Premier 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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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. 

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!

 

 

Could ‘Moneyball’ Ever Work In Football?

Since the new millennium a singular concept has swept through American professional sports. The concept is known as ‘Moneyball’,  has been made famous by the 2003 best selling book and the 2011 film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. After conquering American sports, the question is, can the concept work in football?

For those of you who  are not familiar with the ‘Moneyball’ idea, it’s the concept that individual players are over valued and a team filled with smaller players working to a common goal are just as effective as world class talent, costing a lot less money and allowing smaller teams to compete with bigger teams. Whilst this is a broad description of it, it’s the only way to explain it so it would work in professional football.

Existing football pundits may suggest that the concept is a novel idea but would not work in football and they could have a point. For a start, football does not have a salary cap unlike major American sports. They would suggest that this means that the concept has little relevance to football, however for me I have to disagree.

The ethos of the concept is to help smaller budget teams compete more evenly with their financially richer rivals. The sport in which gave the concept its fame is Baseball, a game which arguably has the biggest discrepancy in finances. According to Spotrac going into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, there is a difference of $179 million dollars between the L.A Dodgers $242 million dollar payroll and the Milwaukee Brewers $63 million dollar payroll.

Whilst there is a large difference in finances between the top and bottom of the Premier League for example, the financial divide is no where near as big as baseball. If teams such as the Oakland A’s can compete with major teams in baseball the same is possible within the Premier League.

Last season Leicester City proved inadvertently that the ‘Moneyball’ concept can work at a high level in football. They assembled a squad that cost under £30 million pounds, with their biggest signing being Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki for £7 million. With their own brand of counter attacking football manager Claudio Ranieri, they shocked sports fans across the world.

They started the season as favourites for relegation, with some bookmakers they were 5000-1 to win the Premier League. Yet they flew through the season, only losing three games on route to the most unlikely Premier League title in history. Whilst this is rightly being talked about as the ultimate football fairy tale story, what can be learnt from it?

What I think it shows is that the ‘Moneyball’ concept could work in professional football. If a lower budget team adopted the mentality and began searching for players who had good individual attributes, and putting them into a team which could then execute an effective game plan could very well prove to work better for that club than the existing model.

Whilst it’s possible the entire Leicester season was indeed a one-off fairy tale, it’s equally possible that Leicester proved that a new model of structuring a team can be successful in football. It will be interesting to see in the future if any other Premier League clubs adopt this mentality, and if it works the revolutionary balls of change may begin to roll.

‘Moneyball’ proved that in baseball you didn’t need to pay the high wages of a Derek Jeter to be successful and compete, so could Leicester’s success prove you don’t need a Sergio Aguero or Paul Pogba to be successful? Only time will tell.

 

What do you think of the ‘Moneyball’ concept, and do you think it could work in the Premier League? Let me know in the comments section below and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

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!

 

The Inquest Begins After England’s Latest Faliure

What a difference a month can make. Going into the Euro 2016 tournament last month, most England fans were quietly confident about their chances. After a perfect qualifying campaign that saw them easily finish top the group with ten wins from ten games, along with a string of friendly victories, many thought this new, young generation of players would finally match expectations in a major tournament. How naïve we all were.

After three up and down group games, the team bowed out of the tournament in humiliating fashion against a team they were expected to easily overmatch, Iceland. England showed promise in their three group games, cruelly being denied in the final minutes of a significant opening game victory against Russia, unfortunately a game that was marred by fan violence both before and after the game.

The country rejoiced with Daniel Sturridge after his vital winner in the final seconds of a closely fought fixture with local rivals Wales, which put them in the driving seat for topping the group. Even with their final group game against a good Slovakia side, many felt they were unlucky to draw 0-0 against a very defensive minded side. So why did things go so badly wrong when they faced the lowest ranked side in the tournament in the first knockout round?

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Roy Hodgson looking dejected as the realisation we are about to go out to Iceland dawns on him. Was it at this point he was considering his future? Photo credit Associated Press.

 This is a question that will have everyone in the country talking for a long time, as they struggle to find out just what is the seeming England curse with major tournament football. Early casualties were the coaching staff, with manager Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff Gary Neville and Ray Lewington all resigning minutes after the final whistle in Nice. Many have now seriously questioned the tactics of Hodgson, with many feeling he simply did not know his best team or formation all tournament. This confusion over tactics has been attributed as part of our epic downfall, with confusion reigning amongst the fans and players, which contributed to the woeful performance put in on Monday night.

The most galling thing was that this time things were expected to be different. After the previous generation bowed out in the group stage of the World Cup two years ago, better things were expected with a new, young generation of players who have thrived in the Premier League for the past few seasons. With a vibrant and exciting young squad we hoped the curse of underperformance in the England shirt would have been rectified. We clearly still have some work to do to fix this.

Whilst the manager has taken a lot of the early criticism, the players deserve their equal share also. The performance against Iceland was beyond awful, with highly paid and experienced Champions League players struggling to make the simplest of passes. The worrying statistic is that in the game Marcus Rashford completed the most successful dribbles for England, and he was only on the pitch for five minutes.

We showed ourselves up with amateur defending from a set piece, something we knew Iceland used as their main tactic of scoring thanks to their long throws. With the second goal the England defenders seemed to be standing around waiting for someone else to make a tackle, before forlornly watching the ball roll past the soft hand of keeper Joe Hart. From this point onwards England never looked like scoring, with the only brief ray of hope being provided by subs Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford. The players sunk to their knees at the final whistle, although they deservedly heard chants of “your not fit to wear the shirt”, from the tired England fans.

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The England players dejected after their shocking 2-1 defeat to Iceland on Monday night. Photo sourced from Sky Sports.

England have embarrassed themselves both on and off the pitch this tournament, and it’s safe to say that no one will be unhappy to see us now travel home with our tail between our legs. The inquest is already beginning over the debacle this tournament, and a lot will need to change if England are to do well in a major tournament. We need to find a manager who can successfully motivate the squad whilst also find the perfect formation and starting eleven for us to do well. Many have insisted it has to be an English manager, but after several tries with this method can we not simply accept that it should be the best man for the job, irrespective of whether he’s English or not?

We will need to keep faith with this young squad, as we do have some really promising players who many not recover if we heavily criticise them now. If we can get them playing in the manner they do with their clubs, we will go far. Maybe this latest disappointment will be wake up call we need to show that we have been expecting too much from the England team for numerous tournaments. It’s clear we are nowhere near as good as we expected, and maybe in future we need to temper our expectations to avoid any potential disappointment.

Where do England go from here? What are your thoughts on what went wrong in the Euro’s? Comment below and thank you for reading.