Tomorrow night, I will be supporting Juventus.
Barcelona bought up Neymar and the ‘muncher’ in just one summer to add them to the best footballer I have ever seen play, and that includes Johan Cruijff. A club that was built around total football and boosted a phenomenally successful youth academy and strategy, is now just buying super starts left, right and centre. Why? Because it can. I understand that money is part of football and that will never change. But fairness and adventure are key components for the long-term survival of the game and both are badly missing, both in England and in Europe. No club should be allowed to field three of the world best in their attack if they are not all home grown imho. It is vulgar.
We have the old rich and the new rich and the former have become even more powerful with the introduction of Financial Fair Play (FFP). Bayern is so powerful in Germany that it can just brutally stretch its financial muscle to lure away the very best from its direct competitor. They killed the competition by taking Lewandowski and Gotze away from Dortmund, weakening their opponent and strengthening their own team in one go. What Klopp has done with Dortmund is phenomenal and should have formed the basis for long-term success, but as we know, he has left and that club’s future is uncertain now. It remains to be seen whether anyone can compete with Bayern for years to come.
Luckily, some clubs still defy the financial powerhouses and we all should rejoice in Atletico Madrid’s battle for another La Liga title last season. Simeone is the Spain equivalent of Jurgen Klopp and we have to hope he will stay put and fight the financial, power-corrupt beasts of Real and Barcelona for years to come.
In The Netherlands it is Ajax and PSV who will dominate the Eredivisie for years to come. Holland, like Germany, had an exciting period of multiple competition winners in the second part of the last decade, but the traditionally dominant teams have established themselves firmly at the top again. They do it by buying up the best players of their closest competitors: it deprives the latter of the talent to fight for the title and finances the former by reselling the best the Eredivisie has to offer. Strootman and now Memphis Depay last just a couple of season before they are sold on for many millions, and some of that money is used again to buy the next crop of talents…. It sucks.
Juventus – La Vecchia Signora – is of course a proper, established powerhouse, but Italian football has lost a lot of its dominance in Europe in the last decade. They don’t get the crowds and more and more top players prefer Spain, and often England or Germany, to Italy for the best years in their careers. However, Juventus has many supporters in Italy and the rest of the world and they have reinvented themselves after the dark years on 2006 and 2007, when they were relegated for alleged involvement in a football scandal and stripped of their 2005 and 2006 titles (won under Capello). They moved into 40,000+ stadium in 2011 and have dominated the national game ever since, with four titles in a row and doing the domestic double this year.
Juve have a very decent squad, and Pirlo is one of my favourite non-Arsenal players: despite his age he is still a joy to watch. Then there is the mega-talented Pogba, the energetic Lichtsteiner, the shrewd Patrick Evra and Carlos Tevez (who both know the secret of a long life…. is knowing when it is time to go), ancient Roman God Buffon and, hopefully soon to be Gunner, Arturo Vidal. They have bought well and have been able to keep hold of their players in recent years and, as far as I can judge, are managed properly now. Barcelona are of course the favourites, but would it not be good for football if the Old Lady takes the cup with the big ears home tomorrow? It would offer hope for Arsenal that the European powerhouses of Bayern, Barca and Real can still be beaten to the biggest club price in Europe.