Between the Euro 2012 Finals, World Cup qualifiers and the upcoming Olympics, one thing’s for sure ai??i?? this will certainly NOT be a summer of discontent for footie fans. But somehow, you get the feeling that discontent will be the dominant emotion come the 2012/13 European domestics seasons and beyond.

Rumblings in the off-season have indicated that the modern-day powerhouses and high-rollers will continue to widen the chasm between the leagues’ elite and…well, everyone else. A gap enlarged not by creativity orAi?? great coaching tactics, but simply by money ai??i?? these days, the root of all trophies. Cash-laden juggernauts have used their wealth to not only grab the most-talented players on the planet, but to also deny other teams of talented players, who at times languish on the bench for most of the season.

A quick look at Europe’s top four leagues (see images below) illustrate the point. While the top two teams in the English Premier League (EPL) fought down to the wire, and in the end were only separated by goal difference, the team finishing third was a massive nineteen (19) points behind. To put that into perspective, Arsenal would have needed six additional wins and a draw to equal the Manchester City and Manchester United points accumulation. It is even more conspicuous in La Liga, Spain, where Real Madrid trounced Barca by nine (9) points, but both walloped the field by a jaw-dropping thirty puntos! A?Ay, caramba!

Montpellier: Can they retain their success?

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Ligue Un in France does present something of a dichotomy. The pattern is indeed repeated, where the top three are 10 points ahead of the rest of the league, and the gap between the eventual winners and the fourth place team is a solid 18 points. However, champions Montpellier are something of an exception to the rule of big money buying big wins. Consisting of many ai???home-grownai??? talents who came up through the club ranks from youth level, and having only just returned to the top-tier three years ago, Montpellier is proof that great coaching and good young talent can still prevail and triumph over lavish spending (read Paris St. Germain), but for how long?

Now, just three weeks after the final whistles were blown in most of these leagues, it is again the big, moneyed clubs that are quick out the blocks with (huge) signings. Chelsea lead the pack with possibly more than A?70 million spent on Belgium’s Eden Hazard and the not-so-incredible Hulk (Givanildo Vieira de Souza) of Brazil. Manchester United are also in on the action with the completion of Shinji Kagawa’s (Japan) transfer from Borussia Dortmund, and rumoured links to Leighton Baines (England), Luka Modric (Croatia) and Robert Lewandowski (Poland). And PSG are already off to the races in their hunt for prodigious but profit-diminshing talent ai??i?? allegedly looking to spend A?25 million on Argentinian Ezequiel Lavezzi.

With all this mind, should fans and pundits look forward to a domestic football future where an hegemony will dominate solely because of spending power, while everyone else fights for scraps ai??i?? Champions League and UEFA League qualification, and maybe a lucky domestic cup win now and then? Is there any way to counterbalance the influence of the almighty Pound/Peseta/Franc/Euro/Insert-Currency-Here, to ensure that the most watched leagues aren’t merely an affair between the same two or three teams each year? FIFA has proposed, and will in 2013-14 implement, the Financial Fair Play (FFP) programme as a means to reduce overspending by the wealthiest teams (see explanations of FFP here and here). But in any estimation FFP, as it stands, is a farce! In a nutshell, teams won’t be able to spend more than they earn. So a team with a 60,000-seater stadium, great kit deals and sales, and massive television rights earnings will ai???onlyai??? be able to spend the equivalent of the hundreds of millions they earn, while the minnow who just clawed their way up to the top league can look forward to splashing their earnings from their 8,000-seater park. Are we being serious here?

One of the best steps FIFA can take to quickly have an impact on obscene spending by clubs is to implement a salary and transfer cap on all leagues in its purview. Now. And while Jean-Luc Dehaene, who will head up UEFA’s Club Financial Control Panel, does allude to caps ai???possiblyai??? being implemented, we all know that FIFA’s ai???possibilitiesai??? are comfort to fools (case in point: Goal-line Technology). The longer we wait for such caps to be implemented, the further the top teams pull away from the also-rans. By the time the measures are eventually put in place ai??i?? IF they ever are ai??i?? the gap would be so wide, it would be almost impossible to overcome.

The irony of all this is that FIFA and the leagues are the ones who stand to lose the greatest if football competitions become monotonous two/three-horse races year in, year out. Look at the excitement that was generated by the Manchester City win this year. Yes, they rank among the worst offenders, but the twist of irony here is that they broke the Manchester United-Chelsea-Arsenal monopoly on the EPL title, and I strongly believe that played a big part in the buzz surrounding their win in the final game. Well, that and the dramatic fashion in which they accomplished the win. Nielsen ratings reported a 600,000 viewership on ESPN in the US alone ai??i?? a country not known for football-mad fans like the rest of the world, and at a time of day when ratings are usually low. Montpellier of France are an even better example ai??i?? they certainly made the rest of us pay attention to Ligue 1 a little more. Importantly however, is the fact that not every club will be able to spend like City to earn a title, so we need to cut that spending now before fans get turned off when each season starts looking like repeat episodes of the Kardashians.

Nothing draws people to sports like the story of the underdog, and every true football fan appreciates great competition, balance and entertaining games, irrespective of the team they support. TheseAi?? are things that will be lost in the coming years as cold, hard cash plays king-maker in the top leagues around the world. The fix has to start somewhere though, and who better to set an example than UEFA ai??i?? overseers of the world’s wealthiest football leagues.

Enjoy this summer’s football good people, for soon we may discover the ball is no longer round. And football has been reduced to a game of cards.

_________________________

Written by Andrew Hewitt

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