Summer Transfer Speculation Shows Lack of Respect for FFP

Throughout the season, we’ve heard teams were going to be spending less with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play on the horizon. Straddled with the fear of being excluded from the continental competitions, clubs were supposed to be looking to expand their sides with the cheapest possible options or relying on their current players to improve in an effort to foster progression. However, one look at the moves being lined up for the summer will tell you (whether they are true or not) that most of the bigger clubs don’t believe FFP is an issue.

Soon-to-be Ligue 1 side Monaco has money to spend and they seem to be in pole position to land Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid in a spectacular transfer coup and yet, there are reports linking them with numerous other high value players such as Carlos Tevez and Bacary Sagna. I find it hard to believe that Monaco’s income will balance out their purchases if they do indeed get Falcao and, let’s say, Tevez. Those two players alone would come with a ridiculously high price tag.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco's high-spending ways.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco’s high-spending ways.

The Ligue 1 new boys are just the tip of the iceberg. Chelsea and Manchester City look to be back in for big summers with new managers coming to Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, respectively, despite the Premier League instituting it’s own financial regulations. Manchester United posted record profit, but getting Cristiano Ronaldo would put a gigantic dent into it.

And you can bet that the rumblings that financial fair play is actually illegal has something to do with the empty threat that it poses.

Just last week, news broke that Belgium-registered agent Daniel Striani filed an official challenge to the rules with the European Commission claiming that they restricted his income.

Striani will be represented by Belgian lawyer, Jean Louis-Dupont. If you don’t remember who he is, in 1995, he represented Jean Marc-Bosman and defeated UEFA and the commission when Bosman’s football contract denied him freedom of movement. Prior to this, clubs in some parts of Europe were able to prevent their players from transferring to other countries even if their contracts had expired.

UEFA believes they have an open-and-shut case because the European Club Association agreed to the rules. However, the ECA only has 207 members. All Striani needs is for other clubs to back him and the expected five-year legal fight may not go in UEFA’s favor.

Regardless of what happens in this case, it looks like clubs are willing to continue to spend wildly in order to improve their squads. It’s simple math. If a club wants to win trophies, they have to spend money. If they don’t win trophies, they won’t make money. If they don’t have the quality to win, they won’t win trophies anyway.

The solution? Throw caution to the wind, forget about FFP for a summer and break the bank to win as many trophies and as much money as possible before it catches up to you.

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Sure, We Believe You Sepp

Sunday’s Serie A night game at the San Siro between AC Milan and AS Roma was momentarily halted because of racist chants aimed at Mario Balotelli and Kevin-Prince Boateng from the Roma Ultras. Under Serie A protocol, an announcement was made over the public address system and the game continued under the threat of being abandoned if the chants continued.

Mario Balotelli tries to quiet racist chants from the Roma Ultras Sunday.

Mario Balotelli tries to quiet racist chants from the Roma Ultras Sunday.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was “appalled” that a game was suspended for racial abuse and Lega Calcio fined Roma €50,000 ($64,900). Again, a paltry amount for a club that’s paying its players much more than that everyday.

Blatter pledged to fight this problem what seems like years ago but the fines that have been handed down are little more than slaps on the wrists and a bit of a timeout in the corner before it happens with the same club a few months later. Lazio’s Ultras, Roma’s Stadio Olimpico co-tenant, was involved in numerous racial chants incidents in the span of two or three months but they weren’t fined much more than their Rome neighbors.

At the end of the day, you can only chalk this up to political rhetoric. Soothing the nerves of the masses who are too busy, too ignorant or too blind to the depth of the situation that they accept what is being said. Fortunately for the football community, I’d imagine that the vast majority of its inhabitants think racism severe enough to warrant players walking off the pitch and games being abandoned needs to be blotted from the game.

As of now, it seems like the fines are always too little. Fining top tier club and entire football associations, €50-100,000 isn’t going to do anything in the grand scheme of things. Forcing them to play a few games behind closed doors only goes so far.

We all remember the scrum between Serbia’s and England’s U-21 National Teams where Serbia’s fans ran on the field and fights broke out. That all began because of racist chants directed at England’s Danny Rose. UEFA ordered Serbia, a country which has a long history of racial abuse at their football matches, to play a game behind closed doors and fined them £65,000.

For comparison’s sake, Nicklas Bendtner was fined £80,000 for showing a sponsor’s logo on his boxers which wasn’t a partner of UEFA during Euro 2012.

One man fined more than an entire FA? For showing a logo on his underwear? Bendtner didn’t spark a near-riot by showing that logo. Danny Rose’s reaction, which we can argue whether he was right or wrong until we are blue in the face, to racial abuse did.

It’s time that the punishments are ramped up. Clubs and FAs need to be banned from competitions for repeated racial abuse. Sides need to be docked points immediately for repeated racial abuse.These paltry fines handed out to clubs that can easily pay them need to be doubled, tripled even quadrupled.

Here’s a good model for FIFA and all the governing bodies of the continents. Here in the United States, the NCAA oversees college and university athletics. In the ’80s, Southern Methodist University was sanctioned for paying their athletes (these players are considered amateurs and can’t be paid) multiple times in a few years’ time.

In 1986, their American football program received the so-called “Death Penalty” banning them from playing for a year. They didn’t play the next season either. They are only just recovering as a team and no program dares do enough to invoke the wrath of the NCAA almost 30 years later.

Don’t threaten it. Do it.

When is a Club Successful?

It’s a topic that has been run through the ringers too many times over the past few years as more nouveau rich clubs pop up on Europe’s football landscape. Of course some have last longer than others, the funding being pulled away just as quickly as it arrived but for the ones that remain — or even for the clubs that aren’t backed by petrol-dollars but lack the tradition of the more prestigious sides around the world — when is it okay for supporters to dub their team successful?

Swansea City is one of England's upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Swansea City is one of England’s upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Many point to silverware as the defining factor of success, arguing that a club is only as successful as its trophy case is vast. We’re talking the Barcelonas, Real Madrids, Juventus(es?) and Manchester Uniteds of the footballing world. The clubs that expect to finish every campaign with at least one cup being added to the cabinet. However, I’m willing to argue that this is a far too simple way of looking at this.

In my opinion, as long as a club is making forward progress, they can be deemed successful. It doesn’t matter how it is achieved, if a club goes from wallowing in relegation battles of lower leagues to fighting for European spots in the country’s top flight, they should get the respect they are due.

Let’s take Swansea City for example. They aren’t that far removed from being a mid-to-bottom of the table side in League 2 or the old Third Division. A few well thought out managerial hires here and a couple cheap player buys there and they are going to be playing European football next season after winning the League Cup.

The Swans’ trophy case isn’t filled to the top but are we really not going to call them successful for such a reason? Most teams get relegated in their second season in the Premier League. With continued improvement, Swansea may be pushing Everton for Europa League spots every season.

For a look at a club with much higher ambitions, Manchester City is moving in the right direction. You can argue that finishing 2nd this season is a step backwards, but it isn’t often that teams other than United repeat in the Premier League. Regardless of the point gap or whatever qualifier you want to attach to it, the league was a two-horse battle from the onset and a few sub-par performances saw City fall behind their crosstown rivals.

And for Borussia Dortmund, coming out of a period when they were struggling to stay in the Bundesliga after their Golden Era of the 1990s, one could argue that they are possibly as successful as any club in Europe right now. They may not have the trophies of Bayern Munich, but their battle from the bottom of the table to the final of the Champions League is sign enough.

Should Clubs Sell Players to Rivals?

We’ve seen it before, a club being forced into a sale by a player and that player being sold to a direct rival of said club. Arsenal sold Robin van Persie to Manchester United. Obviously, this is only one example of this happening but I chose him because  van Persie played direct roles in Manchester United winning the Premier League. I’m sure a quick search could yield more results of players going from one side of a heated rivalry to the other.

After this season, Mario Götze will join the list of players who moved between rival clubs and it begs the question of should clubs sell their players to clubs who are rivals, either historically or in the grand scheme of winning a championship in their league.

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City after a loan deal, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Hypothetically, we would like to say that clubs shouldn’t do this and I tend to agree. Nothing would anger me more than United somehow prying Vincent Kompany away from the Etihad, but not because United had gotten better but because City sold him to the other side of the city.

Transfers are meant to strengthen clubs and we know that sometimes, clubs’ hands are forced when it comes to want-away players. Would Arsenal have benefited more from sending van Persie to Italy, Spain or Germany? I’ve seen a modified table taking out every club’s top scorer and United would have theoretically still won the Prem, but that’s only when using the season’s actual stats.

Tottenham is doing it the right way. Any time Gareth Bale is linked with a Premier League team, he is also linked with an astronomical transfer fee. They would rather send him to Spain and never play against him than send him to United, City, Arsenal or Chelsea and have to face him multiple times a season.

I also think the big two in Spain are good about not doing this. How many times have you seen a player leave Real Madrid for Barcelona or vice versa. There aren’t many stars who have made that particular move in either direction, I can assure you.

At the end of the day, money is the name of the game. No club is going to turn down a big paycheck, no matter where its coming from. City’s money is good at Old Trafford, Arsenal’s money is good at White Hart Lane and Everton’s money is good at Anfield.

But at some point, on some purely competition level, some executive has to step up and say “No, our clubs are rivals and I refuse to sell him to you regardless of how much money you are willing to pay.”

Edit: It seems in my haste and fog of early morning, I accidentally said Tevez was sold to Manchester City. I apologize for the mistake.

It’s Time for a Rossoneri Revolution

AC Milan is one of the most storied and successful clubs in European football. Over the years, they’ve won 49 trophies and been involved in some of the greatest games in football history. However, last summer, we saw their best players pried away from them by free-wheeling, big-spending Paris Saint-Germain. Without Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahmovic, the Rossoneri have gone from Serie A runner-ups to a team that’s battling to stay in the race for the Italian top flight’s Champions League spots.

It’s time for AC Milan to re-invent itself. The arrival of Mario Balotelli has sparked some much needed life into the red half of the San Siro, but they are far from regaining their former glory and the changes need to start on the touchline.Massimiliano Allegri’s time as gaffer has runs its course and a replacement is needed. Rumors in the media are linking former AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf, who currently plays in Brazil with Botafogo, with the job.

Stephan-El-Shaarawy-02

Stephan El-Shaarawy is one of AC Milan’s most prolific players at only 20 years old and it’s vital they keep him at the San Siro.

Secondly, they need to circle the wagons around their players and keep clubs from coming in during the summer to pry them away. Players like Stephan El-Shaarawy, the team’s leading scorer with 16 goals this season, will be highly sought after and clubs like PSG will be right back at the front of the line looking to get the young Italian star to the Parc des Princes or City will be in to bring him to the Etihad.

Silvio Berlusconi needs to work double time to expand on the core of players already at the disposable of whoever is managing the club next season. In a league ruled by an aging Juventus side, this is the time for Milan to re-stake their claim. Rival Internazionale is having a bit of a downturn and not many clubs in Italy can compete with the financial firepower of the Rossoneri.

Getting back to the matter of transfers, Milan needs to bring in the type of players who are ready to win immediately. Time is not on their side as Juventus, Inter, and the other clubs of Serie A begin to build and re-build their squads. It might cost them a pretty penny, but I’m sure they still have some lying around from the two sales to PSG.

You have to strike while the iron is hot and it’s starting to heat up. Milan better get their hammer ready.

Who’s to Blame for Soaring Transfer Fees

It’s easy to look at big money clubs and say “You’re the reason that players are getting bought for £50 million and getting paid £200k-a-week when they aren’t worth either.” Football purists will say if it weren’t for oil rich clubs being able to pay clubs those prices for players and giving them ridiculous wages, no one would be asking for it. I’m here to tell you that if you really think this way then you are wrong, my friend.

Sure, we can blame people like Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour and the Qatar Investment Authority until we are blue in the face. They throw their money at any and everything they want. It’s true and I’ll admit that.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has shown he has no problems throwing his money around.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has shown he has no problems throwing his money around.

However, it’s the clubs selling the players and the agents of those players who are creating “arms” races between the big money wielding powers that be in the football world.

Just take a look at some of the bigger transfer targets of this upcoming summer and the valuation put on them by their current clubs. Napoli demanded that bids for striker Edison Cavani must start at £60 million. Stoke City slapped a £15 million price tag on goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. Manchester United made an inquiry for Gareth Bale and Tottenham told them £70 million or keep it moving. Teams are reportedly plotting bids in excess of £80 million for Brazilian star Neymar.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Anytime a player is linked with Manchester United, Manchester City, PSG, Real Madrid, Barcelona or any of the football finance giants, the club they would be leaving immediately wants excessive amounts of cash for that player.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe Asmir Begovic is a quality keeper who should be worth a pretty penny but £15 million is a little over the top. Maybe it was a ploy by Stoke to keep buyers at bay, but these days most big clubs will pay that for a player they want.

Manchester City isn’t pricing clubs out of moves for players. The clubs the players are at are pricing clubs out of moves for players. How many Premier League teams can afford Gareth Bale at £70 million? Three. City, United, and Chelsea — and United may be a stretch. And it’s not only limited to big time players, go back and take a look at how much City and Chelsea payed for players who haven’t seen the pitch in months.

As football fans, we need to take a step back and realize it’s not the oil-rich clubs that  created situations like Pompey, Blackburn and Leeds. Selling clubs see these teams getting cash injections and dollar signs flash in their eyes.

So in the summer when Napoli sell Cavani, when Bale leaves White Hart Lane and when Neymar finally makes his move to Europe, don’t blame the clubs that splash the cash for them, blame the club that sold them for that amount.

Defining American Football Glory

Yesterday, Norwich City completed an impressive comeback due in part to goals from loanee Kei Kamara and the ageless Grant Holt. The Canaries picked up Kamara in the January transfer window from Major League Soccer side Sporting KC with an option to bring him on permanently at the end of the season.

However, that’s not what I’m going to discuss. If you were to look at ESPN FC’s front page following yesterday’s round of football you would have seen the headline: Sporting KC’s Kei Kamara powers Norwich City to comeback win over Everton or something to that effect.

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AZ Alkmaar forward Jozy Altidore has burst onto the scene in the Eredivisie but hasn’t enjoyed the same success with the US National Team.

As a disclaimer, I must say that I love when American players go overseas and do well. (Kamara is from Sierra Leone but his family immigrated to the United States when he was 16.) Though not often spoken of, I enjoy knowing that Jozy Altidore is one of the top scorers in the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar. I like that Jermaine Jones is a key cog for Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. I can’t wait for Brek Shea to get his chance with Stoke City.

All that said, a win for American players overseas should not be celebrated like a World Cup win for the country nor a victory for Major League Soccer.

Rarely in the United States do we see Tottenham’s scores scroll across the screen on ESPN, but when Clint Dempsey plays they talk about it whether he scored or not. Kamara was referred to as Sporting KC’s player instead of Norwich City’s. The fact that the aforementioned Shea was left out of FC Dallas’ side on more than a few occasions for bust ups with manager Schellas Hyndman was forgotten when he became another American making his way across the pond.

We as Americans need to realize we are behind the curb in the footballing world. That fact is made painfully obvious when we celebrate Dempsey being subbed on in the 75th minute in some League Cup tie.

Major League Soccer is the current retirement home for European footballers. Nigel Reo-Coker, 28, is one of the youngest European players to sign on with an MLS side in some time. While Americans are busying watching Dempsey and Landon Donovan’s every move, Europeans are busying laughing at the MLS for signing players who should have hung it up three years ago. Yes I’m talking about you, Montreal Impact. Signing every over-the-hill Italian player won’t make you good.

Meanwhile, our national team flounders under bad manager after bad manager. Jurgen Klinsmann was the sexy pick, but the sexy pick hasn’t come with concrete results. How do you not call up a player who has scored 18 goals in 17 games? Altidore is the best American striker, Klinsmann. Put him on the pitch.

At some point, we need to separate the MLS from American players overseas. They may have gotten their start in the American league but their talent is not eternally tethered to it. Clint Dempsey is Clint Dempsey because of Fulham not the New England Revolution and Donovan wouldn’t be half the player he is without Bayer Leverkeusen, Bayern Munich, and Everton.