The UEFA Champions League is the most prestigious and most spectacular competition in club football. Itai??i??s also the most lucrative tournament. Just qualifying for the group phase guarantees participating clubs an eight figure windfall. Most of Europeai??i??s elite clubs include the qualification for the knockout rounds of the competition in their annual budget projections for the next season. Thus, missing out on Champions League football just once can have an immense impact on any club’s transfer strategy.

However, regularly qualifying for the Champions League doesnai??i??t necessarily translate into an advantage in the transfer market, or the pitch. If the size of the bank account would set the parameters for success, then Manchester City wouldai??i??ve conquered Europe by now and dominate the continent in years to come. Yet for the second consecutive year the vast fortunes of Sheik Mansour could not prevent Manchester Cityai??i??s premature exit from the Champions League.

Granted, money is a big factor in laying the foundation for a successful team, but itai??i??s not the sole component in building a winning side. After all, having more money in the bank isnai??i??t a guarantee to find more value in the market.

Arsenalai??i??s Arsene Wenger used to be one of the best, perhaps the best, buyer/seller in football. For years he raided the continent for the best (and equally as cheap) talent, only to sell them at a massive profit. In 1997 he bought 17 year old Nicolas Anelka from French side Paris Saint-Germain for a meager ai??i??760,000, and sold the youngster to Real Madrid for ai??i??35 million just two years later. More recently Wenger green-lit the transfer of Robin Van Persie to league rivals Manchester United for ai??i??30,7 million, after acquiring the Dutchman for ai??i??4,5 million in 2004.

In his heyday the Arsenal gaffer was the closest thing to Billy Beane, the MLB manager who is one of the pioneers of sabermetrics. Nonetheless, the ai???Moneyballai??i?? approach isnai??i??t really applicable in football. While Baseball is more or less static, the game of football is much more nuanced. Unlike Baseball where the formation and indeed player positions are fixed, a football formation is shaped by its tactics. For example, a 4-3-3 formation can be either a defensive system with 2 holding midfielders, or an attacking set-up with two creative players in the middle.

However, some of this yearai??i??s Champions League semi-finalists respective transfer strategies mimic the approach of some of Major League Baseballai??i??s richest (New York Yankees) and financially more restricted clubs (Oakland Athletics), to varying degrees of success.

The final four in the Champions League semi-finals are Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, who rank first, second, fourth and eleventh in the Deloitte Football Money League. The annually published report offers information about the respective revenue/turnover of Europeai??i??s most valuable football teams. Hence itai??i??s not surprising to see the trio of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich among the Champions League semi-finalists. It is, however, a little unexpected to read Borussia Dortmundai??i??s name in the midst of Europeai??i??s four best teams of the 2012-13 campaign.

Furthermore, the Dortmund outfit is on the brink of eliminating Real Madrid, who accumulate more than double the revenues (ai??i??512,6 million) of their Champions League opponents (ai??i??189, million). Even more amazing is the fact that Borussia Dortmund has beaten the mega-rich Madrid side 4-1.

Itai??i??s David vs. Goliath indeed.

The other semi-final is more in line with what the casual football consumer can expect from the Champions League semi-finals. Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich (ai??i??368,4 million, Deloitte rank no. 4) versus FC Barcelona (ai??i??483 million, Deloitte rank no.2). Though Barcelonaai??i??s revenue still dwarf Bayernai??i??s, Die Roten ruthlessly destroyed their Catalan counterparts 4-0. Nonetheless, it must be noted the disparity between Europeai??i??s five richest clubs isnai??i??t as huge as, say, it is between Madrid and Dortmund. Itai??i??s essentially one big spender versus bigger one.

From the 2008-09 season through the 2012-13 campaign these four clubs have spent a combined ai??i??1,16 billion gross on new recruits. Real Madrid account for the lion share with ai??i??515,6 million (44%), FC Barcelona place 2nd with ai??i??374,5 million (32%), Bayern Munich rank 3rd with ai??i??205,8 million (18%), while Borussia Dortmund spent the least amount of the quartet with ai??i??68,95 million (6%) for a distant 4th place.

A large chunk of Los Blancos’ heavy spending was offset by transfer revenues of ai??i??199,8 million, accounting for a still respectable coverage ratio of 39%. Itai??i??s slightly off of FC Barcelonaai??i??s coverage ratio of 45%, the Catalan giants spent ai??i??374,5 million and generated ai??i??168,8 million in transfers, but still miles ahead of Bayern Munichai??i??s underwhelming 23% (ai??i??48,4 million). Although the Bavarians’ coverage ratio is less favorable in comparison to their Spanish rivals, one also has to consider that the German club has significantly spent less than either (ai??i??205,8 million).

But none of the aforementioned clubs can match or even rival Borussia Dortmundai??i??s near perfect coverage ratio of 97%, nor the relatively low amount of money die Schwarzgelben invested over the last 5 years to build a legitimate Champions League contender. The ai??i??69 million Dortmund spent on new recruits in the last half a decade would amount to just a little under ai??i??14 million per annum.

However, while Dortmund has the best coverage ratio out of all Champions League semi-finalists the Bundesliga side also boasts the biggest player fluctuation. During JA?rgen Kloppai??i??s reign no less than 29 players were signed by the Champions League hopefuls, and 31 sold, equating to a negative 7% in the player retention category. Their Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich have the best figure in that regard (33%), ahead of the Spanish duo of Madrid (27%), and Barcelona (21%).

Normally such an abnormally high personnel turnover would indicate instability. It isn’t necessarily the ideal environment to nurture a cohesive unit, much less a domestic Champion, let alone a Champions League contender. But Borussia Dortmund have defied conventional logic and won two successive Bundesliga titles (2010-11; 2011-12), ahead of Bayern Munich who were crowned champions just once during the last 5 years (2009-10; the current campaign excluded).

While credit must go to Borussia Dortmundai??i??s excellent scouting department, it is manager JA?rgen Klopp who should receive the biggest plaudits. Not many tacticians could oversee the influx of so many players without losing sight of the short-, mid- and long-term goals of the club. The German manager delivered two Bundesliga titles and has spent a net ai??i??1,9 million in 5 years on new recruits, amounting to a little over ai??i??65,000 per player.

In comparison, FC Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova spent ai??i??33 million in 2012-13 on 2 signings (Alex Song ai??i??19 million, and Jordi Alba ai??i??14 million), averaging ai??i??16,3 million per player.

The title of biggest spender both, gross and net, is belonging to Real Madrid though. The Spanish capital outfit has spent a gross ai??i??515,6 million, which after deducting ai??i??199,8 million in transfer revenue still amounts to a massive ai??i??315,8 million net outlay for new signings. To put a little perspective on Real Madridai??i??s lavish spending – itai??i??s more than 50% higher than Bayern Munichai??i??s gross expenditure during the same time frame.

While Los Blancos outspent the German outfit in the transfer market, the Bavarians outperformed them on the pitch, reaching finals twice (2010, 2012), with final number three (2013) a surety after the destruction of Barcelona. Real Madrid on the other hand have yet to reach a Champions League final after their last triumph in the 2001-02 campaign. The chances of progress are remote but not improbable, after being on the receiving end of a 4-1 thrashing courtesy of Borussia Dortmund.

From a strictly sporting point of view thereai??i??s nothing to justify Real Madridai??i??s gargantuan investment in their football team. While the Madrid based outfit has outspent their fellow semi-finalists, they have only 1 La Liga title to their name. For instance, Barcelona have won 4 (provided nothing freaky happens between now and the end of the campaign), whereas Bayern and Dortmund have won 2 each.

The argument of progress in the Champions League also holds no water in light of their gigantic outlay. Three successive Champions League semi-finals is not a bad record by any stretch of the imagination per se. But Barcelona have won the competition twice (2009, 2011), while Bayern Munich booked a final appearance twice (2010, 2012). The combined net spending of Barcelona and Bayern at ai??i??363,2 million just represents a 15% increase on Los Blancos net outlay of ai??i??315,8 million.

Though one might be inclined to label Real Madrid a money-wasting institution itai??i??s not that simple. Madridai??i??s expenditures are highly inflated thanks to two signings, Cristiano Ronaldo, ai??i??94 million, and Kaka, ai??i??68,5 million (a staggering ai??i??162,5 million).

But then again, Real Madrid wouldai??i??ve probably not qualified for the Champions League semi-finals, nor won the 2011-12 La Liga title without Cristiano Ronaldo. For all intents and purposes, if the expenditure of Kaka (ai??i??68,5 million) is taken out of the equation, Los Blancos would find themselves just 20% (ai??i??247,3 million) ahead of Barcelona (ai??i??205,7 million) in terms of net spending.

The Barcelona Myth

Barcelonaai??i??s transfer policy is confusing to say the least. Whereas Real Madrid adhere to a strategy that is designed to buy the most promising internationals in their early 20ai??i??s, preferably from the traditional football superpowers (Argentina, Brazil, France, and Germany), the Blaugrana seem to lack one. There appears to be no clear vision in regards to the long-term development of its first team.

Real Madrid spend big, but in recent years Los Merengues have put the emphasis on players, who not only have world-class potential (Mesut Ai??zil, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema), but also resell value. Barcelona on the other hand also spend big, but they usually acquire players who have little resell value, if any at all due to their advanced age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic serves as the prime example for the Blaugranaai??i??s wastefulness in the transfer market. Signed in the same 2009 summer transfer window as Real Madridai??i??s Cristiano Ronaldo, the Blaugrana paid ai??i??69,5 million for his services. But unlike Ronaldo, then 24 years old, the Swede was already 27, turning 28 in October of that year. Ronaldo signed a 6 year contract, effectively tying him to the Madrid outfit just past his 30th birthday. Ibrahimovic was given a 5 year contract, making him a free agent at the age of 32.

Considering that most clubs either sell or renew existing contracts 2 years prior to their expiration, Ronaldo would be 28 and Ibrahimovic 30 by the time the duo entered the final 24 months of their original agreements. The Portuguese international just turned 28 in February, and arguably still commands the ai??i??94 million transfer fee Real Madrid paid for him in 2009, whereas Zlatan Ibrahimovic was first loaned out in 2010, and then sold for ai??i??24 million (a little over a third of Barcelonaai??i??s outlay) to AC Milan in the following season.

Another example for Barcelonaai??i??s almost notorious habit of overpaying is David Villa. By no means a bad player ai??i?? far from it- he was 28 when the Blaugrana paid ai??i??40 million for his services. This summer transfer window is the last opportunity for Barcelona to generate revenues from his sale. At 31 years, heai??i??s not likely to fetch anywhere close to half his original price-tag. Barcelona would be lucky to receive north of ai??i??12 million.

The table below further illustrates how Barcelona is incapable of identifying the right forwards to add to their ranks. Itai??i??s particularly disturbing since the club already has a definitive playing philosophy in place, meaning it should be easier to isolate a specific type of player.

Big spending Real Madrid have probably assembled the best forward line money can buy. They certainly spent the most of any Champions League semi-finalist; over the last 5 years the Merengues have invested ai??i??204 million to strengthen their attack. Los Blancos forwards have accumulated 608 games (rank no. 2), 331 goals (rank no.1) and 177 assists (rank no.1) in between them, justifying Madridai??i??s enormous financial commitment.

At the other end of the spectrum Borussia Dortmund spent the least amount of money on attackers (ai??i??40,8 million). Nonetheless, itai??i??s Barcelonaai??i??s forwards that hold the distinction for offering the least return on investment. The Blaugrana rank second in expenditures for forwards (ai??i??149,5 million), yet they rank firmly at the bottom in every metric that offers information about the productivity (games, goals, assists).

Barcelonaai??i??s outlay has produced 90 goals and 52 assists in 240 games. Borussia Dortmund, who spent a little over a third of Barcelonaai??i??s amount on forwards boast more than twice as many games (623, rank no.1), goals (196, rank no.3) and assists (107, rank no.2).

But it is Bayern Munich who have found the right balance between expenditure and quality. Since 2008 die Roten have bought forwards worth ai??i??81,6 million, double the amount of Borussia Dortmund, but almost a 50% less than the Blaugrana paid for theirs. Still, Bayern Munichai??i??s forwards are more productive than the attackers of both teams (243 goals, rank no.2; 105 assists, rank no.2), while playing less games (473, rank no.3).

The average cost for a Bayern Munich forward amounts to ai??i??11,7 million per player, and scores around 0,51 goals per game. Establishing them no. 2 in that category, behind Real Madrid (ai??i??34 million; 0,54 goals per game), ahead of FC Barcelona (ai??i??30,5 million; 0,38 goals per game) and Borussia Dortmund (ai??i??4,5 million; 0,31 goals per game).

Not matter how one slices it; Barcelonaai??i??s return on investment is abysmal. The Blaugrana paid almost triple as much as the Bayern outfit, yet they rank last overall in any of the three categories games, goals, assists (240 games, 90 goals and 52 assists).

If Barcelona have played with the very same system (or variations of it) for almost a decade, how come other clubs, with their ever changing managers, thus ideas and formations, produce the better statistics?

It goes some way to dispel the notion that not every player is suitable for Barcelonaai??i??s football philosophy. The Blaugrana constantly buy the wrong players, at a premium.

Bayern Munich have laid the blueprint for a successful transfer policy; buy the best and proven talent in the domestic league, and add what is not available from abroad.

The Catalan outfit didnai??i??t even try to acquire the likes of Juan Mata and Sergio AgA?ero. Instead they were allowed to leave Spain and sign for Premier League sides. In their place Barcelona bought either players who werenai??i??t proven in La Liga (Alexis Sanchez), or had no resell value (David Villa). Mata and AgA?ero were 22 and 23 respectively when they swapped La Liga for the English Premier League.

Mata in particular is an interesting case. Not only was he already familiar with the majority of Barcelona players, due to the Spanish national team, he also had a release clause worth ai??i??20 ai??i?? 24 million prior to joining Chelsea. The same goes for Sergio AgA?ero, Lionel Messiai??i??s Argentina teammate, who had a ai??i??45 million buyout clause written into his contract.

The two players were proven La Liga performers, already acquainted with key players at Barcelona, and most importantly, resalable assets.

Barcelona spent a combined ai??i??66 million plus add-ons, on David Villa and Alexis Sanchez. According to the respected Transfermarkt website the pair is now valued a combined ai??i??43 million (Sanchez/ai??i??25 million; Villa/ai??i??18 million).

In stark contrast Juan Mataai??i??s current market evaluation stands at ai??i??42 million, while Sergio AgA?ero is valued at ai??i??45 million.

Chelsea and Manchester City just spent marginally more on the pairing (ai??i??71,7 million) than Barcelona did on Villa and Sanchez.

Unfortunately thatai??i??s not where Barcelonaai??i??s irrationality ends.

Itai??i??s obvious that FC Barcelona have a rather weak central defense. But instead of fixing this problematic area with the simple acquisition of a proper centre-back, it only served as a stimulus to conduct strange experiments involving defensive midfielders.

The last (natural) centre-back to sign for FC Barcelona was Dmytro Chygrynskiy. One of the most notorious (and expensive) flops in Blaugrana history. At Pep Guardiolaai??i??s behest Barcelona spent ai??i??25 million on a cup-tied player. Not only that, the big Ukrainian centre-back only lasted one season before being sold back to his original club at a ai??i??10 million loss.

While Barcelona have all but stopped the active recruitment of centre-backs in recent history, they actually paid more for (ultimately) failed reinforcements at central-defense than Bayern, Dortmund and Madrid combined (ai??i??93,5 million to ai??i??72 million).

Strangely enough, the cheapest of Barcelonaai??i??s centre-back acquisitions, Gerard Pique at ai??i??5 million, also holds the distinction of being the only starter. To further highlight Barcelonaai??i??s ineptitude at scouting and signing, Henrique has never played a single game for Barcelona and Martin Caceres also only lasted one campaign in Catalunya.

According to recent media reports the Blaugrana are in the market for a natural centre-back. Apparently Tito Vilanovaai??i??s ai??i??19 million 2-in-1 solution, Alex Song, didnai??i??t quite work out as intended, as evidenced by his almost exclusive appearances in meaningless ties. Among the names touted in the press are Brazilian international Thiago Silva and German international Mats Hummels.

Judging by Barcelonaai??i??s troubled and misguided transfer policy, it wouldnai??i??t come as surprise if the Blaugrana did indeed swoop for the Brazilians signature. Silva, 28, fits the Barcelona criteria. A superstar, likely to be very expensive (Paris Saint-Germain just signed him in 2012 for ai??i??42 million), with no resell value.

Conversely, Mats Hummels, 24, whoai??i??d likely command a ai??i??30 ai??i?? 35 million transfer fee, is probably the better option, but suffers from a lower profile in and around Barcelona. The German is a rarity among centre-backs, tall, comfortable on the ball, and an excellent passer. But the Catalan giants rather irrational transfer policy of prioritizing vanity signings (Neymar?) ahead of urgent acquisitions will probably leave the coffers empty. A world-class centre-back costs huge money, money the club doesnai??i??t have thanks to unnecessary signings like Alex Song when better options were available at the time.

Logic doesnai??i??t seem apply to the majority of Barcelonaai??i??s dealings in the transfer market. Last summer Barcelona couldai??i??ve triggered the option to buy back Alberto Botia, a proven La Liga centre-back, a La Masia graduate at that. At ai??i??5 million Botia wouldai??i??ve only cost a fraction of Songai??i??s ai??i??19 million transfer fee.

It wasnai??i??t meant to be.

The continued success Barcelona still enjoy in La Liga and the Champions League, despite an abysmal transfer policy – that has only produced 2 undisputed starters in the last 5 years (Dani Alves and Jordi Alba) – hardens the suspicion that the Blaugrana have a team of such quality anybody could manage it.

For example, Tito Vilanovaai??i??s record against Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid is underwhelming to say the least (1W-2D-3L). His record against quality European teams is equally appalling. Under his management Barcelona lost to Bayern Munich, Celtic and drew both quarter-finals against Paris Saint-Germain. The Bayern Munich tie in particular serves as a highlight of sorts. It took Tito Vilanova 82 minutes, 4 goals courtesy of a rampaging Bayern side to make his first (and only) substitution ai??i?? David Villa for Pedro.

To put things into perspective, Barcelona just made one attempt on Manuel Neuerai??i??s goal during the whole game.

Conversely, JA?rgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund defeated Jose Mourinhoai??i??s Real Madrid twice and drew once, to an aggregate score of 7-2. Furthermore, Kloppai??i??s Dortmund is still undefeated in the ongoing Champions League campaign, with a realistic chance at winning the tournament. More importantly, Klopp built this Dortmund side on a shoestring budget.

While most fans base their arguments on sentiment rather than facts, itai??i??s hard to make a case for Tito Vilanova when the evidence is not supporting it.

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