Premier League

What to do With A Problem Like Manchester City?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Wilder Revival at Sheffield United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsenal Coaching Candidates

Arsenal are a football club currently in crisis. They sacked manager Unai Emery two weeks ago, yet the club does not appear to have a succinct plan to replace him. There has been talk of a laundry list of 12-15 candidates in mind, showing a lack of forward planning from the owner and the board.

Fans and pundits seem split on who is the right candidate for Arsenal. Some want a big name like Max Allegri or Carlo Ancelotti, others want a former player like Patrick Vieira. Some are calling for a younger, more progressive coach like Julian Nagelsmann. With so much confusion surrounding this, I thought I would do a quick piece looking at some of those linked with the job, and some I would like to see at Arsenal.

Carlo Ancelotti

Ancelotti has been heavily linked with the Arsenal job since his sacking from Napoli last week. The Italian is a household name with an incredible resume filled with success everywhere he’s been.

He has experience of the Premier League from a two-year stint at Chelsea, however some question whether he is right for Arsenal. He is 60 years old and turning around a club in crisis is something he has little experience of. He is also being heavily linked with the Everton job, so the club would need to act quick if he’s their man.

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Ancelotti’s last major title was the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich in 2017. Some also question whether he could turn Arsenal around? Photo: CarloAncelotti.it

Max Allegri 

Allegri is a name fans were calling for 18 months ago when it was announced Arsene Wenger was standing down. The Italian enjoyed incredible success at Juventus, dominating domestically and twice reached the Champions League final.

Since leaving Juventus in the summer he has taken time away from the game, a move that could go either way in his next job. He has admitted to taking English lessons, however Emery’s poor English showed how much it can hinder a manager. He would be a good appointment, but would he want this job right now?

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Max Allegri celebrates his fifth successive Serie A title with Cristiano Ronaldo. With their current malaise would he want the job? Photo: Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images.

Mikel Arteta

Arteta has been heavily linked with the job over the weekend after it appears he met with the chief executive. The current Manchester City assistant was a contender for the job last summer, so it’s clear the current regime at Arsenal are very high on him.

That he played almost 150 games for the club between 2011 and 2016 only enhances his chances, as Arsenal would love to replicate the attacking style Manchester City play. He would be a risky appointment with his lack of managerial experience, but having learned under Pep Guardiola, who worlds best manager, he could be a risk worth taking.

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Mikel Arteta has learned under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, has his time come for his first managerial job. Photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images.

Patrick Vieira

Club legend Vieira was an early contender for the job, with fans and pundits using the example of Frank Lampard at Chelsea and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United. The Frenchman would have a lot of fan support, however he lacks managerial experience.

He did well at New York City FC, but his results at Nice have been mixed. They have started the season slowly, currently 13th in Ligue 1. He would be a good story at the club, although many will question whether the step up is too soon for Vieira considering the mess Arsenal are currently in.

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Vieira is a club legend at Arsenal, but has had mixed success at Nice. Could the step up to Arsenal be too big given their current state. Photo: Jean-Francois Monier/Getty Images.

Julian Nagelsmann 

Nagelsmann is one of the hottest young coaches in Europe, having proved his credentials in the Bundesliga. He took his first club Hoffenheim from the relegation zone to the Champions League in two seasons, before joining RB Leipzig this summer.

Leipzig currently top the Bundesliga and play exciting football with a team filled with young talent. Reaching the round of 16 in the Champions League shows his skills translate to Europe also. He would be tough to tear away from Leipzig, but would be a statement of intent from the Arsenal hierarchy.

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Nagelsmann has revitalized RB Leipzig since the summer, having established them as Bundesliga title contenders. Photo: DPA/A.Gora

Marcelo Gallardo

Not well-known in Europe, Gallardo will no doubt soon get his chance. The Argentinian has enjoyed tremendous success at River Plate, with two Copa Libertadores titles and a final appearances in five years.

He is still young at 43 and is fully deserving of a chance in the top five leagues of Europe. It would be a bold choice to appoint him, but so was hiring Arsene Wenger in 1996. He may need time to develop, but will Arsenal see it as worth the risk to be too soon rather than too late with appointing him?

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Gallardo celebrates with his players after winning a second Copa Libertadores title last year. Photo: Conmebol.

At the moment it appears Arteta is the favourite for the job, so who do you think should be the next Arsenal manager? Let me know in the comments section below or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Thank you for reading this piece, I really appreciate it!

 

Why Are Arsenal So Bad At Game Management?

Sunday 27th October 2019. The Emirates Stadium in North London. The home side Arsenal are 2-0 up inside ten minutes thanks to Sokratis and David Luiz. This for most teams would be game over. Playing against an in-form but inferior Crystal Palace, this is almost certainly over. This is Arsenal however, a side perennially known for bottling it in recent seasons.

The conventional wisdom 2-0 up at home would be to sit back and become more defensive, whilst quickly hitting Palace on the counter attack. Sadly defense is not an Arsenal strong point, as they at times appear as porous as a wet sponge. Of course the game ends 2-2, and the most revelatory thing is that Arsenal fans are not surprised at all. They are used to these letdowns. Unfortunately for fans of this once proud club, the problems are not just with the defense.

The man stealing unwanted headlines is club captain Granit Xhaka, who reacted to fan displeasure with him by antagonising them as he walked off. He is a figure who splits fans, with some sticking up for him whilst others call for his head. He has been inconsistent at best since joining the club in the summer of 2016.

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Xhaka shows his obvious displeasure with Arsenal fans after they booed him as he was substituted. Is his relationship with the fans now irreparable? Photo: Michael Zemanek/BPI/Shutterstock.

The defensive midfielder often fails to support the defense, instead leaving them exposed. Many fans, pundits and commentators regularly lament the fact the Arsenal midfield is often nowhere to be seen, leaving an already bad defense outnumbered and overrun. In ten Premier League games this season they have conceded 14 goals, six more than Leicester even. Last season they let in 51 goals in 38 games, 29 more than the league best Liverpool.

People who often watch Arsenal play will point to a midfield often in the wrong position and this will frequently force Xhaka to foul to stop potential attacks. Outside of his debut season Xhaka has been in the top 20 for most fouls committed every season, and currently leads with 22 fouls from ten games. This constant fouling by proxy leads to cards, and the Swiss international averages no less than 12 yellow cards a season.

Fans were wrong to loudly boo their own captain, but they feel frustrated with this poor performances over recent seasons. When coming to conclusions on Xhaka we should remember that in the same summer he arrived Chelsea bought N’Golo Kante for £3m less.

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N’Golo Kante lifting the Premier League with Chelsea in 2017. He signed at the same time as Xhaka, and for less money. Their performances don’t compare well for Xhaka. Photo: Silverhub.

Xhaka is by no means the only player struggling in the Arsenal midfield, with players like Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi  have also played poorly at times. The difference is that in the defensive midfield role they often show what fans desire most, tenacity and a fighting spirit often lacking from recent Arsenal sides.

Manager Unai Emery shoulders a lot of the blame also. The Spaniard has yet to noticeably improve this team in 18 months despite spending £207.9m in that time. Reports have come out saying that some players are left confused by the tactics Emery adopts and what their roles in the team are. Star striker Alex Lacazette is liking Instagram posts calling for Emery to be sacked.

At the other end of the pitch, the attacking talent at the club is often forced to feed on scraps because of a lack of creativity from the midfield. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is a Premier League Golden Boot winner, Alex Lacazette is highly rated worldwide and Nicolas Pepe is a £72m pound player. We’ve scored 15 goals this season, 17 less than Manchester City. We’ve scored one less than rivals Tottenham, who currently sit 12th.

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Arsenal players celebrate Pierre Emerick Aubameyang’s winner against Newcastle on the opening day. The team have struggled to score since. Photo: Reuters.

This is because we lack creativity in the midfield. Xhaka and Guendouzi are defensive in nature, and loan signing Dani Ceballos is more of a link up player then creative outlet. We’ve missed the number ten role Aaron Ramsey played excellently for years, and our only true player who can replace him appears to be being frozen out by the club.

Mesut Ozil is a controversial topic amongst Arsenal fans. He is just as divisive a topic as Xhaka, but what is of no doubt is that at his best he’s a world class creative midfielder.  He has 52 assists and 32 goals in 167 games, but has found his role diminish under Emery. He played 26 times in the final Arsene Wenger season, for a combined 2,164 minutes. Last season this dropped slightly to 24 appearances for 1,741 minutes.

After a year of assessing him Emery has made his feelings on the player clear. He has made one Premier League appearance in ten games, and has been left out the matchday squad for seven of those fixtures. The ambiguity surrounding his disappearance under Emery has left fans frustrated with him and the future for Ozil at the club looks bleak.

Many use the £350 000 pounds a week wages and languid playing style to ridicule Ozil, but at a time where Arsenal lack creativity he appears our best option to rectify this. Two important decisions Emery has made in his first 18 months are firstly to back Granit Xhaka, making him captain and integral to the team, and ostracizing Mesut Ozil. Will these two decisions put Emery in jeopardy come the end of the season?

Do you have any thoughts on Arsenal’s shortcomings or how to rectify them? Let me know in the comments section or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Finally, a massive thank you to everyone who read this blog I really appreciate it! 

 

January Improvements Needed at Arsenal

The Unai Emery revolution is six months in at Arsenal, with both positive and negatives to draw from the start he has made. The atmosphere around the club has improved and the team is playing with more intensity this season, however some old questions still linger with this side.

This is not to be unexpected as the squad is largely the same as under Arsene Wenger, and this is certainly not Emery’s fault as he has improved many of the Arsenal team already this season. The Christmas period was a difficult one for Arsenal, with a disappointing 1-1 draw away to Brighton on Boxing Day, and then a 5-1 humiliation at Anfield against title-challenging Liverpool three days later.

The revolution is underway at Arsenal, and compared to last season we currently sit one place higher in fifth with 41 points, three more than at this stage last year. Now this is small progress for the club and this shouldn’t be criticized, however a common issue for Emery this season has been the depth in quality of this squad.

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Rob Holding being stretchered off with a torn ACL in their 2-2 draw with Manchester United last month. Holding has improved under Emery and his absence is keenly felt. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images.

The biggest issue this season has been the defence, we have the joint ninth worst record for conceding goals, shared with Watford and Everton, with 31 goals conceded in 21 games. That’s also only worse than Manchester United and West Ham in the top ten. A massive reason for this has been our wealth of defensive injuries, with Laurent Koscielny, Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos all out injured for long periods of the season.

The loss of Bellerin and Holding proved especially tough, with both starting the season in good form anchoring the back four. The recent return of Koscielny is a boost, although he has admitted his return from injury was slightly rushed because of the defensive injury crisis. The good news is that Bellerin and Mavropanos return in the coming weeks, providing greater depth which should help ease the defensive problems of Arsenal.

Now that the January transfer window is open, Arsenal could use this month to improve their squad for a late-season push for a return to the Champions League. By and large the summer signings have proved a success so far, with Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno making instant impacts at the club. All five signings such as Sokratis, Matteo Guendouzi and Stephan Lichtsteiner have made over 15 appearances this season, showing how much they’ve added to the team this season.

The triumvirate transfer committee of Emery, head of recruitment Sven Mislintat and director of football Raul Sanllehi have shown that they can be trusted to find promising talent at affordable prices, but will they pull the trigger on anyone else in January?

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Lucas Torriera has been the midfield pitbull Arsenal have craved for a decade. The club will be hoping to replicate their success in the market in the coming summer. Photo: Getty Images.

The early names linked have been out of-favour Chelsea defender Gary Cahill on a short-term loan, and the ever-present midfielder Ever Banega. The move for Cahill is a more likely one, as the club are already making noises that there will not be much if any money to spend this month. Chelsea could however be unwilling to loan him to a direct rival, and some will have legitimate questions as to whether his quality at this stage of his career is enough to make a big contribution for Arsenal.

From all of the noises being put out by the club and the media closely associated with the club, it appears that Arsenal will be quiet in this window, with a focus instead of spending in the summer to improve key positions such as at winger and defensively.  The team had great attacking options last season, and they have now fixed the defensive midfield and goalkeeper positions.

The first six months of Emery’s reign have been a success so far, with an improvement in results and the performance of previously poor key squad players. The new transfer committee will need to build on they’re early success, and if they can, Arsenal will definitely begin to more seriously rival the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and bitter rivals Tottenham.

Thank you for reading this article if you have any thoughts on it please feel free to leave a comment below. For any interested I’m on Twitter @JWjournalism. 

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

 

 

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