FFP To Help Reiginite Fan-Club Relationship
The first legs of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals take place this week with sharp focus concentrated on the fact that three of the top four current wealthiest clubs in the world take up three of the four berths: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Barcelona, with Juventus back in ninth.
The hullabaloo created by that reached quite a crescendo a couple of weeks back when the semi-final line-up was finalised. The age of the ‘super club’ and its dominance of the European game has never been more apparent than it is right now.
The pot has been stirred further in the last few years with UEFA’s controversial Financial Fair Play rules seemingly acerbating an already entrenched scenario whereby clubs are now restricted from spending beyond their means with hefty sanctions imposed on anyone that fails to comply. In essence, the rich get richer and the poor continue licking the chip paper.
In reality, though, it shouldn’t make a whole heap of difference. The bigger clubs will continue to dominate the European stage with or without FFP rules. Not since 2004 has a club outside the top ten richest outfits won the Champions League or reached the final when Porto and Monaco squared off in the unlikeliest of showpieces.
The more interesting angle FFP presents is the idea that it will increasingly force the lesser lights – particularly in the Premier League – to spend more time developing and promoting their academy products – something that has fallen by the wayside in recent years – even if they have a little TV money pot of gold to lavish on foreign signings.
Chelsea and Manchester City are arguably the two major powerhouses of the Premier League at the minute. The Blues have already been crowned Champions over the weekend with City likely to follow as runners-up. The pair also contested this season’s Youth Cup Final just last week but, with so much at stake in these modern times, neither are likely to take a chance and jettison their talented youngsters into the first team any time soon.
The same can be said for Manchester United: with Champions League football paramount, Louis Van Gaal just cannot afford the luxury of blooding kids. The days of the big clubs playing their broods are relatively over.
FFP, though, has now forced the middle and lower tier sides to focus their gaze more on their academies – Southampton being the great example. Over the last few years the Saints have produced gem after gem with a significant portion of their current squads made up of talented prospects formed and polished at Staplewood.
The likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Adam Lallana have come and gone in recent years but more continue to flow off the conveyor belt. James Ward-Prowse, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher to name just three all have big futures in the game.
At Aston Villa, 19-year-old Jack Grealish continues to wow with stellar performances under new coach, Tim Sherwood. Had owner Randy Lerner continued to splurge like he had in his earlier days, there may not have been room now for the precocious talents of an academy product like Grealish.
FFP has forced the Villans’ supremo – and many others – to rein in spending with the new emphasis on the encouragement of a more organic kind of growth – a throwback to the old days, the boot room days.
The increasing commercialisation of football has left a lot of supporters cold. Of course the love is still there – it’s nigh on unconditional – but, despite the vast wealth acquired by clubs, the feeling is there’s not a lot being given back to the fan. The outrageously expensive imports, the eye-watering ticket prices – somewhere along the line, the true values of football have become lost.
The one thing that connects us with our football teams more than anything else is seeing our youngsters – baked and caked in the very fibre of our clubs – thrive in the first teams on the main stage. It is one of the biggest joys a football fan can experience.
Leave the super clubs to their superstars and let the rest of us get back to our roots to rekindle the great love affairs with our teams.