on, but what could this mean for the future of football? Let’s examine the events that led to this moment.

Manchester City are accused by UEFA of overstating sponsorship revenue they received to circumvent FFP rules. The estimated £200m allowed the club greater financial flexibility to sign top players like Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and John Stones. It also helped to pay their £300m wage bill, the third most in world football behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.

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De Bruyne has been key to City’s success since signing in 2016, the last year of which City are alleged to have breached FFP rules. Photo: Manchester City

This extra money via alleged financial doping unquestionably helped lay the foundations for the juggernaut team that won the Premier League and League Cup in 2018 as well as an F.A Cup in 2019. Some have now questioned the validity of these successes, knowing the club could have cheated to attain them.

This UEFA investigation opened in November 2018 after leaked internal emails from the club surfaced at German publication Der Spiegel as part of their Football Leaks platform. The whistleblower Rui Pinto now sits in a Portuguese prison awaiting trial for hacking charges. UEFA had previously punished City and PSG in 2014 for rules breaches, reaching a financial settlement with the two clubs.

This previous punishment helps explains the ongoing rift between Manchester City and UEFA. The club responded immediately on Friday night, releasing a statement protesting their innocence as well as besmirching the investigation as one of bias with a pre-determined guilt. The club have now employed an army of lawyers to help with their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

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This is what City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak is reported to have told FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the past. Could this antagonistic attitude cost the club? Photo: City Extra/Twitter.

A large bone of contention between the two entities is the level of dialogue. UEFA believe that City were either non-cooperative or misled the investigation, which factored into their much larger punishment. UEFA has given similar punishments in recent years to the likes of A.C Milan, who were banned from Europe for one season.

The fact City didn’t cooperate with the investigation will have factored into their two year ban. City themselves have refuted this, believing that they provided all necessary information and cooperation in this investigation, despite consistent leaks to the media.

This decision from UEFA will now be played out at CAS, and could last for several years. This is a landmark case for both parties, with the loser sure to come out of this bloodied. If Manchester City lose, they could lose star manager Pep Guardiola along with a host of players. If UEFA lose, the FFP system will lose all authority as clubs ride roughshod over it.

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City fans made their feelings towards UEFA known at their Premier League game against West Ham. Photo: EMPICS Sport

Whatever happens, UEFA could lose in the long run. City could use their two-year suspension to build their global brand playing lucrative friendlies in attractive markets such as Asia and North America. If UEFA lose this ruling, it will be a humiliating defeat that will only embolden prestige clubs to create their own breakaway European Super League.

Since taking over the club in 2008, owner Sheikh Mansour has invested hundreds of millions of pounds to elevate City to a competitive level. Since Guardiola took over in 2016 the club have a net spend of £340m. The club have the fifth highest income in football, however this drops to eighth if you discount the troublesome Etihad deal.

The club have been in the shadow of city rivals Manchester United for almost their entire history. United are a truly global club and have become a hugely successful brand across the world, in part thanks to their historic successes. This is something City have been trying to build in just over a decade.

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City rivals Manchester United have a global supporter base thanks to sustained success. This is something City are playing catch up to. Photo: China Group via Getty Images.

FFP restrictions limit the Man City model of a wealthy owner pouring money into the club until they are successful a la Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. City haven’t had enough time to build their global brand, so to compete with the best in England and Europe they will have felt under pressure to use the owners money to even the playing field.

Some pundits have already hypothesized a very small positive to come out of this for City. With looming sanctions, will they turn this into a motivational boost to win the Champions League this year. For the club, it would no doubt give them great satisfaction to be handed the biggest prize in club football by the people they are going up against in court.

This legal dispute feels like a landmark moment for European football that could have far reaching consequences in the near future. Will UEFA be able to stamp its authority, or will City show that big clubs now have the power in football? The legal battle will no doubt be ugly, however it seems this will be difficult for City to overcome.

They have never said the leaked documents were fake, so it seems clear cut that they broke the FFP rules they agreed to every season when they play in the Champions League. The emails and their reactionary statement show a level of arrogance at the top levels of the club that only sways neutrals to UEFA’s side. Maybe City can force UEFA into a reduced punishment, but for now it seems City are bang to rights and need to take their punishment.

Do you have any thoughts on this piece? Let me know on Twitter @JWjournalism. Thank you for reading this article, I really appreciate it! 

 

 

Will Juventus Finally be Toppled?

Serie A has been a procession for one club the past eight years, but could this season be season Juventus are toppled? The Turin club have dominated Italian football since 2011, along with as becoming a force in European football.

The most supported club in Italy have reached two Champions League finals, in 2015 and 2017, and have swept aside their nations best for almost a decade. Their dominance has brought them world recognition, along with a host of trophies and money. This money has only increased their advantage, as they have been able to buy the best world talent.

Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was brought in with an Italian record transfer worth £99.2m last summer, along with Mathias de Ligt this summer for £67.5m. The club also likes to do its scouting closer to home, frequently buying the best talent in Serie A.

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Ronaldo was a marquee signing for Juventus, but with FFP could this move backfire if they have to sell players to balance the books? Photo: Juventus FC

The club have in recent years signed the likes of top scorer Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli, Paulo Dybala from Palermo and Miralem Pjanic from Roma. Their massive financial advantage over the other club has meant they can effectively use the rest of Serie A as a farm system.

Despite the massive advantage they hold, this season things seem to be changing slightly. Juventus have faced challenges in recent seasons, notably from Napoli and Roma, but have always done enough to win the Scudetto. A number of factors happening in one season could see a new title winner in Italy this season.

Juventus themselves have transitioned from long-time manager Max Allegri to new man Maurizio Sarri. Sarri challenged Juventus with his Napoli side in 2017-18, yet for the first time in a long while Juventus seem fallible this season. After 23 games they sit second with 54 points, their worst total at this stage since the 2015-16 season.

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Maurizio Sarri was an icon at Napoli, taking them to within four points of a Serie A title in 2017-18. How well suited is he to Juventus long term? Photo: Reuters

Even in their victories they have often relied on coming back from behind, showing they have not been able to assert their dominance as easily this season despite having the best squad.

Along with a drop from Juventus, has been the rise of a new challenger. Inter Milan have made great strides to become title contenders again. They brought in former Juventus manager Antonio Conte and have spent lavishly this season.

They have brought in the likes of Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United, Christian Eriksen from Tottenham and Diego Godin from Athletico Madrid. They have also brought in promising young Italian talent such as Matteo Politano and Stefano Sensi from Sassuolo and Nicolo Barella from Cagliari. All three have become regular contributors this season.

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Lukaku celebrating his Milan derby goal with coach Antonio Conte. Both have been instrumental in Inter’s revival and title challenge this season. Photo: AFP

Inter have only lost one game all season, although have drawn more than Juventus. The club have all the right people in place to take advantage of a down year for Juventus, with the club impressing with their performances in the Champions League also. Now they have dropped into the Europa League, the focus will likely shift back to Serie A.

The outside contender that nobody predicted this season was Lazio. The Rome club have always been in the top six in recent years, but have never broken through into the top four. The club didn’t spend big in the summer, but manager Simone Inzaghi has made them into the most in-form team in Italy.

They are unbeaten in 18 games, including an eleven match winning streak. This incredible form has propelled them to third, only a point behind Inter and Juventus. They welcome Inter to the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, a match with massive title implications.

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Ciro Immobile has been crucial to Lazio’s unlikely title challenge. He’s on pace to be the leagues top scorer ahead of illustrious names like Ronaldo and Lukaku. Photo: MB Media/Getty Images

They do still face tough fixtures away to Atalanta, Juventus and Napoli, but are scary to every opponent they face. Striker Ciro Immobile is on fire this season, as top scorer with 25 goals in 23 games so far. Attacking midfielder Luis Alberto also tops the assists charts with eleven, showing the attacking prowess of Lazio.

The title race will come down to these three, but could there be more in the future? Atalanta have taken Italy and Europe by storm with their giant killing acts, and could continue their progress if they can sustain this in coming seasons. Regular Champions League qualification will bring in the money to take this team to the next level.

City rivals A.C Milan may be languishing in tenth, but they have the infrastructure to compete in Serie A. It’s been a tough half-decade for this once dominant side, but they could compete in future seasons if they can find the right building blocks. The same goes for Napoli, who are undergoing a transition as talismanic figures like Sarri have left the club in recent seasons.

Roma have performed similarly to Lazio in recent seasons, could they perform similar miracles in the coming years? Serie A has always been a giant of European football, but with such dominance in other leagues like the Premier League and Ligue 1 to have a genuine title race that could down to the last game will entice new fans. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Serie A this season!

Thank you for reading this article I really appreciate it! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you have any comments at all. 

The Wilder Revival at Sheffield United

20th August 2016. Former giant Sheffield United sit bottom of the League One table with one point from their opening four games. The club are facing financial difficulties, and new manager Chris Wilder struggling the future looked bleak. Even the most optimistic Blades fan would have suggested three years later they would be back in Premier League for the first time in 12 years.

Wilder is a lifelong fan and had two separate spells there, before taking charge in May 2016. Wilder has developed in the lower ranks, with a Conference final win with Oxford United in 2010 and a League Two title with Northampton Town in 2015-16. At the time of his arrival Wilder was a rising star in the Football League, but was walking into a tough job.

Despite investment from Saudi Prince Abdullah Al Saud in 2013 the club was in a difficult financial position. Wilder relied mostly on free transfers, and balanced the books by selling Aaron Ramsdale to Bournemouth, Dominic Calvert-Lewin to Everton and Che Adams to Birmingham for a combined £4.5m.

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Wilder being presented in May 2016, along side chairman Kevin McCabe and assistant Alan Knill. Photo: Sport Image/Sheffield Star.

A new manager and a large squad overhaul helps explain the poor start, but from here the team went on a tear. With club captain and boyhood fan Billy Sharp banging in 30 goals, enough to be the leagues top scorer, the team lost only three of their remaining 42 games. They romped to the title with 100 points, 14 more than second placed Bolton.

Wilder won plaudits for his teams playing style, and a testament to his coaching is that the spine of his League One team remains in the Premier League. Defender Jack O’Connell, midfielders John Fleck and Chris Basham along with target man Sharp were all regulars in the third tier.

The following season saw Wilder add full backs George Baldock and Enda Stevens, both of whom were signed from lower league clubs and have earned plaudits in the Premier League this season. The full backs are a vital part of Wilder’s attacking style of play, something other Premier League opponents have struggled to handle.

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Wilder celebrating League One promotion with star striker Billy Sharp. Both are life long fans of the club and both have already cemented legend status. Photo: Press Association.

Tenth in the Championship in their debut season is very tough to do, especially as their biggest listed transfer was midfielder Lee Evans from Wolves for £750 000 pounds in January. The team was on the right track, with the majority of its current team already in place.

The club boosted its transfer funds with the sale of midfielder David Brooks to Bournemouth for £11.5m. This allowed them to break their transfer record to sign defender John Egan from Brentford for £4.05m, along with Oliver Norwood in January from Brighton for £2.4m. Along with David McGoldrick on a free, all three of which are now Premier League regulars.

Two losses wasn’t the start they wanted, but they were consistently brilliant from here on out. From early September they were never outside the play-off places, with a late surge to overcome a faltering Leeds to secure the second automatic promotion place. Just three short years after joining them, Wilder had led them back to the Premier League.

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Sheffield United players celebrating Lys Mousset’s goal in a 1-0 win over Arsenal. The club are the antithesis of the North London club and have earned plenty of plaudits this season. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images. 

Many fans and pundits questioned whether Sheffield United’s style of play would translate to the Premier League, as they tipped them for relegation. This is despite enhancing the squad with the signings of striker Lys Mousset for £10m and midfielder Oli McBurnie for £20m from Bournemouth and Swansea respectively.

In what has been so far an unusual Premier League season, absolutely nobody would have predicted Sheffield United to shock the world and be sitting in fifth after 26 games, only two points away from the Champions League. The team have by far the smallest wage budget, but they play with a desire and resilience unlike many other teams.

They have rescued points from losing positions ten times already this season, showing the fight that fans love from their team. The club have just smashed their transfer record to sign Sander Berge from Genk for £22m, as the club continues to progress. It cannot be stressed enough how impressive their achievements have been this season, with the stats showing that the team with the smallest wage budget has been relegated 15 times from 24 in the Premier League.

The team have earned plaudits for their attacking style, and were it not for a historic Liverpool season Wilder would be the favourite for manager of the year. Nobody saw the rise of this historic club, so future expectations are hard to predict. With Wilder in charge this club has all of the right ingredients to create their own fairy tale, much like Bournemouth have over the past decade. The future looks very bright for the red half of Sheffield.

Are Tottenham in Crisis?

As an Arsenal fan this next line is a tough one to write, but over the past five years Tottenham have overtaken us as kings of North London. For the past three years Spurs have finished above Arsenal, feasting on Champions League football as the Gunners make do with the Europa League.

After moving into their new 62 000 seater stadium last year, the future should be looking rosy. Aside from their Champions League heroics last season, the results on the pitch haven’t met expectation. After being a model of how to run a club well, are Tottenham now in crisis?

Pundits and fans alike have begun questioning Tottenham, after a hangover from a poor end to last season continues. They sit sixth in the Premier League after seven games, already five points behind Manchester City and ten behind Liverpool. Tottenham are not competing with the likes of City and Liverpool, but they cemented themselves as the third best team in the league in recent seasons.

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Mauricio Pochettino and his Tottenham players celebrate their historic progression to the Champions League final. The feeling around the club has changed massively in the six months since this photo. Photo: Press Association

Now, even that distinction is under threat. Arsenal are currently above them, but haven’t played well. Chelsea are under a transfer ban and have an inexperienced manager, and Manchester United have their worst squad in years. It’s not that these three clubs have stepped up, it appears at this stage that Spurs have regressed to their level. Currently the third best team in the league is none of these, but Leicester and based on performances they can stay there.

The results haven’t looked good the entire year. Of the 24 Premier League games they’ve played in 2019, their record is: 11 wins, 4 draws and 10 losses. That form puts them 9th in the table, with the performances matching these stats.

Tottenham have struggled through a tumultuous summer. Key players Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are all out of contract next summer, with manager Mauricio Pochettino using them sparingly this season. The club could be allowing £175m to walk out the door for nothing next year, and the squad has suffered.

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Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen smile in happier times. Now both, along with Vertonghen’s defensive partner Toby Alderweireld, are likely to leave next summer for free. Photo: Jorg Schuler/Getty Images.

 

Tottenham have always been punching above their weight with their performances, and this is reflected in their overall squad depth. The likes of Juan Foyth, Serge Aurier and Victor Wanyama haven’t stepped up. Spurs have had a small squad in recent years, and their suffering for it now. The first eleven can match anyone in the league, but with contract sagas and injuries the squad rotation players haven’t played well enough to keep them competitive.

The one shining light for Spurs in 2019 has been their run to the Champions League final. Despite losing 1-0 to Liverpool, even making the final was a massive achievement. This season they can’t let that distract them, having started this years competition poorly. Throwing away a 2-0 lead away at Olympiacos was compounded by a humiliating 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich this week.

The reason the squad depth is an issue is because of their frugal chairman Daniel Levy. He is renowned for being stubborn in the transfer market, who doesn’t vary from his own valuations of players. This is why the club didn’t sell Eriksen, Vertonghen or Alderweireld in the summer.

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Spurs net spend figures are skewed by their big spending this summer. Without this, they would be a mid-table club in terms of net spend. Photo: Transfermarkt.

Since 2015 Spurs have a net spend of -£120m, with £90m of that coming this summer. The big money moves for Tanguy Ndombele (£54m) and Giovani Lo Celso (£55m) have covered up the fact that for the previous four years their net spend was -£30m, with the club famously going over 500 days without signing a player. Compared to their rivals: Chelsea (-£142m, Arsenal (-£335m) and Man Utd (-£554m) they haven’t spent to their level and this is hurting the team.

Another factor behind the poor performances is the seemingly obvious disharmony in the squad. Tottenham are known to be frugal with the wage budget, offering players below market value wages with big incentives. This has worked up until now, as the players have bought into the project at the club, but this season it appears the wheels are falling off.

There is the ongoing contract issues with Eriksen, Alderweireld and Vertonghen, all of whom are likely to leave next summer for free. Danny Rose publicly said he wanted to leave in the summer, and Hugo Lloris has previously said he will leave if Pochettino goes. The players know they could leave the club to win trophies and earn higher wages, so it will be tough for the club to keep their best players if they don’t win this season.

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Tottenham players look dejected on a humiliating night for the club. Losing 7-2 at home to Bayern Munich only heightens the pressure on this team. Photo: Press Association.

The reason I say this season is because it’s not just the players other clubs have been scouting. It’s manager Mauricio Pochettino. He was heavily linked with both the Real Madrid and Manchester United jobs this year, and it’s well known he has a rocky relationship with Levy. Much like the players, he wants to take the next step in his career and the club don’t seem to be able to satisfy his ambitions anymore.

He’s been with the club for five years now, and some in the media have questioned whether it’s simply the end of his cycle. Maybe the players are not listening to him as intently as they have in previous years, or maybe he has grown weary of challenging but ultimately failing to win trophies.

This season feels like a big turning point, with the current trajectory the club is on isn’t healthy long-term. They look to have slipped back this season, although it’s still early, with off-pitch turmoil only compounding their problems. It’s unclear who will still be at the club next season, with a season of regression only making it more likely key players or management would leave. Could the Pochettino era be coming to an end?

What do you think about this? Let me know in the comments section below or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Finally, a massive thank you to everyone who read this blog I really appreciate it!

Is Greed Killing European Football?

Wednesday 14th November 2018: German publication Der Spiegel publishes it’s latest instalment of their Football Leaks articles, revealing how Chelsea midfielder and World Cup winner N’Golo Kante refused to be paid part of his Chelsea salary through Jersey for tax benefit and to receive offshore image rights payments. Kante has rightly been lauded as being one of the seemingly few top-level footballers who is not abusing the tax system.

Just let that last sentence sink in for a moment. We’re lauding Kante for being one of the few footballers at the highest level who is doing the right thing. Much like the Lance Armstrong doping era in cycling, it now seems the number of footballers who are not manipulating the system for financial gain are few and far between.

The Football Leaks documents have shown that the world’s best in football have been engaged in tax avoidance for maximum financial benefit. Mainly centring around Spanish clubs the world’s elite of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have both been forced to pay fines and back taxes for dodging tax. Predicted Ballon D’Or winner Luka Modric has also fallen foul of this, and now also faces a potential perjury charge back in Croatia for links with a former agent whilst at Dinamo Zagreb.

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Luka Modric wins the best FIFA men’s player 2018, yet he has been embroiled in a tax evasion scandal of which he could now face perjury charges for back in Croatia. Photo: Ben Stansall AFP/Getty Images. 

World super-agents such as Pino Zahavi, Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola are all facing allegations based from the latest Football Leaks documents. Zahavi is accused of flouting Belgian league rules by owning Royal Mouscron, along with potential fraud and money laundering charges from Belgian police.  Mendes is accused of bypassing English FA rules with a clear conflict of interest as he appears to profit from player transfers from his business partner who owns Wolves. Finally Raiola is accused of breaking FIFA rules on player transfers by not disclosing he was negotiating on behalf of all three parties in the record-breaking transfer of Paul Pogba from Juventus to Manchester United in 2016, thus earning himself a £41 million pound commission.

The latest allegations are a more serious sporting violation, with articles outlining star Real Madrid and Spain defender Sergio Ramos failing a doping test only hours after beating Juventus to win the Champions League in 2017. He is said to have tested positive for banned in-competition dexamethasone, a cortisone preparation which is an anti-inflammatory which can also help improve concentration levels.

Ramos is also accused in a separate incident from April 2017 of defying anti-doping protocol and taking a shower before providing a urine sample. In Spanish anti-doping regulation to knowingly do this could be considered an violation of anti-doping laws.

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Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos celebrates winning the 2017 Champions League final against Juventus. Hours later he is alleged to have failed an anti-doping test. Photo: Press Association.

This is not even taking into account the fact that in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, several players from the Russian national side were under suspicion of doping as part of the national sporting doping programme that was exposed after the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

The Russian Football Union sent FIFA a list of eleven professional players who played in Russia who were under suspicsion for doping. Yet due to confidentiality reasons they would not disclose these names with FIFA without written permission from these athletes. This farcical explanation doesn’t pain Russia in an entirely positive light, and Der Spiegel alleges that two of those names were Russia national team defenders Sergei Ignashevich and Mario Fernandes. Star midfielder Denis Cheryshev’s father is also quoted as saying in the build-up to the World Cup his son was given an injection containing growth hormone.

FIFA is also alleged to have dragged it’s heels with a potential independent investigation into doping in Russian football, prolonging this to prevent an adequate investigation being completed before the 2018 World Cup was held in Russia. Maria Claudia Rojas has effectively been FIFA General Secretary, and stalled for months with leading anti-doping investigator Richard McLaren about setting up an investigation into Russia ahead of the World Cup.

The Premier League has not escaped the Football Leaks documents, with champions Manchester City accused of flouting financial fair play rules, along with examples of some of the leagues top clubs and players being accused of avoiding tax on agent fees and players image rights. Then you have outgoing Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore close to getting to £5 million farewell pay-off, and the PFA spending £1.65 million on a L.S Lowry painting, yet only spends £100 000 pounds on research into links between football and dementia.

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This 1953 L.S Lowry oil painting Going to the Match was bought by the PFA in 1999 for £1.9 million pounds, yet they only spend £100 000 pounds on research into dementia and football. Photo: L.S Lowry/ The Lowry Collection.

Even the Bundesliga, often held up by many fans as the last bastion of fan power within corporate European football has not escaped the greed. In 2016 champions Bayern Munich secretly began planning to breakaway from the Bundesliga along with Europe’s elite, to create a European Super League to replace the Champions League. Lawyers were also drafted in to look at whether they could refuse to release their players for the German national side, to keep them fresh for their club side.

Of course all of these allegations are simply that, and nothing has so far been proven and everyone involved should be given the benefit of innocence until proven to the contrary, however the latest allegations that are presented in the Football Leaks documents provide detailed and compelling evidence. We must not also forget that their first round of allegations led to a lot of unpaid tax convictions across the football landscape that led to suspended prison sentences and heavy fines.

The points that I have listed in this blog are only the tip of the iceberg from the second wave of Football Leaks documents, and they paint a damning image of modern European football. Clubs are trying to bypass the history and tradition of both their club and national sides for financial benefit, along with abandoning the fans who have made these clubs the best in their respective countries. The day that any European Super League is announced will be a very dark day for all football fans.

For professional football players and their super agents, with the exorbitant wages they already earn, to then be trying to maximise their earning further by funneling money through offshore tax havens and not declaring it as gifts to themselves is just greed of the highest order. I can imagine that being taxed heavily is extremely frustrating, but these players and agents will still be earning more than 99% of the population after tax. The potential court cases and perjury charges pertaining to this are an unfortunate consequence of corporate greed that has engulfed football in Europe.

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Borussia Dortmund fans protest at rising ticket prices in the Bundesliga, but yet the club were in talks to join a European Super League several years ago. Photo: Getty Images. 

If these doping allegations prove to be true about the likes of Sergio Ramos and the Russian national players, then what are the hundreds of millions of fans worldwide watching. Fans want to see the best players in the world, not simply the players whose bodies are the most responsive to doping products. We have seen in other sports such as baseball and cycling how widespread doping can ruin the spectacle, leaving fans questioning every good athletic performance. Please don’t let this happen to football. The anti-doping authorities at FIFA have more work to do, as their commitment to the anti-doping message is severely questioned by their obtuse tactics with Richard McLaren and setting up a truly independent investigation into Russia.

The Premier League is widely recognised as the best and most competitive league in the world, with a global following that is unmatched by any other league. The unfortunate truth is that the massive influx of money into the Premier League have largely turned it into a corporate entertainment event. Many fans complain of high ticket prices, players and managers earn obscene wages and the players union spends almost twenty times as much on famous paintings as they do on research into links between football and dementia just shows that money has become a primary motivator for the majority of people associated with the Premier League.

For anyone interested please check out some of the Football Leaks stories from Der Spiegel and their partners at the EIC network a list of their articles can be found here. If you have any comments or reaction to this article I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below. Anyone interested can find me on Twitter @JWjournalism and thank you for reading!

By Jordan Wilkins

 

 

What’s Wrong At Arsenal Part 1: Arsene Wenger

First of all I would like to say that I understand this will appear to be a poorly timed post. Arsenal battered Bournemouth 3-0 and then played their best game in a long time to contain champions Chelsea 0-0 at Stamford Bridge. This blog post is however not simply a response to the last two games, or even the 4-0 humiliation against Liverpool, this a response to the sustained poor performances which has led to a growing discontent amongst the fans, mostly centered on manager Arsene Wenger.

I would also like to say from the start that the current climate around the club is not the sole responsibility of Wenger and I feel that he shoulders more of the blame for the clubs problems than he should. This however is the downside of being the public face of the football club. Up until several years ago I remained a Wenger in supporter, but the ongoing poor performances when they matter most  are impossible to ignore any more.

They have produced one-off performances in big games such as their 2-0 win over Manchester City at the Etihad in January 2015, or the clubs 3-0 hammering of Chelsea at home at the beginning of last season, but this have been few and far between. Just take the 2013/14 season as an example. In one season away from home they managed to lose to Manchester City 6-3, Liverpool 5-1 and Chelsea 6-0. This big game issue extends to the clubs derby with rivals Tottenham. The last time they beat Spurs was March 2014 with a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane, and since this game the club have risen above Arsenal for the first time this century.

The club have also struggled to compete in the Champions League. The world’s premier club cup competition has proved the same repetitive cycle for the club. Since the turn of the decade they have been knocked out in the second round of the competition every year, almost exclusively by Bayern Munich and Barcelona it seems. The 10-2 aggregate humiliation by Bayern Munich last season made us the laughing stock of Europe, whilst the recent 4-0 humiliation by Liverpool made us the laughing stock of Britain so at least we are consistent.

With all of these results the players have to shoulder some of the responsibility but ultimately it’s the manager that sets up the team and does the tactics. One-off bad performances can be tolerated, but it’s the consistency of our drubbings which has begun to wear thin on the majority of fans.

To revisit the recent Liverpool game the manager chose to leave starting left back Sead Kolasinac on the bench and put right back Hector Bellerin in his place, even though he’s a natural right back. He then played midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the right back role. Aside from the defence he decided to leave the club record signing Alexandre Lacazette on the bench in place of Danny Welbeck. Welbeck is a good player who works hard however away from home against a top four opponent your best players should be playing, in their correct positions.

These tactical decisions in a key game are baffling to both fans and experts alike, and surely only Wenger could fully explain his reasoning behind the team decisions he made for this game. Many fans have begun to question whether Wenger can still be successful in the modern game, and they would point to his tactical choices in this game as an example proving their point.

Along with the notion of playing players out of position, he also appears to be very one dimensional in his philosophy. Whilst every manager has their favoured system, it appears Wenger is almost always completely unwilling to change his possession based attacking style of play. This style of play produces good results when facing inferior teams and has earned Arsenal a reputation as one of the best teams to watch in the world on their day.

The frustrating thing watching Arsenal is that they will still try and play this attacking style of football when playing against better matched teams with higher quality players. This is where the team are fatally exposed because every team knows how to game plan against Arsenal. Top six sides and even less talented physical sides such as West Brom can have success against Arsenal because of how they play.

This explains why the team are consistently struggling against top six opponents, as the team have failed to address their need for more physical players to help with the defensive work the team struggle with so often. This along with Wenger’s seeming indifference to changing his style of play no matter the opponent has led to the current on pitch problems for the club.

What do you think of Arsene Wenger? If you are a fan of the club or have any views on the Frenchman please leave them in the comments section below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Part two is coming up shortly and will look at the problems of the current board and owner. Stay tuned!

 

 

Does the Premier League Need a Winter Break?

The Christmas and New Year period is for the large majority of the nation an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, however in the world of English club football this period is the busiest of the season. With many teams facing the prospect of three games within a week over this period, has the time come for serious debate over whether a winter break period should be adopted?

The English football league is an anomaly amongst its European counterparts, with a vast majority of other European leagues taking a winter break. Even the Scottish leagues have a break over the new year period. South of the border teams are forced to exhaust all avenues of their squad as they have to prepare their teams to face three fixtures in six days, an exercise that seems an archaic throwback to previous era’s of football.

Some football fans will want to retain the hectic Christmas fixture list, maybe as a nostalgic ode to how things used to be. On the other hand, at a time when English football is going through a period of introspection after successive failures for the national team, club teams also find themselves on the back foot.

The Premier League is widely seen as the most competitive major league in the world thanks to its high level of talent, but in major competition they face a disadvantage. When the next rounds of the Champions League and Europa League take place in the middle of February, for English teams they will already have done three quarters of their season, and will be suitably showing the exertion this places on a squad. European rivals however will be just a few weeks into the second half of their seasons after the break.

The winter break is not simply a time to rest however. Many clubs will hold winter training camps or play international friendlies to raise the profile of their clubs. The more controlled nature of these however ensure that the players efforts do not replicate what takes place in a normal league fixture. The risk of injuries or suspensions is also very much reduced, keeping as much as the squad fit and healthy for the second half of the season.

The period of non-stop fixtures takes a heavy toll on English teams, leaving them at a disadvantage as the season goes on. This month there is the added burden of the African Cup of Nations, of which many top players will compete in, although this is something that every major club will have to deal with, however some clubs may be affected more than others by the tournament.

Whilst some fans and pundits in England have lamented state of football in this country, it seems obvious that when other major clubs around you have several weeks off whilst they have to face the most congested period of the season, of course this is going to put you at a disadvantage to your rivals. Whilst the solution would be for the English leagues to adopt a winter break, this is far easier said than done.

The English Premier League especially generates huge amounts of revenue and has the largest worldwide fan base of any major league. It’s become a global brand and therefore it will be very hard for the F.A to implement a winter break when fans are used to having such a busy Christmas/New Year period. Fans may be able to stage some form of protest, although this issue is for the majority not their highest priority.

Next month will see the return of the Champions League and Europa League, and I hope I am proved wrong about the disadvantages facing the English teams competing. If however they struggle against their respective opponents, factor in the relative games both sets of players have already competed in.

Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and thank you for reading!

 

Can Borussia Dortmund Ever Reach Their Previous Heights Again?

The 12th May 2012. Borussia Dortmund are a club in a state of ecstasy. Having retained their Bundesliga title they have humiliated rivals Bayern Munich with a 5-2 trouncing in the DFB Pokal to secure the double for the first time in the clubs history.  This was the moment that Dortmund cemented themselves as the benchmark team in German football, and it would also be the beginning of the end of their reign.

In the four years since that magic moment a lot has changed for the club. A lot of the key players from that team have since left for pastures new, tempted by big money offers from bigger clubs. The charismatic manager Jurgen Klopp has also departed, leaving after a testing 2014/15 season, replaced by Thomas Tuchel. He is seen in German football as the man most like Klopp, and not simply because he has followed his path from Mainz to Dortmund.

In an attempt to return Dortmund to the days of challenging Bayern Munich for the title this summer the club spent a very uncharacteristic amount of money to try and compete for the title.  After finishing last season in second place they used the money from high profile departures of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan with fellow world class talent.

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Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben is dejection personified as the rival Borussia Dortmund players celebrate yet another goal in their 5-2 humiliation of the German football titans in the 2012 DFB-Pokal final. This result would have wide ranging consequences in the coming years. Photo copyright Associated Press. 

Replacing central defensive rock Hummels was young Barcelona player Marc Bartra, whilst central midfielder Gundogan was replaced with the returning Mario Gotze. The Dortmund youth product left bitterly to main rivals Bayern Munich, but after struggling to cement himself has now returned to his hometown team. Finally Mkhitaryan was replaced with Germany international Andre Schurrle.

It wasn’t just the present that the club was looking at this summer. Looking towards the future they signed several very promising young talents such as forwards Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor from Rennes and Nordsjaelland respectively. Midfielders Mikel Merino and Sebastian Rode were also signed from Osasuna and Bayern Munich whilst left back Raphael Guerreiro joined from Lorient.

These youngsters along with Bartra join talented players already at the club such as midfielders Christian Pulisic and Julian Weigl along with emerging defenders Erik Durm, Matthias Ginter and Felix Passlack. Whilst this season things have not gone perfectly for the team in the league this season, they currently sit a close fifth but a long way off the top two Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig, in the cup competitions they have shown promise.

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Dortmund’s striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shows the emotions when celebrating a crucial Champions League equaliser against powerhouses Real Madrid at home. He has cemented himself as one of the world’s best strikers and the Madrid club are strongly linked with a £60 million plus bid for him next summer. The match would end 2-2 but Dortmund would have the last laugh, topping the group. Photo copyright TF Images/Getty Images.

They have made it to the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal cup and will be hoping they can continue their good record in the competition.  In the Champions League they have also impressed as they overcame Real Madrid to top their group unbeaten as they now face Benfica in the next round.

It’s clear that the club are still in transition right now, with the legacy of the Klopp era looming largely over the club still. This is entirely natural as his reign took the club from mid-table obscurity to German football powerhouses and world football pioneers. With the squad also in transition as the previous generation of unknown players leave for bigger clubs the next generation of talent is coming through into the first team.

With the likes of Marco Reus and Gotze to guide them they have the potential to once again challenge the established order in Germany, much like RB Leipzig have done this season. The squad is getting younger and this can only mean good things for the future, therefore don’t think that because the majority of well known players and manager Klopp have gone,that the Borussia Dortmund era is over. It might simply be regenerating with a new assortment of players and manager at the helm.

By Jordan Wilkins

Thank you for reading and if you have any comments feel free to post them below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Why Leicester winning the Premier League is momentous

5000/1. Those were the odds with most bookies in August last year when the Premier League season started. A team filled with cast offs and unknown low budget signings who had needed a miracle late run to avoid relegation last season. For those who wanted an outside bet, they have now come up trumps as Leicester have been crowned the most unlikely Premier League champions likely in our lifetime.

The squad have excelled themselves and shocked the world with their brilliantly effective counter attacking brand of football. Despite immense pressure and scepticism from the wider world, they have managed to achieve the seemingly impossible task of taking on the big guns of the two Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool and beat them.

These clubs have spent hundreds of millions of pounds that have been vanquished by a squad assembled for less than £30 million pounds. It’s the ultimate David vs Goliath sports story, one that is already been talked about becoming a major Hollywood film. This is why their achievement this season is so important to club football across the world.

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This bar chart shows the value of each Premier League this season. This only enhances their achievement this season. Photo copyright CIES Football Observatory.

The Premier League is watched by billions of people across the world, only enhancing the impact of Leicester’s triumph around the globe. Leicester have shattered the previous notion in football that you need to assemble a squad filled with the best and most expensive players in the world to win anything in major club football.

The most popular sport in the world has developed an unhealthy obsession with money, as it now becomes fashionable for a club to be taken over by increasingly rich billionaires with too much money to know what to do with. Manchester City are the blueprint for this example, as their takeover in 2008 and injection of Abu Dhabi money has elevated them from a solid Premier League side to one now competing with Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Leicester have shown the world that this is not always the answer, and that smaller clubs on modest budgets can compete with the big guns. Whilst some may argue that this is an unlikely achievements that will not be repeated anytime soon, it does give clubs hope for the future that if they can invest in the right scouting networks and youth development they don’t need a spend big money to play well and rise above their perceived expectations.

Midfielder Riyad Mahrez and striker Jamie Vardy have stolen the headlines, but the entire squad have made themselves into stars thanks to their hard work and high quality performances this season. Rumours have begun to circle that most of the players such as Vardy,Mahrez and N’Golo Kante are going to be the subject of big money bids from bigger clubs.

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Jamie Vardy celebrating one of his many goals this season. He will have more to celebrate now they have won the league. Photo copyright Graham Chadwick.

Clubs are also scampering to unlock the secret to their success this season, with Arsenal signing their head scout in the hope he can uncover the next Mahrez or Kante. This is missing the point however. Whilst other clubs can offer increased wages and the promise of regular Champions League football, they will it hard to break through the bond this squad appears to have.

The collective spirit at the club is likely what will keep a lot of their key players from leaving, and a lot of the credit for this has to go to manager Claudio Ranieri. The vastly experienced manager had tempered expectations and kept the team motivated to the point they have been by far the best team in the league this season. He has presided and led his team to a remarkable achievement, one that is very unlikely to ever be repeated in a major football league.

For now it’s beginning to sink in that Leicester City really have won the Premier League. Awaiting them in a summer filled with celebrations, before embarking on another Premier League campaign and a debut in the world’s best club competition, the Champions League. They will find themselves up against the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus. And this is exactly where Leicester belong after this season. Let that sink in for a moment. This is the real impact and signals how remarkable it is what they managed to do this season.

What are your thoughts on Leicester’s remarkable triumph this season? Feel free to comment and give your thoughts below. Also thank you for reading and you can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.