By J Hutcherson (Dec 20, 2016) US Soccer Players – There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the only goal of a game coming from a stoppage time rebound. Even in a derby, the pressure and near misses might have created the kind of tension that replaces scoring. Everton vs Liverpool certainly had some of that, but nowhere near enough. Spread out across a hundred minutes counting that lengthy stoppage time, and it was a tough game to watch.
String together enough of those, and it becomes a tough league to watch. Spread it across multiple leagues, and it’s a tough sport to watch. Nobody is arguing that right now. This isn’t the early-2000s when European club soccer seemed set on reversing the boom centered on Manchester United’s Champions League win. The high/low point was the Champions League final in Manchester four seasons later. Milan beat Juventus on penalties 3-2 after 120 minutes of scoreless and forgettable soccer.
Things changed, eventually. There’s no one game to point to following that 2003-04 final. Lionel Messi’s rise and Christiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid certainly pushed the game back towards entertainment over results. It’s certainly a point that Serie A itself now freely admits a lack of entertainment as the reason for its fall off. The home fans don’t want to pay for predictable and uninspired soccer, especially in a league now dominated by one club.
It’s tough to draw a comparison with English soccer. The Premier League is coming off the season that proved it’s not just about the top clubs. Leicester City’s title certainly counts then and now, pushing teams to reconsider what they thought they knew. Parity becomes a selling point, making this league different than what’s happening in the other major European soccer leagues. As Premier League management reminds us, that increases interest across the board. It makes the property of the Premier League more valuable, and with it puts more money into the clubs.
We’ve already seen what that means in the transfer market. Mid-tier Premier League clubs now have the money to compete. Amid complaints that there’s even a Premier League price from selling clubs in Europe, they keep spending. Transfer records seem to fall club-by-Premier League club whenever the window opens. What they’re buying is as much prestige as it is tactical answers.
For any league trying to absorb so much newly gained wealth, the issues are going to arise. What’s mid-tier in the Premier League right now? What are the expectations for the league’s super clubs? What’s success when even marginal teams have so much to work with? What’s the economy of scale when that scale changes each time the league announces a new TV deal somewhere around the world?
What we’re seeing on the field right now is only a partial answer. There’s the old risk vs reward in the Premier League, raised to a new level by the unpredictability of the competition. Mid-table teams now have more talent. That should push the clubs with the most to spend more, but there’s a talent ceiling. There’s a limit to the best players and significant competition to sign them. That explains the almost outlandish links between a top Premier League club and a player like Lionel Messi.
The super coaches also follow the money. They need to work for a club capable of spending on those top tier players. So Pep Guardiola takes his talents to Manchester City. His local rival is Jose Mourinho. Jurgen Klopp takes charge of Liverpool.
“We didn’t have a lot actually,” Klopp said following the win over Everton. “We had our moments and in the second half we had more, [we’re] much better and could have scored earlier. Then Daniel came, hit the post and Sadio finished the situation, so it was great, intense, how a derby should be, not the best football in the world, but you cannot ignore the intensity, you cannot ignore the importance of a game like this, you have to take it like it is. In the second half we took it like it should be.”
That’s the Premier League problem right now. They’re benefiting from worldwide interest in a version of their game. They have to deliver that while the economics quickly adjust upward. That’s the kind of thing that sounds great at a sports business conference, but in real terms creates its own problems. The Premier League might already be showing us what it’s like to have too much in professional soccer.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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