Manchester United

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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The Disconnect Between the Fans in the Premier League and Bundesliga

The Premier League is known across the world as being the best and most competitive club league in the world.  Football fans across the world tune-in every week to watch players like Kevin De Bruyne and David De Gea, but for all the superstars on the pitch and in the dugout, in terms of fan engagement the Premier League lacks massively behind it’s European counterparts.

Fans in other major European leagues are allowed to express themselves, with flares and choreographic displays common. This ultra culture has not made it across to the U.K on a major scale, and restrictive stadium rules in England severely limit what fans in England can do to show their support for their team besides chanting.

This is a huge factor behind fan disengagement in the Premier League, but other forces are also at play here. As I mentioned in my previous post  the Premier League is becoming an increasingly consumerist for fans. So let’s compare it to another significant European league, the Bundesliga, to see how they stack up in terms of fan engagement.

The Premier League has become the preeminent club league in the world thanks to it’s entertaining brand of football and host of top world players who grace it’s clubs. This has allowed them to market the league into massive TV contracts both in England and across the world. The Premier League sold it’s last domestic TV deal to broadcasters Sky Sports and BT Sport for 2016-2019 for a cool £5.136 billion pounds. Now the Bundesliga has just celebrated it’s biggest ever TV deal for 2017-2021 for £4.123 billion pounds.

This has a direct impact on the spending power of clubs in the two leagues. In the 2017 summer transfer window Premier League clubs spent a massive £1 billion pounds on player transfers, attracting the worlds best to England. In that same period Bundesliga clubs spent £391 million. Now granted the Bundesliga has two less teams at 18, yet this does not explain a gulf of £609 million pounds between the two leagues spending.

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Alvaro Morata shows off his Chelsea kit last summer after signing for £58 million pounds. This is despite having over 35 players on-loan last season. Photo: ChelseaFC.com.

Premier League clubs also use season ticket prices as yet another revenue stream for themselves. Bayern Munich are by far the biggest club in Germany, affectionately known as ‘FC Hollywood’ for their lavish spending, yet the cheapest season ticket they sell comes in at a measly £125 pounds. Now if we compare that to the biggest club in England, Manchester United, the sum is rather more at £532 pounds.

These figures on season ticket pricing explain why the Bundesliga regularly tops it’s rivals in terms of average attendances. For the 2017/18 season the Bundesliga averages 44,650 fans across all 18 clubs, whereas the Premier League averaged 38,300 fans across it’s 20 clubs.  The latest figures also showed than in breakdowns of specific clubs, German giants Borussia Dortmund topped Europe with an average of 80,830 fans per game. A third of all the top thirty clubs in Europe for attendance came from the Bundesliga.

Whilst the Premier League is the richest league in the world, this relative lack of financial resources in the Bundesliga has led them to take a different approach when it comes to footballing talent. The English model at the moment is largely to use their massive financial resources to sign ready made talent from the rest of the world, whereas the Bundesliga model is more conducive to developing local talent from a young age.

This also affects the respective national sides of both countries. England performed well at the most recent World Cup in Russia, reaching a semi-final when the nation was more used to disappointment and frustration in major tournaments. For Germany the 2018 World Cup was one to forget with a group stage exit, yet in recent decades their respective fortunes have been a reverse of what happened in Russia.

Italia 1990 was the last time England reached a World Cup semi-final, and Euro 96 as host nation was the last time they reached a semi-final of a European Championships. In this same period Germany has won the World Cup twice, and reached a semi-final a further three times. In the European Championships they have a further victory and three consecutive final or semi-final appearances. It’s actually the national sides poor performance at Euro 2000 which initiated what we see today in the Bundesliga.

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German players console themselves after a group stage exit at Euro 2000. This disappointment started a new youth orientated project that has seen them become one of the best nations on earth. Photo: FourFourTwo.com

After an early group stage exit, reform in German football came swiftly. Every club in the top two German leagues was required to have an academy by the 2002-03 season to obtain a professional licence to play in these leagues. Within two years the 36 clubs had spent a combined £77.5 million pounds developing their academies.

The German FA also stepped in, creating over 365 centers across the country for young kids to receive coaching from 1,300 qualified FA coaches. National U19 and U17 leagues were also created to help develop youth players. This wide scale change in direction focusing on youth development has proved massively beneficial to both Bundesliga clubs and the national side.

Premier League clubs or the English FA do not seem to have this approach, as thousands of talented young players are left by the wayside of the extravagant spending their clubs make on foreign players. The Chelsea FC example is an extreme one, but does show the overall mindset of the the people in charge of these Premier League clubs. At some stages last season the club had 38 players out on-loan, largely made up of young English players who cannot reach the Chelsea first team.

Tammy Abraham proved prolific in the Championship with 23 goals but still could only find himself a loan move to another Premier League side, Swansea. Ruben Loftus-Cheek played in the 2018 World Cup for England, yet is still forced out on-loan to get game time. Lewis Baker was voted the Chelsea young player of the year in 2013/14 season, but since then has been forced to make successive loan moves to get minutes.

These examples show how in England promising young players are having their progress stunted because of foreign superstars. Despite having 38 players on-loan last season, Chelsea still spent £235.5 million pounds during the season, signing expensive foreign players with a proven pedigree.

The attraction of the Bundesliga is clear to see, and it’s sparked an English invasion as young players are now increasingly looking at the Bundesliga as the best place to develop their game. In recent years promising young players Reece Oxford of West Ham has joined Borussia Monchengladbach and Ademola Lookman of Everton has joined R.B Leipzig on-loan. Jadon Sancho has also left reigning champions Manchester City to join renowned youth player developers Borussia Dortmund permanently.

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Jadon Sancho left Manchester City to pursue more first-team opportunities with Borussia Dortmund. Photo: Getty Images.

With the spending power of the Premier League and the youth orientated focus in the Bundesliga, it’s no surprise that the stats show a big difference in the percentage of foreign players in each league. The Premier League in 2017/18 was made up overwhelmingly of foreign players at 64.1%, whereas the Bundesliga last season was just over half at 53.9%.

Players from across the world are attracted to the Premier League thanks to it’s popularity and the financial rewards on offer. Player salaries in the Premier League far outweigh the Bundesliga, therefore it’s usually an easy decision for well-known players to move to the Premier League.

Bayern Munich are the only team that can financially compete with a top level Premier League club, with an average salary of $6.74 million dollars per year for their players. This matches the top two Premier League clubs Manchester United and Manchester City, who each spend $6.81 million dollars per year. Outside of this however the Bundesliga falls well behind it’s English rival. Borussia Dortmund are second in Germany with $3.56 million dollars per year, yet that figure would put them ninth in the Premier League spending last season.

All of this information shows that the Bundesliga is more willing to give young players a chance than the Premier League. It also shows that the Bundesliga is more willing to give young aspiring managers a chance also. Last season the average age of a Premier League manager was 49.95 years old, yet in the Bundesliga it was 44.6 years old. 45% of Premier League managers are over 50, whereas it’s 27% in the Bundesliga.

Whilst a lot of these stats show various figures, they do not explain explicitly why the Bundesliga has better fan engagement than the Premier League. They do however help explain the various factors behind the matter.  The vast wealth of the Premier League has allowed it’s clubs the financial resources to go out and spend big sums for ready made foreign players with a proven track record in prominent leagues.

Fans do not have an affinity with these players because they cannot relate to them. They earn massive sums and do not orbit the same world as the fans. These players often move for financial just as much as footballing reasons, therefore these players know little of the history of the clubs they play for or the city they live in.

Football fans feel a much closer affinity to players who have graduated from a clubs academy because they already known about the club and are more likely to be from the same area as the fans. This is much more apparent in the Bundesliga, where talented youngsters are given chances to gain experience in the first team long before most young English players.

Ticket pricing and increasing commercial aspects within football stadiums are leaving fans feeling like customers not fans, yet in the Bundesliga fans are still held up as the lifeblood of football clubs and are allowed to express the love for their team more overtly than their English counterparts.

The Premier League these days has become a very effective consumer package, where clubs increasingly use revenue streams from sponsors to help them buy the players needed to consolidate their position in the Premier League and compete with their rivals in Europe. In turn sponsors get to market their products exclusively to a large fan base which increases their sales and revenue.

The Bundesliga still feels for many football fans like how football should be. Fans are allowed to show their passion for their team, as they watch a blend of top class players and young academy graduates. Initiatives like the 50+1 rule mean fans will always be the most important thing about Bundesliga football clubs, yet that dream has long since passed in the Premier League. For all it’s wealth and world superstars, the Premier League could learn a lot from the Bundesliga.

I would like to give a massive thanks to Reddit.com, TransferMarkt.com, Statista.com, Goal.com and The Guardian for their help with the research for this article.

If you have an opinion on this topic please leave your comments below I would massively appreciate it!

By Jordan Wilkins

Are Premier League Supporters Fans or Consumers?

Football grew into the nation’s favourite sport through the lower classes of English society. Less than a hundred years ago fans and players would take time off from factory or other manual work to go and watch their local team play. Fast forward to 2018 and the landscape is now very different.

The clampdown on hooliganism in the late 1980’s and the advent of the Premier League in 1992 have been major contributors as the game attracted an entire new audience and a new family atmosphere in stadiums. In the last 25 years player transfer fees and ticket prices have skyrocketed, increasingly taking the sport from it’s working-class roots of community football clubs to more affluent worldwide businesses.

In 1990 the cheapest ticket at Manchester United cost £3.50, yet by the 2016/17 season it would cost £31. This is an increase of over 700%, a massive increase on the normal cost of living inflation. If the ticket price had kept pace with typical inflation the cost today would be a measly £9.

This is a recurring theme amongst the other Premier League giants. An Arsenal ticket cost £5 in 1990, in today’s money that would be £11. Yet the cheapest match day ticket is now £26, a rise of over 400% on normal inflation. Everton tickets cost £4.50 in 1990, which is £11 in today’s money. Yet they have the second highest cheapest ticket at £38, a 600% increase.

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Liverpool fans protesting increases in ticket prices, and a reminder that supporters should not be treated like consumers. Photo credit: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images.

It’s not just match tickets where the sport has seen massive financial increases. TV rights to the Premier League cost Sky Sports £191 million pounds for 1992-1997. With the Premier League rising to be the preeminent league in the world, in just twenty years both Sky Sports and BT will pay a combined  £5.1 billion pounds for the latest 2016-2019 TV rights deal.

This astronomical increase is soon due to the replicated by the separate world TV rights deals, with Premier League clubs increasingly expanding across the world to increase their fan support and reach. Plenty of clubs will have pre-season tours in emerging markets such as North America and Asia for this very purpose.

Premier League clubs now seem to follow the consumerist practices of lucrative exclusive sponsorship agreements. Chelsea FC for example have the likes of Singha as official beer supplier, Vitality as official health insurance partner and William Hill as official betting partner. This is all on top of three premier sponsors such as shirt sponsors Yokohama Tyres and Carabao energy drink.

This trend is now becoming commonplace, and follows basic consumer principles. It allows their partners to market their products exclusively to the fanbase of the club, showing just how lucrative Premier League clubs can be to potential sponsors. Whilst its great for sponsors, it means fans will be restricted on what they can bring into the stadium, and forces them to typically pay high prices for commodities such as beer and food that they may typically not want.

In the Premier League fans have grew increasingly frustrated with the rise in the price of football, from match-day tickets to official merchandise and memorabilia.  Fans are increasingly struggling to relate to the millionaire players on the pitch also, as a players weeks wages is more than 99% of the fans will earn in a year. This is similarly reflected in transfer fees, which again show how footballers are increasingly inhabiting another world of wealth and opulence that does not reflect the real world.

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The famous Yellow Wall at Borussia Dortmund highlights how the link between players and fans is still alive, something that is not evident in the Premier League. Photo copyright: Bongarts/Getty Images.

The only major league in Europe which appears to be combating this is the German Bundesliga.  Whilst the league has the same players and wage structures as it’s European rivals, it does at least appear to be attempting to keep footballs traditional fanbase. Fans can buy season tickets to league winners Bayern Munich for £125, whereas the only Premier League club cheaper than that was newly promoted Huddersfield at £100.

Fans are also the majority owners of every Bundesliga club, thanks to the much publicised 50 plus one rule. This is to stop billionaire owners such as Roman Abramovich at Chelsea owning German clubs. With their emphasis on fans its no surprise the Bundesliga has the highest average attendance of any league in Europe. It leads with an average of 41 000, ahead of the Premier League in 36 000 and La Liga at 28 000.

German giants Borussia Dortmund top the European league table for average attendance with 80 830 fans per game on average, well ahead of Manchester United in second with 75 027. The Bundesliga dominated the final standings with ten of the top thirty average attendances coming from the German league.

The future of the Premier League looks rosy from a commercial standpoint, with increasingly revenue streams through partners and TV allowing them to attract the worlds best players to the Premier League. The league is the richest in the world and shows no sign of losing this title, yet as the revenue streams increase the further the game is going away from its fans.

In the modern game fans cannot relate to the players on the pitch, world superstars earning hundreds of thousands of pounds per week. The heart and soul of English football is being slowly eradicated by the Premier League, and it’s something that I think the Premier League can learn from the Bundesliga.

The Bundesliga is another top European league with strong teams and great players, but the fans are not being priced out of the game. The league and the clubs have kept the affordable tickets for the traditional fanbase, ensuring that world famous shows of support such as the Yellow Wall at Borussia Dortmund are a regular occurrence. With the way the Premier League is currently operating, it’s hard to see something like the Yellow Wall ever be allowed to happen. And that’s sad. Proper fan culture is being replaced by commercialization culture. Fans should be treated as just that, not consumers, otherwise the heart and soul of the Premier League will keep diminishing.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Let me know in the comments section below and feel free to find me on Twitter @JWjournalism I’d love to hear your thoughts and thank you for reading. 

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.

 

Times Are Changing In The Premier League

As I write this, December 30th 2015, a simple look at the Premier League table will provide plenty of shocks to football fans across the world.  At the halfway point of the season, you would expect the traditional top four teams to occupy the lucrative Champions League places.

The traditional top four consisting of Arsenal,Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have barely changed since the Premier League era began in 1992. The only change has been the emergence of Manchester City and it’s Middle Eastern mega rich backers. Their money have allowed them to usurp Liverpool in the traditional top four. These traditional super powers of English football have dominated for over two decades. Until this season.

This season has been hugely unpredictable, with the traditional ‘big’ clubs dropping off slightly as those below them have risen up. This perfect storm has manifested itself into a current Premier League table which no one could have predicted before the season.

Yes, Arsenal may currently be top of the league, but after years of ridicule thanks to a recent lack of success, their accession to the top of the league has been slightly surprising.  The London’s clubs fortunes this season pale into insignificance thanks to the sterling performances of lowly Leicester City. The team that produced a miracle to stay up last season have been Premier League leaders for a huge portion of the season, currently sitting second in the league, level on points with Arsenal.

What is remarkable is that at this point Leicester were bottom of the league and looking certain to be relegated. Their survival was a fairy tale, but under new manager Claudio Ranieri, words cannot describe the unexpected success the team has had so far this season.

With a first team bought for less than £20 million pounds, Leicester have matched and beaten the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. The team’s transfer policy has been rewarded massively with bargains such as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in particular stealing the headlines. Costing a combined £1.4 million, the pair have linked up beautifully this season to devastating effect.

jamie-vardy-riyad-mahrez-leicester-city_3375357Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez celebrate one of the dynamic duo’s many goals for Leicester this season. Photo copyright Sky Sports.

Vardy has taken most of the plaudits thanks to setting a new Premier League record of scoring in eleven consecutive games, and currently sits joint top of the goalscorers list with 15 goals in 16 games. Mahrez is not far behind his team mate, with 13 goals in 17 games so far in the league.

Below Leicester there are plenty more surprises. Pre-season favorites Manchester City’s struggling away form limits them to third currently, with Tottenham the current form team in the league sitting pretty in fourth.

They have rose steadily up the league, and this season finally looks to be the season they can break through into the top four and the all important Champions League, after years of just missing out in fifth.

Crystal Palace are another high flying team, who have gone from lower mid-table to fifth in just over a season under Alan Pardew. In any other season their performances would have garnered plenty of press attention, but amongst the struggles of others and the rise of Leicester they have been regrettably been overlooked so far.

One team who have certainly not been overlooked by the press have been Manchester United. Arguably the world’s most famous club are floundering in sixth, with a under fire Louis Van Gaal the most likely manager to be next sacked. Since the Sir Alex Ferguson era ended, the clubs management and transfers have not been up to scratch. Their traditional role as a perennial top four side is seriously under threat for the future if something does not change at the club soon.

3118074087Louis Van Gaal feeling the strain after their defeat to Stoke on Boxing Day. Will he still be in charge next season? Photo copyright PA.

Throughout the league there are shocks, with the newly promoted Watford surprising everyone by sitting in eighth, led by top scorer Odion Ighalo and his 13 goals. Liverpool are suffering from a turbulent season and currently sit tenth in the league, giving new manager Jurgen Klopp a lot to think about with the January transfer window coming up.

Liverpool are currently in the final stages of the steady declining process bitter rivals Manchester United are just entering into now. The club needs to adjust it’s transfer policy, which in recent years has been laughable in comparison with the likes of Leicester.

In the bottom half of the table, there is one glaringly obvious surprise. Chelsea. The current Premier League champions have suffered the kind of awful season rarely experienced in the top European leagues. Everyone has been wondering quite simply how can a team that won the league seven moths ago retain the same squad and yet be 14th in the league going into 2016.

Whilst many pinned the blame on top players turning on Jose Mourinho. Whilst the unthinkable happened several weeks ago and the special one was sacked from his beloved Chelsea, even under interim boss Guus Hiddink results have not dramatically improved.

This season is not likely to get any easier for Chelsea, and realistically they would be happy with a top ten finish to the season, something laughable before the season started in August.

2C3849B000000578-0-image-a-26_1442147035612This expression from Jose Mourinho perfectly sums up their season. The look of disbelief and regret is shared amongst Chelsea fans. Photo copyright Reuters.

With the consistent increases in TV money giving every team a lot more money to spend, it becoming clear the traditionally vast differences between the budgets of the top four and the rest is closing at a gradual pace. Whilst the likes of Man City and Man Utd of course have huge resources to spend, their performances relative to that of the likes of Leicester and Watford show that top ten teams can be assembled for a fraction of what the big clubs spend.

With increasing pressure amongst the traditional top four as to their current future’s, could this season mark a turning point in the traditional balance of power with the Premier League. With question marks over the manager’s positions at Man City,Man Utd and Chelsea for next season could we see the likes of Crystal Palace and Leicester consistently challenging the top four in years to come?

In the past it appears there was a certain fright factor associated with playing the top four clubs, but this season has consistently shown that any club in the league can beat the top four on their day. With this new found confidence, perfectly illustrated by Stoke’s recent demolition of Man City 2-0 a few weeks ago, I hope this season will become the norm as the Premier League seemingly becomes more competitive every week. I’m sure you will join me in eagerly anticipating the second half of this season.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Premier League? Please give your thoughts below and most importantly thank you for reading.

David Moyes: Doomed from the start

Just less than a year ago the future appeared very rosy for David Moyes. After 11 successful years he was leaving Everton a club legend to take over as the hallowed Manchester United manager after being hand picked by Sir Alex Ferguson. When he was announced as the new Man Utd manager on the 9th May 2013 the press conference contained lots of talk from both sides about the succession plan Man Utd put in place with this appointment. After being personally chosen by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes seemed the perfect man to carry on the vast achievements of Manchester United into a new era. A 6 year deal with the opportunity to earn £5 million a year with bonuses was a perfect validation to their succession talk. Yet as of yesterday David Moyes is unemployed and Man Utd are facing having to pay him off £5 million until he finds himself a new job. What went so wrong for Moyes in only 10 months?

First lets look at purely his results over the 10 months. After starting well with comfortable Community Shield and opening day premier league wins things got progressively worse from here. He led United to their worst ever league start with defeats to bitter local rivals Manchester City 4-1 and a 2-1 home defeat to lowly West Brom heaped the pressure on Moyes early on. After a relatively stable few months December saw them suffer successive home defeats to Everton and Newcastle, the first time Man Utd had lost consecutive home premier league games since the 2001 season. This left the team languishing at this point in 9th, yet after only 15 games the team were 13 points behind leaders Arsenal. Here’s a picture of Moyes in happier times with the Community shield trophy.

Compounding their awful league form were exits from the F.A Cup in the third round at home to Swansea 2-1, defeat in the Capital One Cup semi-final to Premier League dwellers Sunderland and finally comfortably being outclassed in the Champions League Quarter- Final to Bayern Munich. The tension reached fever pitch as fans responded to successive 3-0 home defeats to hated rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, by flying a banner over Old Trafford before the next home game against Aston Villa calling for Moyes to leave the club. Here’s a link to a Youtube video report on the banner incident. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQZ77mPMdCA

After a slight recent turn around Sunday’s comprehensive trouncing by Everton 2-0 brought the tension back around Moyes. He believed however that despite the poor results to this point he would receive the board’s backing until at least the summer transfer window. On the other hand, the board seemed to want swift action as over the course of the following Bank Holiday Monday rumors became increasingly persistent that Moyes would be imminently sacked. The rumors were proved true early yesterday morning as it was finally announced Moyes had been sacked after only 10 months in charge.

Now we’ve established the results that got him sacked let’s now try to explain firstly why these individual results happened and secondly how the end result of his sacking came about so soon. Firstly let’s look at the task he actually took on becoming Manchester United manager. He faced the unenviable task of being the Man Utd manager after Sir Alex Ferguson. After Ferguson’s mammoth 26 and a half year reign which yielded an astonishing 38 trophies in 26 years, including 13 Premier League titles and 2 Champions League’s. Therefore with United fans accustomed to so much recent success Moyes was coming into a job with probably one of the highest levels of expectation in world football.

This would be something new for Moyes to deal with as he had arrived from Everton, a club who had rather more modest expectations to which Moyes would regularly over achieve. Inadvertently Sir Alex had also heaped even more pressure on Moyes by being so public with his view that Moyes was the perfect man to succeed him as part of the succession plan.

Another factor behind the downfall in results for United has to be the relative weakness of the current squad in comparison with other top 4 sides. This may seem a slightly ridiculous statement considering the squad possesses quality players such as Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, David De Gea and Patrice Evra. Yet around these players the rest of the squad seems slightly lower on all round quality in comparison with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. Part of the problem seems to be the fact Man Utd have an ageing squad yet the younger players coming through seem to struggle slightly to take over from the older players. Examples of this are surely the likes of Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Alex Buttner. Whilst all of them are good players they have under performed this season and appear unlikely to play to the level of those their taking over from such as Vidic,Giggs and and Evra respectively.

The point about under performing players above doesn’t only apply to some of the younger players this season. Another factor behind the downfall of Manchester United this season appears to be a combination of Moyes not being able to get the best out of his squad alongside a reluctance on the players part to play under Moyes. Rumors are circling in the aftermath of his sacking that Moyes was never able to get the respect and influence over some of the high profile players such as Wayne Rooney.

Whilst all of the recent points have been based around the actions of Moyes or the players themselves the club does not come out of this sacking blameless. Indeed it was their big talk of a succession plan that set expectations that were too high for Moyes as I explained above. Also the lack of overall quality in the squad could have been addressed in the summer transfer window before the nightmare season even started.Over the summer Moyes and the club made ham fisted attempts to sign Cesc Fabregas, Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini, of which they only signed Fellaini in a deadline day deal worth £27.5 million pounds.

Again in the January window they only made the one signing splashing out on Juan Mata from Chelsea for £37.1 million pounds. Whilst these are both great players their first season can only be described as a disappointment as they have failed to produce much as they struggled to fit into the Moyes system Manchester United were playing. So although it’s early on it seems these two transfers are going the way of failed expectations there were plenty more signings the club failed to complete for a number of players undisclosed to the public.

Whilst many will try to pin the reasoning why Moyes failed at Manchester United down to one thing it appears there were several factors which meant he was doomed from the start. First the increased pressure and expectation as the club made sure the world knew Moyes was pre-approved by the legend Sir Alex Ferguson as the right man for the succession plan carrying on his reign. Whilst they backed him here they didn’t complete the deals he wanted in the transfer windows leaving him with an ageing squad and a fan base with high expectations.

It should therefore no surprise that Moyes was unable to carry on the success of Ferguson, yet everyone around the club appeared to be completely shocked by this. Whether this was delusional or simply not with the times doesn’t really matter, either in a damning indictment of those around the club. Once things began to tail off the players appeared to lose respect for Moyes and didn’t want to give 100% for a manager they questioned. Also the club didn’t cover itself in glory by dithering with his sacking with Moyes appearing to find out the news he was going to be sacked first from social media on Monday afternoon. Therefore it was all of these factors that contributed to the demise of Moyes with the chain of events being set in motion the day he was announced as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. Indeed, both sides have come out of this looking rather less respectable than when they started and for sure it will take a number of years at least for both sides to move past this nightmare.