By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (May 4, 2012) US Soccer Players -- As seasons end across Europe this weekend and next, we've learned about more than just Barcelona's inability to win two more titles. The Premier League in particular have shown the relative importance of the Champions League in a country where the best club teams aren't even involved in the knockout stage of Europe's top competition.
Manchester City - Manchester United was billed as the biggest game of the season in the Premier League for a very clear reason. That title counts, arguably more than Chelsea's surprise run in the Champions League. Chelsea might be the team that knocked out Barcelona, but they're also the team that can't crack the top five back home. That counts, just as much as the Manchester duo crashing out of two separate European competitions this season. True success requires the league and the Champions League period. One or the other is a club at cross purposes.
Chelsea's opponent in the Champions League final have a similar problem. Though Bayern Munich have already finished second in the Bundesliga before the start of their final league game on Saturday and just like Chelsea still have a domestic cup to win, they're missing that Bundesliga trophy. Borussia Dortmund won the title with games left to play, a strong statement in a league that stresses its own version of parity to keep things close throughout the season.
Perhaps not the most flattering way to look at what's happening in Europe, but what we've got is a series of our mixed messages. Succeed at one level, fail at another. This isn't the best time for Europe's elite clubs. Regardless of how the Champions League final ends, all of the super clubs will spend the summer trying to figure out what they need to do to truly be dominant.
Displacing Barcelona isn't the point. It's replacing them. The European Championships don't help at all. Like the World Cup, this is a shop window to inflate values and cause clubs to measure significant risks vs rewards. Offering huge fees and salaries as we enter the era of Financial Fair Play changes the scope of freewheeling club management. It is becoming almost impossible to simply spend in pursuit of trophies.
For UEFA, the basic premise of Financial Fair Play is that things have to change and change quickly. Costs must be controlled, expectations weighed, and ultimately financial decisions taking precedence over sporting ones. Spending now to win now becomes a flawed premise. It also becomes a good way for a club to overreach financially, report a deficit outside the cushion Financial Fair Play provides, and end up banned from European competition.
Meanwhile, it's UEFA itself running the second biggest national team competition in world soccer, sitting on a reported reserve of over €500 million euros, and setting up the Champions League knockout stage as a significant revenue source for the clubs that qualify.
Try working out a budget where spending can be blessed by the money available by still being alive in the Champions League in 2013. Do you take that sizable risk the season after England's two top clubs failed to advance? Do you hope to be like Chelsea, pushing on in the Champions League while falling off the pace at domestic league level? Do you resist the lure of immediate returns from the Champions League in an attempt to stabilize your club in time for the 2014-15 deadline to have things in order? Is it even possible to continue with the short sighted view that winning now is the only thing that matters?
None of these are new questions in Europe, but the pressure is building. A look at the reports showing how many leagues and their clubs are in financial trouble is enough to show how short-term the thinking is in Europe. Without a reprieve from UEFA, that will come to a quick end. The way things are going, the names on UEFA's list of clubs ineligible for a European license will almost have to include familiar established clubs that see themselves as global brands. After all, it doesn't matter to a mid-table club unable to qualify through domestic cup competitions if they're financially ineligible for Europe. It's the clubs that expect to qualify and compete that have the most to worry about.
They should worry. This summer should be difficult, trying to tease out value and effectively measure the hype from Euro 2012. We already know the current economic climate in European soccer doesn't match UEFA's vision for the near future. What we're still waiting to see is how the clubs will respond in real and measureable terms rather than press statements.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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