As the Champions League says goodbye to former winners in Porto, Ajax, Benfica and Celtic, it signifies a harsh reality that European football has to face.
Its once-competitive, historical clubs – and all their domestic rivals- can no longer compete at the highest level in club football.
Alarming for UEFA is the fact that of its 54 associate members, only a few have clubs strong
enough to potentially win a Champions League. Since 2005, no club from outside of Spain, Italy, England or Germany have appeared in the semi-finals.
The last club to do so where PSV Eindhoven in the 2004/05 season. Since Ajax’s Champions League win in 1995, the competition has been won exclusively by teams from Spain, England, Germany and Italy.
The Porto side of 2004 bucked the trend, yet lost their manager and key players months later to teams from Europe’s elite leagues. It’s safe to say that European football is run by a four-nation cartel.
The Television revenues, sponsorship deals and a lack of investment in Europe’s lesser leagues mean their elite can no longer compete. The economic disparity between the top sides from the smaller leagues to any of the clubs playing in Europe’s top leagues have been evident as Champions League participants Celtic lost two players to two mid-tier English clubs in the past transfer window.
Perhaps even worse, in January of this year, Olympique Marseille- placed second in Ligue 1 last season- lost Loic Remi and Stephan Mbia to Queens Park Rangers – the side bottom of the Premier League.
The trend looks unlikely to stop as the more money that the top four European leagues have, the stronger their clubs will become. The stronger they are, the the more competitive the league becomes. The more competitive the league, the more attractive the league is to the top players.
All this leads to domination and success in Europe. New television deals for these four major leagues mean even more money is on its way.
The huge investments put into Monaco and PSG (who are virtually a team of Serie A players) mean that these two clubs might be the only realistic long-term challengers to Europe’s four-nation cartel.
Sadly this seems to be the only way forward for the rest.
At international level, England-apart, the other three have run riot at international tournaments. With their clubs having the resources to build successful academies and youth structures, run by the best coaches that money can help develop the other three cartel members have excelled.
Since 2006, Spain won both European Championships and the 2010 World Cup. Bronze and silver medals from the last two Confederations Cups have been collected as well.
Italy won the World Cup in 2006, runners-up at Euro 2012, third at the Confederations Cup in 2013. Germany’s silver medal from Euro 2008 and their successive bronze medals at the World Cups in 2006 and 2010 would be the envy of most nations from around the world.
These three have won several youth competitions in that period as well.
Even in an economic crisis, Spanish and Italian football has collected silverware. Such is the
disparity between the four-nation elite and the rest that despite being crippled by the 2006 Calciopoli scandal – which was as damaging as the Heysel ban to English clubs- Italy have won a World Cup, two Champions Leagues and two Club World Cups. This is a nation whose football is in transition!
Whilst Porto, Ajax and Benfica might fancy their chances in the Europa League (a competition
which Porto won in 2011), success is not guaranteed as Spanish clubs have dominated by winning five of the last ten editions of the competition with two other Spanish sides being losing-finalists.
UEFA and even FIFA might be powerless to stop the domination at International level but something needs to be done to keep the rest competitive. UEFA’s Financial Fair Play is not a solution. Should there be no intervention or no solutions to help the rest of Europe to compete, European football might be on the verge of seeing a day where the last-sixteen is contested solely by the aforementioned cartel and its lone challengers - Monaco and PSG.
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