By J Hutcherson (Mar 16, 2017) US Soccer Players - It's almost too easy with an underachieving super club. Laugh along as they spend too much not to win. There are plenty of handy metrics to show just how badly a club like Manchester City is underachieving in the Champions League. It's an opportunity for the right person to step in and turn a team willing to spend into champions. Well, at least in theory.
In practice, there are a lot of questions and criticisms directed at Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. The architect of the last tactical revival in world soccer is now struggling to figure out another squad of superstars. Why it isn't working at Manchester City is now overshadowing what came before.
Against Monaco in the Champions League round of 16 second-leg, City looked like a team out of sync. Monaco took full advantage, calling the basics into question.
“We played exceptional in the second half, but the first one we forgot to be there,” Guardiola said. "We are a team that wanted to defend aggressively without the ball. In the second half, it was much better but it wasn’t enough. Normally we play until half-time at a good level but tonight, we didn’t do that. It’s happened, the opponent was there and we will learn from this."
It's easy enough to pick apart post-game quotes from losing managers. They have to say something, whether or not it matches with what just happened over 90 minutes. There's the tendency to lean on what went right, no matter how briefly. The problem is that Monaco looked up for what Manchester City did in both halves. There wasn't enough moments where it was City clearly the better team.
For any super club, that's the big picture statement they have to make game after game. Guardiola's old club Barcelona has been a question mark for most of the season. They're good, certainly. They're just not Barcelona good. Piling on the compliments after their Champions League comeback against PSG has to downplay what happened in the first-leg. Barcelona was in a ridiculous situation by their standards. They recovered dramatically, and then promptly lost to Deportivo in La Liga.
Super clubs can slide just like any other, creating their own problems. The difference is that they're doing it on inflated budgets. It's what makes them super, that willingness to spend. What the super coaches in charge of those super clubs are experiencing is excess. There are too many clubs right now spending too much money with all of them needing to justify that outlay by winning.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho used the word "envy" to describe the criticisms of his marquee player Paul Pogba. It's an interesting word choice, one Mourinho used to critique all of society for some reason. He may not be wrong, but he's also not helping his case about a highly paid soccer player that swapped one super club for another. All involved at that level recognize the stakes.
That's the problem for all of them. Guardiola moved quickly to talking about what's left this season. There's the Premier League and the FA Cup. Then next season, let's try it all over again in the Champions League. It's certainly a pragmatic response, but it also downplays this season and its missed opportunities.
What the super rich pay for with these clubs is increasing the likelihood that they'll win. Te more of them doing it, the more that's required. At some point, there's a pragmatic response to that as well. If an owner continues to pour money into a club beyond what even a global soccer brand can generate on its own, when does wait until next season become a problem?
For better or worse, it might be that question that pushes against a true breakaway European super league. If everybody in the league has to spend to stay competitive, where's the ceiling? When does the money give way to the skill of the coach and the players? Without the safeguards associated with North American pro sports, it doesn't. It's hard to picture a league of clubs financed by multinationals, oligarchs, and billionaires happy with seeing their teams propping up the table.
It might not take a Super League for that to become a problem. There's a feeling with teams like Manchester City who tick all the super club boxes and still can't win. It's "what now?". For the super clubs, the quick and easy answer is to keep spending.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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