For argument’s sake, if there were to be a European Superleague in the next year, where the obvious big names of European football are included; would Manchester City or even PSG be included in that final league table? Real Madrid go into the hat, as do AC Milan, Barcelona, Manchester United, and so on. But the fact that the initial question would have been rubbished and laughed off as recently as five-years ago suggests there is an elite in football. And in such a short space of time, can you buy your way onto the head table?
Manchester City have been damned for buying the Premier League title – and not just by Manchester United fans. Chelsea were looked down upon in a similar fashion, and now PSG have effectively ruined a very good league. Along with those views come the idea that it’s wrong to buy your way to the top of football. And even though you’ve spent big and achieved quick success, you still have no right to classify yourself as one of the elite in world football.
And that’s the thing: Real Madrid or Barcelona can buy big because they are big enough to support that level of expenditure. Most clubs would have gone into liquidation had they spent what Real Madrid spent on Cristiano Ronaldo, yet no-one is pointing the finger at Los Blancos at having bought the title. Ok, their league title win came three years after Ronaldo’s arrival, but it’s still relevant.
In comparison, who do clubs like City and PSG think they are for accelerating their development and gate-crashing a top group of teams? A group who previously would have had to do a double-take to make sure the name on the sheet read “City”, rather than “United”. Maybe it’s an elitist and naïve view, but that’s life.
The point is, Real Madrid and Barcelona haven’t just popped up and decided they wanted a slice of the cake. A very big slice, too. Over decades, bigger clubs have established themselves as the top dogs. They earn the most income, are the most attractive to the best players and sponsors, and have a long history of success. Does that entitle them to spend big and “buy the league title?” Yes, because that stigma isn’t attached.
What about a club like Arsenal? The north London side are not considered big spenders in relation to the current market, and nor could it be argued that they’d be in a position to “buy the title” — provided the current civil war doesn’t take an unexpected turn.
With that stigma comes the assumption that a wealthy foreign owner has jumped in and decided to have a go. But what if Arsenal pay off their stadium debt, attract a better level of sponsorship income to support themselves without selling off players every summer, and actually spend big and win a league title? The club’s growth would be organic and their money would come out of their own pockets, rather than someone else’s.
Bigger clubs, and fans of those clubs, are right to point the finger at these new-money clubs. Yes they too spend big, apparently forfeiting the moral high ground. But really, is everyone just supposed to sit back and applaud as clubs effectively wipe out 20 or 30 years of development to become an established, big spending club?
There are, of course, methods that the current major clubs have used to establish themselves as the biggest in the world, but didn’t all of that come off the back of internal or even dangerous strategies? Clubs get lucky — and not in that we just won the lottery kind of way — and they build on it. Others have tried to emulate that success and failed. Survival of the fittest and all that. But again to draw on the point, why do certain clubs get to enjoy a danger-free ride to the top? The stigma attached to the newly successful clubs is correct, and it will remain that way for some time.
At some point, however, the bigger clubs run out of luck and lose their assets or even their position among the best. Real Madrid have suffered recently with regard to their training ground, Barcelona “sold out” with their shirt sponsors, and United are in an unbelievable financial state. But this comes via poor management or poor decisions. Those clubs still had to climb the mountain, and now they’ve just experienced situations where they’ve gone back a few steps.
For City or PSG, that’s not going to happen. The only poor mistake will be when their owners decide they’ve had enough. Maybe they’ll collectively buy the Montreal Canadiens and look to roll back the years in the NHL. Unlikely, though.