Champions League

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

 

 

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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.