By Steve Alabi
Everyone in the beautiful game is cottoning on to the fact that money buys success in club football. No where is this more evident than in the English Premiership. The eternal assertion that you do not play the game on a shoestring budget holds very true in the Premiership as well as in the La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1. The size of your pocket invariably affects the size of your ambition. The deeper your pocket, the loftier your ambition. In fact, it is possible to purchase your ambitions if you have the money. It may take some time but in the end, money will bring the successes desired.
In the modern times, a club’s competitiveness is dependent on the amount of money available to it to spend in the transfer market. It is no longer a measure of its investment in talent academy. The clubs that are getting the results are the ones bringing in prized troops. Check out the list: Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, Juventus and Liverpool. The clubs relying on growth from the nursery like Arsenal and Ajax get the occasional results but will continue to struggle.
But a problem capable of pulling the rug off the feet of deep pockets is rearing its head: the clubs themselves are pricing the market out of reach. Sooner, rather than later, prices will shoot through the roof, and market forces will energise a reassessment of talent valuation. The problem of overvaluation started with the unrealistic price Real Madrid purchased Gareth Bale from Tottenham seven years ago. At €101 million, the price was an outrageous valuation of a forward player whose best in the season before purchase was 21 goals. Twenty one goals haul in a single season deserves applause but is clearly overvalued for €101 million. Seven years after, Bale is surplus to requirement, earning huge wages while virtually doing nothing. The club is not happy. He wants out but the club is unwilling to let go at a cheap rate. He is stuck and unhappy.
A more astounding transfer than that of Bale is Neymar Jr.’s switch from Barcelona to Paris St Germain in the season when the French outfit paid the insane sum of €222 million for the Brazilian wizard. Ostensibly hired to help the club win the elusive Champions League title, his wizardry has only managed to get a single finals appearance against Bayern Munich in the just concluded season. Significantly, the adventure ended in gnashing of teeth. In the eventuality of further disappointment, the parting of ways will predictably be acrimonious like that of Bale. Which club will be willing to cough out the gargantuan sum that will be required to settle the divorce?
The effect of overpricing is that it puts undue pressure on the player. Witness what is happening to Paul Pogba in Manchester United. Since his €105 million move in 2017, the midfield maestro has found himself out of sorts despite huge personal exertions. Changes in the coaching chair have really not helped to reignite the spark in his game. Rather, it has been a mixture of top delivery today and disappointing play tomorrow, forcing the club to find new inspiration in the Portuguese playmaker, Bruno Fernandes. Purchased at only €55 million, Fernandes is adding to Pogba’s problem with his quick adaptation to the English game and zestful all-round delivery.
There is also the interesting case of Phillippe Coutinho who left Liverpool in 2018 for Barcelona for the sum of €145 million. His game was on a rollercoaster at Anfield but took a dip at Camp Nou. He sought redemption in the Bundesliga through a loan with Bayern Munich and found it, to the point of winning the Champions League, even scoring a goal in the final. It is arguable that the dip in his performance immediately after transferring could be as a result of the pressure of the astronomical price paid for him.
A tree cannot make a forest. Football is a team game. It requires the cohesion of all members of the club, not only those on the field, but also the substitutes and even those not picked for the match. A great tree can shake the forest, as we have seen in Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. But in most cases, the forest of football thrives the most when the shrubs bond together. The best option will always be for the club to be a team in the truest sense of it. In other words, a well oiled team is a better machine to tackle football dreams.
It is obvious that it is no longer the market that is dictating player valuation. Rather, it is the whimsical desire of club owners to achieve success in quick time. In recent times, ownership of clubs is getting more global than local. Virtually all the big ones, except probably Real Madrid and Barcelona, are now owned by foreign concerns, whether individual or corporate entities. It is the obscene wealth brought in by the new owners that drives these outrageous purchases.
At a point not too far from now, the market will shrink. The costly players will find themselves overpriced. Witness the case of Lionel Messi’s botched transfer away from Barcelona this transfer season. As much as €700 million was being bandied before his transfer to Manchester City was scuttled. How on earth can a player be valuated at almost a billion euros? The cost to the financial structure of the entire league will be too enormous. I believe it is capable of destroying the financial integrity system of UEFA itself.
Perhaps, the time has come to dig deeper into foreign ownership of local clubs which largely accounts for obscene wealth at the heart of outrageous purchases in football. Perhaps, there is now a need to cap transfer fees and valuation of players. In the final analysis, football is business. Where the market is subject of overvaluation, the financials are distorted and the clubs suffer insolvency. Every effort must be made to prevent this lest the game goes under.