Time to Rob Roman
For football, read money. More than ever the game is being ruined by the dominance of the dollar and it’s time for drastic measures to level the playing field and bring a little unpredictability back to the world's favourite sport.
“Who honestly believes that over the course of 38 matches Chelsea won’t come out comfortably on top this season?”
Thanks to broadcasting revenue and prize money from the Champions League, record-breaking sponsorship deals and foreign billionaires like Roman Abramovich, rich teams are dominating European football more than ever. True competition is in danger of disappearing without a trace.
Last season, Chelsea, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Lyon all won their leagues at a canter for the second season in a row. Apart from Barca, whose considerable outlays on players like Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o have been exceeded only by Real Madrid's self-destructive galacticos policy, these are the richest teams in their leagues.
The predictability of domestic title-winners is breeding apathy among fans of the beautiful game. Who honestly believes that over the course of 38 matches Chelsea won’t come out comfortably on top this season? And the season after that… Any league in which a team can sell off a player like Damien Duff at a loss of 12 million pounds without batting an eyelid is not in a healthy state.
A scour of recent newspaper articles on the subject reveals several suggestions of how to make the league more competitive and interesting. Colin Gordon, Steve McClaren’s agent, recently wrote in the Guardian that teams should pool their incomes in the manner of American football. Other possibilities include capping salaries or bringing in a U.S.- style draft pick in which the poorer teams get first choice in the transfer market.
The first three suggestions would be met with bitter resistance by the big clubs because they would hit them and their players where it hurts most -- in the pocket. As for the draft pick – could you really imagine Andrei Shevchenko joining Iain Dowie at Charlton?
“the tactic of making teams start the season with a points deficit has a deeper resonance – it could hold the key to saving European football from boredom and predictability.”
The answer to this quandary may well lie in the sanctions imposed on teams after Italy's match-fixing scandal. One of the most interesting aspects of this European football season will be watching soccer superpowers AC Milan and Juventus battling to recover from points handicaps as they attempt win their respective divisions.
The penalties imposed on these footballing aristocrats for match-fixing (reduced on appeal to relegation and 17 points for Juve and 8 points for Milan) were widely welcomed as comeuppance for the dirty, corrupt moneymen whose underhand influences have shattered the credibility of Italian football. In fact, the tactic of making teams start the season with a points deficit has a deeper resonance – it could hold the key to saving European football from boredom and predictability.
Here's how a system could work. Allow every team to spend £10 million on transfer fees in the off-season. For every £5 million you spend on top of that you lose a point. By that rationale, if Chelsea spent £50 million, they would start the season eight points down. If Newcastle spent £20 million they would kick off on minus 2, and so on. At a stroke, you have a more competitive league and a transfer market in which other teams can begin to compete with teams like Chelsea, who will be wary of paying over-the-odds for players.
The system would give the smaller teams a head start, without affecting the bigger clubs financially. Watching the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United picking off the minnows as they clambered towards the top would be captivating viewing. Paradoxically, a bad start to the season added to a points handicap could see one of the traditional powerhouses fall out of contention, giving one of the Premiership's small fish a chance to swim into unchartered waters.
Fairytales like Nottingham Forest winning the league are inconceivable in the current climate. Fundamental changes are needed to save European football from becoming a closed shop. The fallout from Italy's murky match-fixing tribunal may just have provided the answer.