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!
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!
Feature Image Credit – GOAL.com
Impact of Foreign players in European leagues – Bundesliga
Football has become a truly global sport. With its worldwide reach, never as prominent as in this millennium,every major European league is able to attract hidden talents from different corner of the globe. This has markedly changed player demographics in the best leagues. 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 third instalment of this series features Bundesliga.
The Fußball-Bundesliga, literally translated as Football Federal League and commonly known as the Bundesliga, is the top tier professional association football league in Germany.Famous for its knowledgeable and ardent football fans, the league boasts the highest average stadium attendance among all global football leagues. In fact, Bundesliga’s figure of 42,609 fans per game is second only to America’s NFLin global professional sport.It is a testimony to its popularity that Bundesliga is broadcast in over 200 countries. Currently ranked third in Europe according to UEFA’s league coefficient ranking, and certainly on the ascendency, Bundesliga is one of the top most leagues in the World. Unlike other top European Leagues – all covered in this series –Bundesliga features only 18 teams instead of the common norm of 20 teams. Rest of the structure is in sync with others though – the league runs from August to May, matches are mostly played over the weekends making it more practical for fans to travel and watch the games and the bottom three teams get relegated to the lower division known as Bundesliga 2 from where three teams get promoted each year. The domestic cup competition DFB-Pokal is keenly contested and the winner locks horn with the Bundesliga winner in the DFL-Super cup, the season opener.
Bundesliga started in 1963-64 and since then a total of 53 clubs have competed for the title. FC Bayern Munich is the most decorated and successful club in the league’s history, having won the Bundesliga 23 times. Other prominent clubs are Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger SV, Werder Bremen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfB Stuttgart.
Bundesliga clubs need to be majority-owned by German club members – with the exception of few clubs which were originally founded as factory teams – to discourage control by a single entity, and operate under tight restrictions on the use of debt for acquisitions. This has resulted in a self-sustaining revenue generation model where 11 out of 18 Bundesliga clubs have reported in green last season. This is a marked difference viz-a-viz the buy me trophies approach of other major European leagues, a trend that has seen several high profile teams coming under ownership of business tycoons and Arab sheiks, and a larger number of clubs having high levels of debt.
Good showing by German clubs over a sustained period in Europe has pushed them above Serie A in European Coefficients,allowing the fourth placed team from Germany an entry to the UEFA Champions League since 2011. However what is striking is the fact that Bundesliga has not really dominated the rest of Europe in this period. Before Bayern Munich won the Champions League in 2012 beating Borussia Dortmund in an all-German final, the last team to win the same was Bayern themselves way back in 2000-01. Last German club to win the Europa League, Europe’s second tier continental tournament, was FC Schalke 04 when they won it almost two decades back in 1996-97. It is rather the collective good showing of the Bundesliga clubs that has paved the way for more German clubs’ participation in the Champions League.
Here is another interesting piece of statistic – below we see a comparison between FIFA ranking of the top European nations and their respective domestic league’s rankings. La Liga still dominates Europe but Spain has gone off the radar in recent years which is reflected in the difference in the rankings of club and country. Germany, on the other hand, has the lowest ranking difference and that too with the best average ranking – indicative of their dominance at both Club and country level. Interestingly, only Netherlands and Belgium alongside Germany have a better national team ranking than their league ranking – no wonder these three national teams are also among the most exciting teams currently in world football.
So, let us try to find out why the top Bundesliga teams have fared so well over the last few seasons under their robust financial regulations and demonstrated a new brand of footballing philosophy for others to follow. Our sample size is five—the top five clubs since the 2009–10 season.
First up is Borussia Mönchengladbach, Die Borussen – The club from North Rhine-Westphalia, one of Germany’s best-known, best-supported, and most successful clubs. 1970’s was their golden decade when they won five Bundesliga titles, including a hat trick of crowns between 1975 and 1977. They encountered a dip in performance soon after owing to a financial crisis, with the ultimate low coming in the form of relegation from Bundesliga in 2006-07. But since then Mönchengladbach have been on the up – Bundesliga 2 glory and promotion to the top tier in 2007-08 has paved the way for steady success in years to come. In the last five years, they have steadily moved up the league table and now are seen as a strong contender for the Champions League play-off spot. Although they have had limited exposure to continental football – their only appearance was cut short in the Champions League qualifying match in 2012-13 – it is fair to say that they have never really longed for it. That presents a very sound picture of this club’s goal – focus on the job at hand and do not burden yourself by being overambitious.Based on lessons from their past, Borussia Mönchengladbach is run on very strict financial grounds. Their first team squad size hovers around a very acceptable figure of mid 20’s and if anything, the trend is downwards. But even then, they have an eye for class. Their foreign player ratio is in the region of 40-50% and usually they have done more than just add up the numbers. Brazilian Raffael Caetano de Araújo was the club’stop scorer in the league in 2013/14. So was Dutch Luuk de Jong (jointly) in 2012/13, a season when Venezuelan Juan Arango became the top assist provider for the club, a feat he has achieved for two consecutive seasons. So not only have Mönchengladbach been able to find quality foreign players to augment their local talent, they have also been able to find them from different parts of the globe. It has paid healthy dividends so far, but to take the next step – challenge for the title or domestic cups – they might need to break the bank and sign some marquee players in the near future. They have been raided and have lost crucial players in recent past–Marko Marin in 2009-10, Marco Reus and Dante in 2012-13, Marc-André ter Stegen last summer. They can ill afford to continue this trend if they have any higher ambitions.
FC Schalke 04
Fußball club Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04 e. V., better known as FC Schalke 04 is originally from the Schalke district of Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia and is one of the most popular teams in Germany.Die Königsblauen dominated German football for close to a decade starting from the mid 1930’s. However they had to face the stigma of Bundesliga scandal of 1971 where charges of accepting bribes to forfeit matches were proved against their key players and officials. They have, however, shown signs of improvement in the new millennium and have reached the semis of both Europa League as well as Champions League in last five years. Besides managing European expectations, FC Schalke 04 have also lifted the prestigious DFB Pokal in 2010-11. But their league performance suffered that season as they finished a lowly 14th in the table. Apart from that, Schalke have been steadily featuring in the top four in Bundesliga, rarely threatening to win it though.Their clear transfer policies have played a huge part behind their success. Schalke have always brought in quality foreign players – Dutch Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Spaniard José Manuel Jurado (both in 2010-11), Ghanaian Kevin-Prince Boateng (in 2013-14) – to augment their local talents, even if they have had to break the bank for such transfers. FC Schalke 04 have stood strong on their own terms and except for selling Manuel Neuer to Bayern Munich in 2011-12, they have never sold any of their prized assets to rival clubs. Schalke have adopted another interesting approach – over the years, they have drastically reduced both their first team squad strength and the number of foreign players in the squad. Partly, this has to do with the availability of an excellent talent pool in Germany; and partly because of FC Schalke 04’s endeavour to run a financially viable system, a system that has led them to have a valuation of $598.5 million and be on the 12th spot in the list (by Forbes) of richest football clubs The valuation marks a 16% increase from the previous year’s value.So, they have gone big when they were actually certain of their acquisitions but have mostly stayed away from average buys.While the club has done really well in terms of financial stability there is still a lot of work to be done with regards to team building, especially when it comes to facing Europe’s elite teams like Real Madrid who handed them a 9-2 thrashing in the UEFA Champions League last season.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Bayer 04 Leverkusen, known as Leverkusen or simply Bayer, is another prestigious club from Germany, based in Leverkusen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Often mocked as Neverkusen for their failure to win any major trophy – they missed out on Bundesliga title narrowly four times between 1996-97 and 2001-02 – Bayer Leverkusen came into prominence as late as the 1990’s. 2001-02 was a memorable, yet painful year for them as they finished second in everything they competed for – the league, the domestic cup as well as the UEFA Champions League. In the process, Leverkusen became – and remain the only club till date to appear in the final of a UEFA Champions league without ever winning a domestic league title.With consistent qualification to the UEFA Champions League, Bayer Leverkusen have been really consistent in the last few years. However their failure to climb up the ladder can be termed as stagnancy as well. A squad, dominated by domestic players (~ 60%), whose average age hovers around the mid 20’s, to finish 3rd-4th on the league table – one can predict their season at the start of it and chances are, it will be right on the money. Their lack of squad depth has been heavily exposed in the Champions League – they were humiliated by Barcelona 7-1 away from home in 2011-12 and by Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 at home last season. And although these thrashings did not prevent Leverkusen from negotiating the group stages, they did not progress much beyond either. And it seems, the board is least bothered about that. Arturo Vidal of Chile in 2011-12, German André Schürrle and Spaniard Daniel Carvajal in 2013-14, and another German Emre Can in 2014-15 – these are some of the high profile names to depart from the club in recent history. Rarely have Bayer Leverkusen been able to sustain their core group and their new signing this season – Turkish attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu also is rumored to leave in the summer (possibly to Barcelona). This is precisely the reason why even after being a financially stable club, Bayer Leverkusen unfortunately has been loathed as a “plastic club”.A late achiever in the German football scene, Leverkusen suffer from a traditional or committed fan base and is perceived to be run solely on the backing of their rich pharmaceutical company sponsor.
Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund, better known as Borussia Dortmund, Dortmund, or BVB, is a German sports club based in Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia. The football team is part of a 115,000 member strong sports club, making Dortmund the third largest sports club by membership in Germany. Dortmund has a rich footballing history but their tryst with football glory only came late in the last millennium. When everything looked set for a brighter future, Dortmund shocked the German football system by reporting a huge debt of €118.8 million in 2004. It was then revealed thatDie Borussen had gone beyond their limits in search of silverwares. They had invested heavily to recruit foreign players but failure to advance to the main stages of the 2003-04 UEFA Champions League meant that the club had to withstand huge financial losses. Loans from rival clubs like Bayern Munich, sale of stadium naming rights, getting almost bankrupt – Dortmund have seen it all and fortunately, come out stronger and wiser. One of the forces behind their turn around was their loyal fans – Borussia Dortmund recorded an average of 80,297 fans for all the home matches in the 2013-14 season, the highest in Europe. Also, the club shifted its focus to young home-grown players. In the last five years, the presence of local players in Dortmund’s squad has gone up from 52% to 61.54%. At the same time, the squad strength has remained practically constant – 25, 23, 23, 23 and 26. The quality of these players and the results are there for everyone to see – consistent top two finishes in the league with couple of titles, one cup (DFB-Pokal) crown with another final appearance, and a UEFA Champions League final after 17 years. Borussia Dortmund are certainly on the right track.Though local talent has had a huge role to play in their revival, it is not that Dortmund had turned a blind eye towards foreign players.In last couple of years they have broken the bank to bring in quality players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan(Armenia), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Socratis Papasthopoulos(Greece), Kevin Kampl (Slovenia), Adrián Ramos (Colombia), Shinji Kagawa (Japan), Ciro Immobile (Italy) to build up a team as diverse as one can imagine. But they have all augmented an already strong squad. In our analysis period (last five seasons), thrice the top goal scorer and four times the top assist provider has been a German. True, they are having a miserable season this time round but that has been already dealt in detail here.
FC Bayern Munich
Fußball-Club Bayern Münchene.V., globally famous as FC Bayern München, FCB,Bayern Munich, or FC Bayern, is the most successful German football club. Based in Munich, Bavaria, Bayern havewon a record 24 national titles, 17 national cups and also five (a German record) UEFA Champions League crowns. On top of that, Bayern are an exemplary club in professional football having reported profits in nine of the last ten seasons. More often than not, they have topped their previous year’s record earnings. This is achieved in spite of the fact that Bayern earn only 22% of their revenues through broadcasting rights (for other big clubs, this figure is as high as 35%) under the supervision of Deutsche Fußball Liga. One of the strong fundamentals behind Bayern Munich’s amazing financing is that they always use their current assets, not loans, to fund recruitment of players. And that too when each year they have had big ticket signings for the last five seasons. Except for the 2014-15 season they have had huge transfer spending. But even if Bayern have spent big, they have spent wise too. And this has paid handsome dividends – three Bundesliga, three DFB-Pokal and one Champions League titles. Bayern’s showing in the continental front was spectacular to say the least – they featured in two more finals and one more semifinal between 2009-10 till date. Only season they made a premature exit was in 2010-11, and that too on the basis of away goals. Their standards have been so high that their lowly third finish was called a “blip”. Other than that success and Bayern have been pronounced in the same breath. Like any big club, Bayern have huge expectations to fulfill in each transfer window and they have not disappointed their fans and stakeholders with quality signings like Mario Gómez, Arjen Robben, Luiz Gustavo, Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Javi Martínez, Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Götze, Thiago Alcántara, Mehdi Benatia, Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski. The list features four Germans, one Dutch, two Brazilians, two Spaniards, one Croat, one Swiss, one Moroccan and one Polish player – and all of them flourished in the German giant’s first XI during the last five seasons. And it is not always that Bayern have gone after the flavor of the season – some of their most notable recruits had been perceived as past their prime (Alonso), failures (Robben) or yet unproven (Alcántara) in other big leagues. Stability is what they thrive on and that is evident from their foreign player recruitment policy also. Bayern have maintained a stable 50% participation of domestic players in their first team squad. This figure is actually quite low compared to its closest rivals but one can’t really complain when the results have been so spectacular.
Bundesliga is well known for running a profitable business model.Among Europe’s five major leagues, they have the highest average attendance, lowest ticket prices, and lowest pay out (less than 50%) on footballers’ wages. That allowed the German clubs to collectively book profit even during the peak of recession time during the 2009–10 season.
Much before the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations came into picture in September 2009, Bundesliga was running a self-imposed strictly regulated financial model. Every club has to pass through the scrutiny process of the German Football Federation (DFB) at the beginning of each season where their transfer documents and accounts are inspected before they are granted the approval for participation in the league that season. The DFB have a system of fines and points deductions for clubs who flout rules and those who go into the red can only buy a player after selling one for at least the same amount.
Surely Bundesliga is not as popular as, say, the English Premier League worldwide – English Premier League enjoys higher revenue growth thanks to a larger global fanbase and skyrocketing television income (as the English have a less competitive pay-TV market).But then the English clubs do spend an absurd amount of their income on players’wages. Bundesliga clubs, instead,generally enter into partnership with local firms, several of whom eventually go on to become big global companies. That is why Bayern Munich received 55% of its income from company sponsorship deals, while their English counterpart, Manchester United received a mere 37%.
The inflection point in recent German football evolution came in 2000 – the year that saw them crashing out of European Championships at the group stages with one draw and two defeats.To address the dearth of talent at a national level, the German Football Association and the Bundesliga instructed all the clubs to run a youth academy to boost the stream of local talent. A decade later, the top tiers of German football was seen spending an average of €75m annually on these youth academies – training 5,000 players in the age group of 12–18, increasing the under-23-year-olds in the Bundesliga from 6% to 15% in a 10-year span. This is money well spent – nurturing home grown talent instead of splashing out cash on (sometimes average) foreign players and falling in the spiral of billions of debt.
With everyone going gaga over the success of German national team and clubs, it is widely accepted that Bundesliga is ruled by the German players. Well, time for the myth to be busted. As shown above, Bayern Munich, leader of the pack, has a pretty high share of foreign players in its first team squad. That high number has also practically remained constant throughout the recent years (low fluctuation, Std. Deviation). But there is another facet to these high numbers – they are well augmented by their German counterparts. That is why almost every top club is less dependent on their foreign imports for their season’s outcome (low correlation between no of Foreign players in the squad and eventual final standing), at least for the clubs at the top of the table. As we move lower down the table, and as the local talent pool is closer to exhaustion, clubs become more and more dependent on foreign signings. And quality recruitment in Bundesliga has not been an issue thanks to its strong financial base. Only aberration in the above figures is FC Schalke 04 (correlation of -55.71%), but that is mainly due to the 2010-11 season when their league campaign was hampered (or strategically sacrificed) by deep cup runs – they eventually managed to win the DFB-Pokal and reached the last four of Champions League. If we ignore that season, their correlation value comes out to be 13.95%, perfectly in line with our analysis.
That was it for the superpowers of Bundesliga. Watch this space for more in our next instalment.
Impact of Foreign players in European leagues – Serie A
Football has truly become a global game. With its worldwide reach, which has never been as prominent as in this millennium,every major European league is able to attract hidden talents from every corner of the planet. This has to markedly changed player demographics in the best leagues. 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. After Ligue 1 , the second instalment of this series features Serie A.
Serie A, currently sponsored by Telecom Italia, is Italy’s top division professional football league. Founded in 1929–30, Serie A is one of the best football leagues in the world. It, in fact, ruled the charts till the ‘90s, and has produced the highest number of European Cup finalists. Italian clubs have participated at the final for a European honour on a record 26 different occasions, and have come home victorious 12 times. However, in current years, Serie A has only gone downhill. Italian clubs have reached the finals of UEFA Champions league only five times since the turn of the millennium, winning it thrice in the process. Performances are even worse in Europa League where no Serie A team have been a finalist since 1998–99. These poor results have been instrumental in Serie A currently occupying the fourth position among European leagues, behind La Liga, the English Premier League and the Bundesliga. Excessive emphasis on a defensive organization often makes the league games a crazy affair, resulting in poor global acceptance, and, subsequently, preventing Serie A from securing lucrative broadcasting deals. Quite sadly, a prestigious league like Serie A is nothing more than a stepping stone for young footballers or an indication of one’s career going southwards for players beyond a certain age.
A reason for this drastic decline is financial instability. The revenue model of the Italian league of the 1990s was not a practical one, as has been proved in the long run. The Cirio group, a major stakeholder in Lazio, defaulted on its loans; Parma’s sponsors, Parmalat, collapsed soon after; Fiorentina went into administration, succumbing to non-payment of huge debts; and Napoli was declared bankrupt in 2004. It has been an uphill economic battle since then, and, even now, only six Serie A clubs are profitable. Handicapped by absurdly low match day revenues as well as the stigma of match fixing scandals, Serie A has been finding it difficult to attract quality players from across Europe or beyond.
However, let us try to see how the top teams have performed even with the dearth of exciting foreign imports in the Italian league. Our sample size is five—the top five clubs since the 2009–10 season.
We start our Italian tour with Lazio, a club which has performed exceedingly well in the last five years. I Biancocelesti have come a long way since the days when they struggled to feature in the top half of the table. In the last five years, they have miss out on the podium finish twice and have won the Coppa Italia once. And this turn in fortune has been made possible mainly by the contribution of the foreign players. Successful spells by Mauro Zárate, Hernanes, Fernando Muslera, and others have firmly established the club’s stance on foreign import policy. A gradual decrease in the number of domestic players in the first team squad—46.88% in 2009–10 to 23.33% in 2013–14—has brought about this much-sought-after success. The quality at disposal, however, was tested to the fullest in Europe. In the last five years, Lazio have been able to progress to the last eight of the Europa League only once. This happened in 2012–13, the year when they were also crowned with the domestic cup. However, extra matches took a toll on their performance as Lazio finished in a disappointing seventh place in the league table. As soon as the players were free from the burden of midweek matches, the team was back in swing this season, doing full justice to their potential. Currently, they occupy the fourth position in the league table and have stormed into the semis of Coppa Italia.
A team with an eye for the glare, A. S. Roma has had a very low percentage of Italian players under its wings. This is something that has remained more or less constant over the years. In fact, the share went as low as 28.57% in 2012–13. The results, however, have not been that good. The quality of Roma’s foreign players left the passionate supporters from the Italian capital asking for more. A vastly foreign consortium of players saw Roma struggle outside the Europa league spots for three consecutive seasons. However, the team rectified its strategy with an increase in the number of domestic players last season. The result was imminent. Roma finished runners-up in Serie A. However, with the quality of foreign players not something to boast about—and the good ones (Medhi Benatia, Marquinhos, Érik Lamela) frequently sold to encash and fund future transfers—Roma’s European ambitions had to take a back seat. The decline of Serie A and the subsequent loss of one spot from the top tier of the continental championship has been another major factor behind this. Consequently, in the last five years, Roma has been largely out of Europe. In 2009–10, the team crashed out in Round of 16 of UEFA Champions League, and things have gone steadily downhill since then. Roma could not even clear the qualifying rounds of Europa League in the next season. The team did return this year, but have been sent packing from the group stages of the Champions League.
AC Milan, the most successful Italian club in Europe, depicts a sorry state of affair for the Azzurris. Once a superpower in the continent, they have been relegated to mid-table mediocrity in the last two seasons. However, this decline in form has not been like a bolt from the blue. Selling off prized assets (Kaká, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva), excessive emphasis on local players (Mario Balotelli, Giampaolo Pazzini, Daniele Bonera) and thrusting relative youngsters (Stephan El Shaarawy, Mattia de Sciglio) straight into the first team backfired for the Rossoneri. After winning the Scudetto in 2010–11, Milan’s league standings have been second, third, eighth, and 11th (till date, this season) in the subsequent years. The team have been in the Champions League four times in the last five years. Each time, they have crossed the group stages, only to crash out after the first knockout phase. Even then, in the 2011–12 season, they bowed out in the quarterfinals. The indications are crystal clear—the team have to cut down on its heavy dependence on the local players, who are yet to match world-class opponents. Disappointing results have also led to excessive tinkering with the squad and a steady increase in squad size. However, this has done nothing but unstabilized the team dynamics even more.
Napoli is definitely the most improved side in Italy’s top division in recent years. Gli Azzurri have shrugged off their mid table dwellers tag to cement themselves as a top contender for the podium finish. Not only on the league front, the team have dominated the cup competitions as well, having won it twice in quick succession (2011–12 and 2013–14). Sadly enough for Italian football, Napoli’s success has been purely due to foreign players. From being a club heavily reliant on local players—the side had more than 65% Italian players in the squad in 2009–10—it has completely revamped its team dynamics. Last season’s team had as few as nine Italians in a total squad of 32. Foreign imports like Gonzalo Higuain, José Callejón, Dries Mertens—unlike in so many other peer clubs—have increased the quality of football in Napoli, and the results are there for everyone to see.
Juventus can be seen as a model club for those who value every penny they are spending on the transfer market and still doing an astute business at that. Carlos Tevez was a bargain buy, and Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba were snapped up on free transfers. Come to think of it, if one compares what a club like Manchester United has spent in the summer window with the Bianconeri, one would still find the Italian champion to have come out as a better team. Actually, Juventus had planned for five years in 2011 after a couple of disappointing campaigns. They spent big (as compared to their normal level of investment) to get some big names and, then, have looked to build on that since. The results have been imminent, with the side bagging three league titles in a row. Juventus, however, like most of the Serie A clubs, depends heavily on local players. Though they have a strong team in Italy, they fall quite short of the mark in Europe. Before this season, the only time they managed to go past the group stages in the Champions League was in 2012–13.
Serie A has long lost its shine, and the dearth of local talent is one major reason behind this. There are very few who can attract eyeballs or lucrative sponsor deals. The clubs are struggling to make ends meet, and want to encash if any of their players show a glimpse of spark. To go with that, match fixing scandals have also alienated big names coming in the Azzurriland. Both Roma and Juventus have demonstrated good form in recent times, but that is more of an exception than a rule.
Italy being in the middle of a deep recession for the last half a decade or so, has not made life easy for the Serie A clubs at all. With no money to spend, clubs had to depend on the Bosman ruling, i.e., sign players out of contract for free. Now, quality players will most definitely never be out of contract. You get what you pay for, after all!
These players are reaching the fag end of their (illustrious, sometimes) career and want to earn whatever they can out of their remaining time on the pitch. Naturally, these big team discards are not that influential in changing the fortunes of the clubs they join. In fact, in certain cases they disturb the team dynamics—e.g., when coaches are lured to field the ageing superstars owing to their past reputations (Nemanja Vidic in Inter Milan this season)—which are met by catastrophic results. A high negative correlation for Udinese in the following table indicates just that.
Correlation between % of Foreign Player and League Standing
Foreign Players’ quality is an area of concern
After the summer window this season, Serie A clubs cumulatively had more footballers under their tent than the other big four European leagues combined! This was mainly due to the lack of liquidity in the Italian market, which forced clubs to go for quantity over quality. Even then, most of these players were on loan.
All these ageing superstars might awe star-starved fans, which is, actually, the model followed successfully in Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States. This has given a boost to MLS, but is definitely a downgrade for Serie A. Once famous for putting up star-studded line ups, today the Italian clubs are forced to buy players who are close to, if not over, their shelf life.
That was it for the shambles that is the current Serie A. Watch this space for more in our next instalment.
Impact of Foreign players in European leagues – Ligue 1
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. 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 to you a whole new series on these foreign imports. Seat back, relax and rejoice with Goalden Times. Starting with Ligue 1
Ligue 1 (League 1) – formerly known as Division 1 – is the professional league for association football clubs in France. It is the top division of the French football league system and naturally hailed as the country’s premier football competition. Considered as one of the main powerhouses of European football till the ‘90s, the league has gradually gone downhill and now finds itself ranked sixth in Europe behind the Spanish La Liga, English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, the Portuguese Primeira Liga and the Italian Serie A. Nevertheless Ligue 1 in itself is an exciting league and has now cemented its place as a fertile scouting ground for bigger clubs.
Ligue 1 clubs’ finances are monitored by a professional organisation called Direction Nationale du Contrôle de Gestion (DNCG). Founded in 1984, as an administrative directorate of the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), the main objective of the DNCG is to supervise all financial activities of the 44 member clubs – across two tiers of French football – of the LFP.
In 2005-06, DNCG published a report which stated a 39% increase in the collective budget of Ligue 1 clubs to €910 million from that in the 2002–03 season. The key reason for this rise was the television rights deal thanks to the increasing reach of broadcasters. Except Paris Saint-Germain – more on that later – many of the top division clubs are extremely well run with clubs such as Auxerre, Bordeaux, Lille, and Lyon being referred to as “managed to perfection”. However things have gone downhill since then. In 2010-11, after the LFP clubs accounts were cumulatively in the red for the third consecutive season, the DNCG cautioned the clubs to concentrate on restricting their “skyrocketing wage bills and the magnitude of their debts” when the estimated deficit reached close to €130 million.
So let us try to see, with the influx of investment in French league, how the top teams have performed. Our sample size is five – the top five clubs since 2009-10 season.
AS Monaco FC
French football was shaken upside down when as famous a club like Monaco was alleged in a financial crisis leading to their eventual relegation to Ligue 2. Still they feature in our sample space having finished runners-up last season. Foreign ownership and sizable investment is a very important reason behind their change in fortune. Notably, they have a sharp decline in the number of domestic players in the squad because with the backing of financial power, it has not been very difficult to sign foreign players even for a newly promoted club. Not strange, actually – at least, in modern day football.
Olympiqe de Marseille
Next up is Olympique de Marseille. Barring 2010-11 season, this club has steadily promoted domestic players. And quite ironically, their league standing has suffered almost in unison. Once a league winner in 2009-10, Marseille finished in a disappointing sixth place last season. They have found the going tough in cup competitions also. They had won three back-to-back Copa de la Ligue starting from 2009-10 but since then success has eluded them in that cup run as well. Needless to say, Marseille have not done themselves any favour in the continental front too – they lost all of their six group stage matches in UEFA Champions League in their last appearance in 2013-14.
Olympique Lyon had established a monopoly in French domestic football with back-to-back seven League 1 titles at the start of the century. But since then they have not won anything beyond a solitary Coupe de France title in 2011-12. Their dependence, rather steady increase in dependence, on domestic player is a very striking feature in this period. Lyon, however, should be lauded for holding onto their own and for not going down too alarmingly. But just consider the fact that they held off the mighty Real Madrid at home in a Champions League match back in 2010-11. Just imagine the gap now.
Lille Olympique Sporting Club
Although they are the third club in a row which has “Olympique” featuring in its official name, the club is better known as Lille. A steady performance over the years has helped Lille cement its place in French top division but they have barely threatened to go beyond the also-ran category. Lille traditionally operate with a smaller pool of players and hence the fluctuations – true to its ambitions – are never dramatic. That is reflected in their league standing in the recent past which reads like 4, 1, 3, 6, 3 – a good performance but never really looked like challenging for the top spot consistently. Their shallow squad depth has been found out in Europe though. They have finished rock bottom in the group stages in their last two attempts in European competitions.
Paris Saint-Germain FC
We wrap up our French clubs’ coverage with Paris Saint-German, popularly known as PSG. No club exemplifies the power of financial muscles, at least domestically, as this one. Buoyed by the investments from Qatar, PSG have rapidly bought marquee players, sometimes for absurd fees. No wonder that their domestic players have to make way, but who cares when they are on a mission to en route becoming the unprecedented number one club in France. Even when PSG increased their squad strength drastically in 2012-13, that was solely contributed by the foreign imports as even then the % of domestic players continued to decline steadily. They were able to achieve considerable success following the massive increase in foreign contingent and won consecutive league titles. In continental front also, PSG has emerged as a force to reckon with. They had topped their groups two times in a row prior to this year and now look set for bigger glories.
After the success in the fag end of the last millennium at the international level, France has gradually lost its shine. Dearth of true world-class talent following the departure of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry has not helped. This is reflected in the FIFA World ranking where France slipped from fourth in 2006 to outside top ten for the first time in 13 years in 2008. The results became even worse and France found themselves at a lowly 20th position in 2013. All this called for a revival of enthusiasm among the fans and French football badly needed to look beyond their homegrown talent in club football. Not only marquee players, but also above average players were hunted for to help and guide a generation of French footballers who were found out time and again at a bigger stage. So, it is not surprising that the percentage of domestic players in the squads of eminent clubs kept on diminishing. In fact the correlation between the percentage of foreign players in these clubs and their respective league standing over the last five years stands close to 0.80.
So, that was it for the French revolution. Watch this space for more in our next instalment.