Cristiano Ronaldo

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. 

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