Go with a smile!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ascendency of the English Premier League

Tottenham, the Chelsea and the Arsenal games, we have 4 English teams in Europeans finals. Contrary to what a few of my friends might say, English teams are on the up. English football is marketed well. Over the years, some of the best coaches have been snapped up by English clubs: Guardiola, Pochettino, Klopp, Mourinho (now fired), Conte (now fired), Unai Emery, Sarri. Even for the smaller clubs, Nuno Espírito Santo from Porto is managing Wolves, Rafael Benitez is managing Newcastle, Marco Silva is managing Everton and Manuel Pellegrini, formerly of Real Madrid and Man City, is managing West Ham.

Outside of the Premier League, I can't see a lot of star managers. There is Thomas Tuchel of PSG, but he's having trouble managing that bunch of spoilt brats. I don't know whether Barcelona managers are great managers, or they're just following the template that Guardiola left behind, or they're coasting on their talent. There's Zidane who won plenty of Champions Leagues but fewer league titles. Bayern is rebuilding, but if they're rebuilding, Carlo Ancelotti is a very strange choice (indeed – he was fired soon.) And of course there's Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid. But most of the superstar managers work in the Premier League.

And let's not forget that a lot of managers make their reputations in the lower leagues by guiding their championship clubs to promotion, and then making them do well in the premier league. Examples are Brendan Rodgers and Sean Dyche, who managed to guide Burnley to Europe.

English clubs attract the best coaches. They may not attract the elite players, but the scouting network of those clubs looks for something even better: youth players with the potential to excel at their club and fit into the system. Man City routinely pay other clubs 50 million pounds for very good players, but they aren't stars or marquee players. They are people with a lot of potential. Back in the day, Real Madrid buying Zidane would be 50 million pounds. These days, 50 million pounds gets you somebody good enough to be a regular for a good international team.

Another thing that the English Premier League has going for it is its ability to sell to the USA. Now, you have the biggest stars of the premier league playing out their last days in Major League Soccer. Stars like David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard arrive as marquee players and either help to lend star quality to the team or help to improve the league, the same way that the foreign players in the 90s paved the way for English Premier League to be a cosmopolitan, rather than an English league.

It's probably for the money reasons, the way that TV money and merchandising has overridden all other concerns, including stadium money, that the English league has surpassed the other teams.

The German, French, Italian and Spanish leagues are dominated by one or two superclubs, and even those superclubs may be on the wane. Real Madrid and Barcelona have emerged as the greatest Spanish teams since 2005, after a brief period when Deportivo, Valencia and Real Sociedad briefly threatened the duopoly. Now, atletico Madrid and Sevilla might make good runner ups, but it will be a long time before we have somebody other than those two winning the title.

Many of the leagues have one or two elite clubs, that are bankrolled by rich ownership who recognise that soccer can give them a sort of media exposure that you can't get elsewhere. Teams like Paris Saint Germain and Monaco. Manchester City, Chelsea.

Juventus is so far ahead of the competition that it isn't even funny. AC Milan used to be a rich club that was bankrolled by Berlusconi, but since the divestment, they haven't been much of an elite club.

Bayern Munich, after dominating the Bundesliga for several years, is on the wane after several of their stars are reaching retirement. There have been seasons when the strong clubs are in a rebuilding process, and there was one Bundesliga season when Hertha Berlin, Schalke 04, Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg and Stuttgart were all in the title race, but in the past decade, other than Dortmund winning a couple of titles, it has been Bayern Munich all the way. Usually, it's always one or two clubs dominating a league if they're not in a rebuilding stage.

One of the significant factors in the relative strengths of leagues is how well they've captured overseas markets. EPL has the advantage of English being a global language, and it's easy to capture USA, Southeast asia and Africa.

Soccer may be a fad in the US and China: a lot of time and effort has been spent in trying to turn those countries into great football nations. I don't know if they'll be successful. I don't believe in great football nations. I think that rather than that we have great football generations. But I don't know when USA and China will produce their golden generations.

I like to tell people that one of the great regions in the world for football is Southeast Asia, in terms of fandom, not football ability. We've been football mad since the 60s. Football caught up in the Middle East probably around the same time. Then it spread to Africa in the 80s, to Japan, China, Australia and the US in the 90s. Southeast Asia has always been the most reliable foreign market for football, because it's ingrained in us.

The worldwide conquest for football has vast implications for the powers of clubs. Perhaps Barcelona and Real Madrid have captured the China market. The premier league clubs are ascendent in Southeast Asia, and maybe Africa.


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