The current football season has seen a shift, some would even say of seismic proportions, in the biggest European leagues, particularly in Manchester.
This season has also seen Real Madrid’s expensively assembled ‘galacticos’, under the biggest ‘box office’ manager in football that is Jose Mourinho, land a Spanish league title from arguably the best team of the last decade, Barcelona.
In England, we may have witnessed the start of a ‘less than plenty’ trend for United who have dominated the league for over twenty years.
Similarly, Serie A has seen Juventus lift the trophy, displacing the Milanese duopoly of AC and Inter. For the fans of the ‘Old Lady’, the league is even more significant given the relegation and shame during the Italian match-fixing and corruption investigations a few years ago.
It’s important to understand that the dynamics of each of these scenarios that have bucked recent trends is different.
The highest-profile instance is Real Madrid’s the dethroning of Barcelona – the Madrid side is a very expensive squad, spending over €400m with the most expensive footballer in the world – Cristiano Ronaldo (€96m) as the crown jewel in the galaxy of stars that includes Mesut Ozil (€15m), Karim Benzema (€40m), Angel Di Maria (€25m), Sami Khedira (undisclosed) and Ricardo Carvalho (€8m) among others.
Jose Mourinho, a coach with the profile and wherewithal to handle a group of rich, over-paid stars, took his time in a pressure-cooker environment but managed to come out on top — eventually.
This season, Mourinho managed to make his defensive partnership and the crucial defensive/central midfield position work, something that has traditionally been a problem for Real.
Barcelona may have had the highest scorer in the league but a number of inordinate injuries, with the seemingly well-oiled midfield of Xavi and Iniesta not as fluid anymore, and the grooming of Thiago and Christian Tello might have also contributed to Barcelona’s lack of results at crucial junctures.
In England, it’s obvious that Manchester United cannot compete financially with Manchester City, with the latter spending close to €500m since being bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group. United, meanwhile, had to recall Paul Scholes.
There is no ‘value in the market’ but the truth is more troubling” United may have had bad luck with injuries to Nani and Darren Fletcher but they have also had problems attracting the best talent to Old Trafford with players like Ozil heading to Spain for a seemingly affordable €15m.
In order for players such as Eden Hazard to be convinced that Old Trafford is where the future is, Alex Ferguson will have to be very convincing.
More importantly, in order for United to convince Wayne Rooney to stay, United’s show next season will be very important. Unless the team can promise Rooney more league and possibly European titles, it will be very hard for him to resist foreign offers.
In both cases, the shift of power on the field has been accompanied by a transformation in the financial clout. Real and City have significant financial resources allowing them to tailor their sides to their needs.
The inordinate amount of financial strength available to them, particularly City, has been decried as ‘vulgar’ and detrimental to football, but it needs to be understood that every new champion within club football has had significant financial muscle and at this point, it is an integral part of football.
The writer is a freelance football columnist
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2012.
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