Football has truly become a global game. With its spread across the world—never so prominent than in this millennium—every major European league is able to attract hidden talent from every corner of the planet. This has subsequently changed the demographics of the best leagues in terms of its first XI as well as the full squad. Debojyoti Chakraborty brings to you a whole new series on these foreign imports. Sit back, relax, and let Goalden Times take you on an incredible trip. The fifth and final instalment of this series features EPL.
They say save the best for the last. While no one in his/ her right sense of mind would call the English Premier League, the top professional football league in the English football league system, the best in the world, no one can deny its universal appeal. Five EPL clubs find themselves in the top eight of the Forbes’ Richest Football Clubs list in 2015. The top 20 list features eight English clubs, whereas Spain and Germany barely manage to have three representatives each. This is when Manchester United, the top English club in the list, could not make it to the Champions League, Liverpool has appeared in the top continental competition only once in this decade, and poor performances of other giants of English football are about to cost them a spot in the Champions League!
Still, these clubs remain among the most decorated clubs in modern football. A huge following worldwide, especially in the Asian market, has resulted in an incredible TV deal worth $ 2.56 billion (2014–15 figure) for this tournament. The figure for the nearest rival (Serie A) is not even 40% of this, and the combined total for other top four leagues in Italy, Spain, Germany, and France barely manages to surpass this number. Things will get more lopsided from 2016 when a new TV deal is expected to increase the earnings for English clubs by more than 70%! Coupled with this, the investments made by billionaires at the top as well as middle and lowly clubs in England have meant that they are able to attract and offer incredible packages to star players from all around the world. However, is that proving to be beneficial to the clubs? Does an influx of talent from every corner of the globe guarantee success?
Let us try to see how the game has changed in EPL under the influence of foreign signings and how the top teams have performed. For our calculations, we have taken the top five clubs in the league since the 2010–11 season.
The Spurs recently achieved the distinction of offering the most number of players to Three Lions in the last three years. While it is an honour,lack of ambition and a questionable seller attitude have left the club in a state of stagnation. Over the past few years they have been constantly revamping their squad—buying greenhorns and little-known youngsters and trying to see if they can be made to fit into the existing setup. This is not exactly an environment that can vouch for stability. Players like Rafael van der Vaart, Sadro, Clint Dempsey, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Vlad Chiriches, and Étienne Capoue have all been in and out through the revolving door. Some might argue that this major overhaul was a direct consequence of the departure of their star player Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in 2013–14. However,the Spurs were already aware of the consequences when they sold him (for a bounty, at that). They have not really done justice to their kitty in the four to five transfer windows that have come around since then. As a result, they find themselves stagnated just outside the top four berth, agonisingly losing out on the lucrative Champions League spot. The Lilywhiteshave been dismal in cup competitions—both domestically and in Europe—even after steadily increasing the quota of foreign players in their squad. While Bale was around, the North London club had beat both the Milan clubs in the 2010–11 Champions League and reached the semis of the FA Cup the following year. However, nothing has been won since then! It’s a classic case of quantity over quality for the Spurs, and it has not worked so far.
Many Europeans consider Arsenal to be the ideal representative of English football. They have an abundance of mediocrity, something that today’s EPL is known for. They have not threatened the top spot for a while, but have always managed to hang on to the last couple of places for a Champions League spot. And there, they have never been shambolic enough to crash out of the group stages, but yet not too greedy to venture past the next round. Manager Arsene Wenger ended the agony of trophy drought by winning back-to-back FA cups recently. However, die-hard Arsenal fans would want to see more of their team, arguably the best to watch on field in the country. The club has never been too shy to acquire foreign talents— Wenger created history by fielding the first ever foreign team (including the ones on the bench) on Valentine’s Day in 2005 in a league match. However, compelled by the home-grown player regulation in the league, Arsenal had no choice but to slowly cut down on their foreign adventures. Still,the club has consistently maintained the highest percentage of foreign players in the top English clubs over the years. Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez still form the backbone of the team. On the other hand, selling star players like Cesc Fàbregas, Samir Nasri, Gaël Clichy, and Robin van Persie to rival teams did little good to their unwanted tag of “selling club”.However, like their London rivals, the Gunners too seem to miss that zeal or thrust to push the envelope and go for more.
Chelsea revolutionised English football at the start of the millennium, through its billionaire owner Roman Abramovic. Attracting world-class talent and offering them whopping wages became the norm of the day. Success followed, and since then, Chelsea has emerged as the biggest club in London. The club has surely but steadily became the lone flag bearer for the country in Europe. They have also been spot-on in prioritizing their goals—amidst a lacklustre league campaign in 2011–12, they sacrificed the EPL to achieve an unprecedented domestic and European cup (their sole Champions League honour) double win. They followed it up with another continental glory, the Europa League, the following year. Chelsea finally ended their EPL drought by winning it last season after a hiatus of five years. In this period, Chelsea has increased their dependence on eye-catching foreign talents—Thibaut Courtois, Kurt Zouma, César Azpilicueta, Ramires, Cesc Fàbregas, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Diego Costa—. English players, though just a few, have found it difficult at Stamford Bridge. Club veterans and icons like Frank Lampard have been shown the door, John Terry sees his days being numbered, and even the youth products like Josh McEachran and Ryan Bertrand had to leave to look for regular playing times elsewhere. The Blues have got continued success with their talent acquisition model, and there seems to be no reason why they should change it. At least for the time being.
Manchester United FC
Manchester United is arguably the most decorated of English clubs. Currently, they are in a state of transition.They became the most successful club in England, winning the league for a record 20th time, and then their legendary manager called it a day after more than quarter of a century at the helm. That was followed by an unthinkable turmoil and spending big to buy a champion team—all of these in the space of last five years. But they have to now dig deep into the pool of local talent – even if that costs more – to maintain their tag of “English club”, something they have been very proud of. Rio Ferdinand has been replaced by Chris Smalling, John O’shea by Phil Jones, Ji-Sung Park by Ashley Young, Alexander Büttner by Luke Shaw, and so on. That is why, even after uncharacteristically spending and raising every eyebrow in the transfer market, Manchester United’s foreign player percentage last year (42.02%) was almost the same as it was in 2012–13 (40.00%), its last season with Sir Alex Ferguson in charge. In this period of transition, naturally, their form has plateaued.From title contenders, they have now been reduced to vying for the coveted Champions League spot. The European battle has certainly taken a back seat. The next couple of seasons are expected to tell us if the club can be back on track or not.
Manchester City FC
Last but not the least, let’s talk about Manchester City.It is the club that has leapfrogged over many of its established counterparts to become the number one club in England in recent years. Buoyed by their billionaire owner, they just outdid Chelsea in their own game. An FA Cup, two EPL crowns, and two runner-up finishes just sum it for them in the last half a decade. It is true that they have been dismal in the Champions League. However, sample this—they had two eventual semi finalists in their group once, and were twice knocked out by Barcelona, possibly the team that will go down as one of the best in the history of club football. Manchester City today attracts the biggest of names from all around the world. Be it Yaya Touré, David Silva or Sergio Agüero—the Citizens have not been deprived of star signings in recent years. They have boosted their bench strengths with quality signings as well. Even fringe players in this club are better than the playing team of many. All of this has come at the cost of local talent—people like Adam Johnson, Scott Sinclair, Gareth Barry, Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell have all been dropped to make way for more lucrative names. The results are there for everyone to see.
Manchester United are in transition and it explains the frequent ups and downs in their graph. Arsenal, out of the financial burden of their new stadium, are now looking to acquire global talents to augment their already affluent stock of local youngsters. However, overall, the trend is alarming.
The top five clubs examined in this article are guilty of using the fewest number of UK players.English players today account for less than a third of playing time, as compared to 69% of playing time two decades back.
There has been a growing concern over the lack of English/ UK players in the English top flight. More alarmingly, the top five clubs examined in this article are guilty of using the fewest number of UK players.English players today account for less than a third of playing time, as compared to 69% of playing time two decades back. Amdist this alarming situation, FA chairman Greg Dyke’s commission came up with an“ambitious but realistic” target of increasing the number of English players in the Premier League to 45% by 2022. This is still substantially less than the figure we see in Spain or Germany (which generally hovers around the 60% mark).
Nevertheless, it is a positive outlook. However, when was the last time English top flight saw that figure of 45%? In the year 2000!
English national football has paid the price for such cosmopolitan nature of the league. They have given little or no chance to their young players in order for them to be groomed for the big stage.As a result, they got knocked out of the group stages of the World Cup in 2014. And this is not accident.They have never made it to the last four of a World Cup since 1990. In the Euros, their last semi final appearance was way back in 1996. So the debate continues—do fans want a league where English players are given more chances to prosper at the top clubs and help the national team? Or does the fan want to enjoy watching some of the best players in the world?
Dyke also wants to convince the Premier League clubs to increase the number of home grown players in their 25-man squads from 8 to 12. Moreover, he wants to have the criteria of homegrown even stricter, so that players need to be registered for three years prior to turning 18, rather than (the current regulation of) 21.
Naturally, Dyke is facing a lot of criticism from the top-flight clubs. Arsene Wenger has hit out at him, citing the poor performance of the national team at various age group levels. If there is talent, it will find its way—just like Raheem Sterling or Hary Kane. However, how many Kanes are going unnoticed due to lack of playing time? Nobody knows.
The arguments will continue. But one thing is for sure—the English Premier League is set to rule the charts at least for a few more years to come. If not the best league in the world, it definitely is the best amalgamation of world-class players across the globe.
This brings us to the conclusion of the series—Impact of Foreign Players In European Leagues. You can read the previous instalments here. . Keep watching this space!
Homeless World Cup : Changing lives through football
Football is a beautiful game that brings about unadulterated joy to everyone associated with it. Probably there is no better illustration of this as we are set to get the ball rolling for the Homeless World Cup. Indranath Mukherjee speaks about the incredible event, here at Goalden Times.
I was one among the lucky 5,154,386 people, who had attended the FIFA Fan Fests in Brazil during the World Cup in 2014. There is no wonder FIFA World Cup is called the greatest show on Earth. The beautiful game is a thing of joy for many, the players as well as the spectators. The game today has money, fame and glamour galore for the football players on and off the pitch.
In the same world, we have the Homeless World Cup kicking off this Saturday, September 12th, in Amsterdam with 48 participating nations. The Homeless World Cup is truly a unique tournament where thousands of players over the world have received a new start. The participants come from the extremely underprivileged sections of the society, mainly children and young men and women living in slums, including those squatting on government land, those displaced because of natural disasters, and children of sex workers.
From a humble beginning in 2001 with just 18 countries, the Homeless World Cup today partners 74 countries and there are still more eager to join in. Mel Young, Co-Founder and President, Homeless World Cup sees a clear trend in how the tournament is making an impact by breaking stereotypes. The work that he and his team are doing seems fairly simple, getting kids off the street and making them play football. But the way their involvement is helping the kids to build confidence and self-belief is simply remarkable. No fame can match this change in human lives and their lies the power of football. Mr. Young nicely articulates the long-term goal of the tournament saying, “The ultimate aim of the Homeless World Cup is not to exist because we shouldn’t have to have a Homeless World Cup in the first place ‘cause their shouldn’t be any homelessness.” He also points out that it would require systemic change but urges people around to “Do small things. If we all do something small, we’ll change the world.” Why small things? “Because its simple and it works” tells Mel.
In India, Dr. Abhijeet Barse has taken up the task of doing the ‘small things’. His father founded “Slum Soccer” (www.slumsoccer.org) in 2001 in Nagpur to offer sporting opportunities and personal development programs to disadvantaged young people across India. Their objective is simple, reaching out to the underprivileged Indians and using football as a tool for social empowerment. While I am writing this, the team, consisting of eight boys and eight girls, is preparing to leave for Amsterdam from Mumbai. This is the seventh occasion that India is participating in the Homeless World Cup.
Slum Soccer organizes an annual national championship across multiple locations in India and out of the 16-18 plus participating teams; they select 32 players every year. When I asked Dr. Barse about the selection process, he mentioned, “obviously football skill is a key criteria, but we also look at leadership qualities in the players so that they can inspire the next generation of players from their area”.
The selected 32 players then go through a rigorous training and finally 8 players get selected for the Homeless World Cup. The Homeless World Cup teams can be all male, all female or mixed consisting of eight players in total. At any point in time, four players can play with one goalkeeper and three outfield players. Substitution is done on a rolling basis. Two halves of seven minutes each are being played with one minute interval in between each half. The pitch is 22 metres long and 16 metres wide. The goal is four meters wide by 1.3 meters tall. The penalty area is a four meter half circle. A size five ball is used.
The Homeless World Cup is an annual event and the same player can’t participate twice in the tournament. It is truly an aspirational event that showcases the remarkable work of the different national partners on an international stage. The tournament this year is the 13th edition of the Homeless World Cup and being coordinated by an organization called Life Goals in collaboration with the Dutch Salvation Army, Amsterdam City Council and Sportsgen Sport Marketing.
There are eight groups in the men’s section (men’s team can be men’s only or mixed) this year with both the Latin American giants in football Argentina and Brazil featuring in group A while India has been drawn in group G. In the women’s section there are two groups of eight teams each, team India is in group B along with USA and England among others.
After the group stage games, second rounds of groups will be created based on the final standings in the first stage. There are eight trophies in the final stage and all the teams will have the opportunity to play for one of eight trophies.Teams in the top half of the standings in the second stage will play for a chance to compete for the Homeless World Cup trophy.
Chile will start the campaign as the defending champion this year and if they can defend successfully they will be the first nation to win it for the third time. The other countries with two titles are Brazil, Italy and Scotland.
The two Indian teams this year has been coached by Andy Hook, the development manager of Street Soccer Scotland, for a month before they got ready to fly to Amsterdam. Andy was the director of football at the Homeless World Cup Foundation for four years until till 2012.
Slum Soccer in India has been working relentlessly and creatively to use the beautiful game as a vehicle that transcends race, religion, language and gender to bring about a change in the lives of street dwellers. Dr. Barse mentioned “When you give the balls to them, they play, they enjoy and they start getting confident but as most of these boys and girls come from slums, they hardly have any documents and getting the paperwork done has been an additional challenge”. The local government and police do help to get the documentation done at times which makes his job easy and helps him focus on the real job.
“When you give the balls to them, they play, they enjoy and they start getting confident but as most of these boys and girls come from slums, they hardly have any documents and getting the paperwork done has been an additional challenge”
We need our mainstream media to cover these events. There is serious lack of awareness of an event of such impact. Each one of us could do our “small things” as well by joining the supporters club of the Homeless World Cup (https://www.homelessworldcup.org/become-supporter/) and contribute to changing the lives of others using football.
LIFE FROM 12 YARDS: Dennis Bergkamp
Penalty. A term, that can ruffle the feathers of even the calmest of beings. A term, that in any walk of life, shocks and triggers signals of doom and punishment for some, and hope or satisfaction for others. Football, is no exception. Goalden Times bring you a series where we look at the more unfortunate events of missed penalties (and their aftermath??). Enjoy the ride with Subhashis Biswas.
Player: Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal Opponent Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel, Manchester United Match Venue & Date: Villa Park, Birmingham, England, 14th April, 1999, F.A. Cup Semifinal (Replay), 92nd Minute
In the sixth of the Missed Penalty series, we reminisce about a penalty that may not be as famous as its predecessors of this series, but it is a “missed penalty” that had a significant effect on the mind of the player, and still after 16 years of its occurrence, is being talked about among football enthusiasts in North London and Old Trafford.
When you hear the name of Dennis Bergkamp, you picture a legendary player with subtle finesse, wonderful skills and god-gifted goal scoring ability. He had already scored many goals for Arsenal, as well as the Dutch national team up to the point in his career in 1999, when this dreaded event took place.
It was the replay of FA cup semi-final between Manchester United and Arsenal at Villa Park. Incidentally this was the last replay in the history of FA cup as the rule changed from 2000, and extra time and penalty shoot out were introduced after the regular 90 minutes in semifinal. The original semifinal held on 11th April ended 0-0, and both the teams were eager to proceed to the final of FA cup. Arsenal would reach the final for the second successive time, and if United reached the final, their dream of winning the treble (League, FA Cup, and Champions League) could just come true.
David Beckham had given Manchester United the lead in the 17th minute, although Manchester United were struggling to keep pace with the attacking football by Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and rest of the Arsenal team. Arsenal got their reward by leveling the score through Bergkampin the 69th minute. Roy Keane was sent off for a second bookable offence right after the equalizer. Arsenal dominated the game, though United had a number of clear cut chances which they failed to convert, and the match was headed to extra time.
In the second minute of injury time in the second half, Ray Parlour advanced towards the penalty box from the right side and appeared to have defeated Phil Neville comprehensively before attempting a goal ward shot. Phil Neville sensed by that time that if he was allowed to take the shot, it would be difficult for Peter Schmeichel to stop it. Neville brought Parlour down to survive for a few more seconds. Referee did not hesitate to award the penalty to Arsenal, and the Gunners were within a penalty shot from making it to the second successive FA cup final. Manchester United’s treble dream was about to end.
The calm, serene Dennis Bergkamp stepped up to take the penalty. Though he had missed his last penalty against Blackburn Rovers, hardly anybody doubted Bergkamp’s ability to convert from the spot kick.
Bergkamp went up, placed the ball on the spot, and took three steps back; hand on waist, ready to fire the ball in the net.
Schmeichel was standing right in the middle. With all his experience, the Danish keeper knew that throwing tantrums on the goal line would not put off an experienced campaigner like Bergkamp. So, instead of jumping up and down on the goal line, he stood still right in the middle of the line and focused hard on the ball. Quite contradictory to his composed nature, Bergkamp seemed to be in a bit of a hurry, and wanted to get it over with converting the penalty as early as possible.
Now let us comeback to the permutations discussion a bit. Bergkamp is a right-footed penalty taker, so for power he would have to place his shot to his left and the goalkeeper’s right side, whereas if he wanted to place the shot, he would have to place it on his right and goalkeeper’s left. Now if we try to read Bergkamp’s mind, here’s perhaps how Bergkamp thought of executing the penalty. . He knew Schmeichel is a big guy, and just putting it through force may take the penalty over the goalpost. He was in another dilemma about placement, as outstretched hands of Schmeichel might catch the ball even if it is placed in the corner.
The penalty that Bergkamp took actually reflected these confusions in his mind. It was neither a powerful shot, nor an impeccable placement in the corner. He took the shot towards left of the keeper, feeble with moderate power. Schmeichel took a micro-hop on the line at the moment of contact between Bergkamp and the ball, and then dived to his left. The ball was about his chest height and Schmeichel easily palmed the ball away outside the penalty area, to be safely cleared by United defenders. Bergkamp was really frustrated at the outcome. It was a rather poor penalty by his standard.
Bergkamp later realised that he never looked at the goalkeeper, and was looking at the ball when he was about to take the penalty shot. Had he looked up and noticed the tilt Schmeichel was taking towards the left, he probably would have been able to place the ball to the goalkeeper’s right and scored. Peter Schmeichel was so heavily tilted at the moment of contact that a simple tap would have been enough.
But, from Peter Schmeichel’s point of view, he knew he was going to save it as he knew Bergkamp was not looking at the goal and was solely concentrating on the ball. So when he did take that micro-hop towards left, he almost knew that the ball was coming to the left, as Bergkamp missed his last penalty in the same direction. Schmeichel called right in this game of “bluff”.
But, from Peter Schmeichel’s point of view, he knew he was going to save it as he knew Bergkamp was not looking at the goal and was solely concentrating on the ball.
Ryan Giggs scored in the extra time to pile on Dennis Bergkamp’s misery and Manchester United won the match 2-1 to proceed to the FA cup final, which they went on to win to take a step to complete the treble that season.
Bergkamp refused to take further penalties for Arsenal, despite a lot of confidence boosting from Arsene Wenger. Dennis Bergkamp is considered a legendary figure in Arsenal I and English Premier League football history. However, that one miss, by a footballer of his finesse and skill, did leave Bergkamp permanently scarred and wondering till date, what might have gone wrong.
Impact Of Foreign Players In European Leagues: La Liga
Football has truly become a global game. With its spread across the world—never so prominent than in this millennium—every major European league has been able to attract hidden talent from every corner of the planet. Subsequently, it has changed the demographics of the best leagues in terms of its first XI as well as the full squad. Debojyoti Chakraborty brings you a whole new series on these foreign imports. Sit back, relax, and let Goalden Times take you on an incredible trip. The fourth instalment of this series features La Liga.
Spain has been on the top of UEFA’s associations’ club coefficients rankings for the past five years. Moreover, since the inception of the system in 1979, Spain has topped the rankings for a total of 18 years—more than any other European association. This is understandable if we take stock of the following achievements:
• Most number of UEFA Champions Leagues, the topmost continental glory – 15
• Most successful club in the top-tier continental tournament – Real Madrid (10)
• Most successful club in the second-tier continental tournament – Sevilla (4)
• La Liga is the first and only league to be represented by both finalists in a UEFA Champions League final on two occasions, the last time as recently as in 2013–14
• Most number of UEFA Best Player in Europe awards (3)
• Highest representation in FIFPro World XI and UEFA Team of the Year
All the above facts point to the strong performance of the Spanish club in continental competitions. It is no wonder that with the participation of all these clubs, La Liga has turned out to be one of the best domestic league in the world. Surprisingly, the average attendance in La Liga, a little over 10 million in 2013–14, lags behind that of Germany’s Bundesliga and England’s Premier League. While that has something to do with average stadium capacities, no one can deny the fact that the best of talents are unleashed in La Liga week in, week out.
So let us try to see how the game has changed in La Liga under the influence of foreign signings, and how the top teams have performed. Our sample size is five—the top five clubs since the 2010–11 season.
People often claim that La Liga is the best in business based upon its teams’ success in the UEFA Champions League. Well, they can augment their assertion by having a look at the second-tier continental tournament, the Europa League. And no one does a better job of cementing the claim of Spanish dominance than Los Nervionenses, the winner of the competition two years running. This is a sure shot upgrade from their dismal seasons earlier in the decade when they barely managed to hang on to a top-half finish and did not progress much in the continental front as well. What is even more praiseworthy is that Sevilla have been able to hold onto their own despite selling their star players throughout this period. And the replacements, who have either been a young Spanish footballer or a foreign untested player, have almost always gone on to become stars. So, the departure of Alberto Moreno, Álvaro Negredo, and Jesús Navas did not pinch that much as Aleix Vidal, Carlos Bacca, and Kévin Gameiro stepped up to the game. Over all, Sevilla have been able to keep a close-knit group of core players, a decent spread of domestics vs. foreign players, and would look to do the same next season. The Champions League might be a bit too much for them, but then again, they would most likely have the fall back option of the Europa League.
Valencia, once a dominant force in Europe, have regressed a bit over the years. Too much tinkering with the squad, inability to hold on to star players, and a disastrous transfer strategy resulting in none of their buys living up to the promise have caused their demise. More often than not Els Taronges have looked beyond Spain to bolster their squad. To their bad luck, they have lost to the eventual winners—Sevilla and Atlético Madrid, both from Spain—in the Europa League semi-finals in the last five years. However, it never was going to be easy to find able replacements for the likes of David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata, Jordi Alba, Jérémy Mathieu, and Juan Bernat. Sure, they made some good business over the sale of Villa, Roberto Soldado, and (possibly) Nicolás Otamendi, but that does not win you trophies. In the coming season, they have splashed a huge amount of money—more than €100 million, which surpasses their last three seasons’ combined transfer cash outflow—but it is doubtful how much dividend a fairly new squad can provide.
Change of psychology, a desire to break the stereotype, and a board willing to back the team all the way has transformed Atlético Madrid dramatically over the last half a decade. It is no coincidence that it was the same period when a certain Diego Simeone took charge of the club. Rojiblancos have stuck to their game plan throughout—maintain a core group of players, keep an optimal squad size for better team bonding, and don’t hesitate to sign marquee players even if they are not cheap. The results are there for everyone to see—one La Liga title, a couple of podium finishes, one domestic runner-up crown, one continental glory (Europa League) to go with an unbeaten run in the Champions League 2013-14, where they cruelly lost out to Real Madrid in the extra time. Atlético’s transfer policy has to be applauded for finding the right replacements all the time. Sergio Agüero’s departure was compensated by the recruitment of Falcao, David de Gea’s by Thibaut Courtois, and Martín Demichelis’ by Toby Alderweireld. Money has never been a problem for Atlético—they utilized the money earned from the sale of Diego Costa and Mario Mandzukic by scooping up Antoine Griezmann and Jackson Martinez. No wonder they are on the right track.
Now comes the giant of Europe—Real Madrid. Famous for breaking the bank every now and then, Madrid has definitely trimmed its squad size over the years. That is very surprising as Los Blancos are always contesting deep into three, or even four competitions. The axe has come down hard on the domestic players, to be precise, as their percentage share in the squad has gone down alarmingly. True, Real won the much-coveted La Decima a couple of seasons back and have featured in every semi-final stage of Champions League since 2010–11. They have also shown decent form in the domestic cup competition, winning it twice in the interim period. However, their foreign contingent has found it tough in La Liga, with Madrid lifting the trophy only once in the same period and even finishing third once in a league often ridiculed as a two-horse show. There must be some very good reasons for letting go of players like Sergio Canales, José Callejón, and Álvaro Morata, but the results have failed to justify them.
We wrap up our Spanish investigation with Barcelona, the best modern club around. Well, with two Champions League crowns, three La Liga titles, and a couple of domestic cups, they are actually making a strong case for themselves to be termed the best club team of all time. Fresh from the transfer ban imposed by FIFA and a certain Luis Suarez ineligible to play for the first half of the season, Blaugrana overcame some mid-season mild hiccups and completed the treble in 2014-15. Barcelona always had a very strong Spanish influence in their team, but recently they had to curb that instinct and give the team a more cosmopolitan look. The deadly Latin American trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr., and Suarez is a prime example of that. The dip in the form of Villa and Bojan Krkic, coupled with Thiago’s urge to depart have not helped either. Still, Barcelona have a strong foundation, they are continuously promoting youth from their own academy (case in point, Cristian Tello, Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Sergi Roberto, to name a few), and there is no reason why they cannot continue to rewrite history in the coming days.
In 2010, Jose Luis Astiazaran, the then La Liga president, proudly claimed that more than three-fourths of players in the league are eligible to play for the national team, whereas the number stands as low as one-third for the English Premier League. And how times have changed since then! In March 2015, the Spanish national team coach Vicente del Bosque expressed his concern on the increasing number of foreign players in the top flight. This came in the backdrop of the lack of Spanish forwards in the league, as most top teams are currently reliant on foreigners to score the goals. And the story does not end there. Football clubs from Spain have brought in 352 foreign players under the age of 18 in 2014, according to data released by the ruling body’s Transfer Matching System AG, also mentioning that 48 more transfers were turned down. Investing on minors go a long way not only in their development but also towards saving on transfer fees later. While this has had legitimate implications and bans have been imposed by FIFA later on, needless to say, this restricts the opportunity for the local talent. So, ironically enough, Spain has recently been falling into the same trap they had ridiculed others for before.
Football clubs from Spain have brought in 352 foreign players under the age of 18 in 2014, according to data released by the ruling body’s Transfer Matching System AG, also mentioning that 48 more transfers were turned down.
Club Correlation between Percentage of Foreign Players and League Standing
As is evident from the above table, success is not always guaranteed by foreign invasion. The Big Two might have done better had they persisted with their home-grown talent. The story is different for Atlético and Sevilla, who have reaped the rewards by bringing in quality foreign players and climbed up the ladder. Valencia’s negative correlation clearly demonstrates their selling club mentality—they have found it really tough to replenish the stock of quality players, even if they have imported a few from outside Spain.
A special mention here for Athletic Bilbao—Los Leones is world famous for their transfer policy of bringing young Basque players through their ranks, and hence, do not feature in our analysis. Even then, they have done considerably well in La Liga as well as domestic cup competitions.
That is it, then, for the Spanish Armada. Keep watching this space for more in our next installment!