European Football: Newfound Parity in the Transfer Market Is Good for the Game
As football continues to excel at being the world's most popular sport, more and more big time investors are looking to get their slice of the pie.
Billionaires such as Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour, Paul Allen and Lakshmi Mittal have all, in the past decade, bought and invested heavily into their new clubs, albeit with mixed results.
Other consortiums like Qatar Investment Authority, who recently became major shareholders of Paris St. Germain, have given the team they invest in the chance to lure in big time stars and become a top contender for domestic football's top prizes.
These investors are now challenging the financial status quo which has existed in football for many years.
For the past 20 years or so, the world's brightest footballing stars chose to move to the teams that could offer them a) the most money and b) the chance to win trophies.
By and large, the only way a team would be in contention for said trophies would be if they had large sums of money to build a football team around.
This led to an unfair advantage in domestic football, with Spain's La Liga being the perfect example.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have nearly always had the greatest financial backing to spend on players, facilities etc. This meant that the two teams could field the most competitive sides.
With La Liga seldom having teams that could challenge these top two, Barca and Real would often receive even more money every year from wining the domestic titles and from marketing, television rights and so on.
Every league in Europe has teams richer than the rest. These are usually the teams who go on to win because they have the financial clout to outspend their competitors and bring in the top talent who help them win.
The La Liga example shows it's a vicious cycle. The best teams are typically the richest. The best teams then receive generous windfalls from their victories. This money is then used to improve the side so they are even better than the poorer teams out there.
UEFA is slowly trying to stop this sort of rich supremacy with the creation of Financial Fair Play rules, but that's not what this article is about.
Instead, is the sudden riches of teams thanks to new investors actually good for European football?
No matter what UEFA does, money will always play a part in the competitiveness of a team.
As my father likes to say: "Give everyone £1 and by the end of the day, someone will have £2 and someone will have nothing."
Some teams will always be able to lure in top stars with money and the prestige of playing for a club like Barcelona.
But these new investors are actually making football more competitive on the whole.
Ironically, since Roman Abramovich effectively bought Chelsea in 2003, Britain's Premier League only ever had four real contenders for the title: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Can UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules make a difference?
The actual competitiveness of each side can be debated, but nobody ever really came close to catching up to those four (except Everton, in one year, and due mainly to Wayne Rooney.)
However, since Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City in 2008, his investment into the club has meant Manchester City became the first team not in that "big four" group to win the League in 17 years.
That, along with Daniel Levy's investment in Tottenham Hotspur, has meant that there are now six clubs in the EPL with a reasonable chance of contending for the trophy every year.
The EPL has become much more competitive (see; how City won the league in 2011-12 on the final day of the season) now that there are more teams who are able to vie for the league title and the Champions League spots.
It's now applicable in Europe as well.
For a long time, the consensus was that the "top tier" of European football was made up of the EPL, La Liga, Serie A and to a lesser extent, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1.
This meant lots of talented players from leagues like the Eredivisie (the top-tier of Dutch football) left their clubs to pursue playing in Spain, England and Italy.
As in domestic football, this has led to teams from those three leagues becoming the most competitive in European competitions, especially the Champions League.
It's been 8 years since a team not from those three leagues has won the Champions League.
But with the heavy investments into teams such as Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia, continental competitions (as well as domestic ones) are set to become even more competitive.
Zenit, for example, recently signed Hulk from FC Porto for a £32 million.
Hulk was reportedly a target for teams such as Chelsea, but because of the funds available, Zenit were able to lure him to Russia to play for them.
Whether or not the move works out for both player and party is irrelevant. The fact is, teams from nations outside this dominant trio are now beginning to have the funds available to be able to bring in players who will help them progress further in European competition.
As football continues to grow, more and more of the World's richest will seek to invest into domestic football.
PSG have recently been able to sign superstars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan because of the money they now have. Bringing in players of this calibre means that they will be able to excel even further into the Champions League this year.
Hopefully, soon we will see teams from France, Germany, Russia and the Netherlands being able to compete (and not lose their star players) on the European stage.
This only makes the game of football more entertaining on all levels. The more competitive football is, be it a new contender for a domestic championship or a consistent challenger for a Continental tournament from an non-traditional league (say Russia for instance), the better it is.
More parity in who has money to invest and spend on football and the transfer market is good for the game.
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