Sport and politics, we are told, should never mix, which has been show to be prophetic after football officials abandoned any attempts to give all clubs a fighting chance of success.
Without wishing to single them out, Manchester City are the latest example of a club with enough money able to buy the league title. This is not a slight on their achievements – they are far from the first side to do so and their fans have been rewarded for their loyal support when they were in the third tier of English football.
The problem is, having let some rich owners into football, Uefa is now determined to prevent any others pulling the same trick by enforcing Financial Fair Play on all of Europe. From now on, this means clubs will have to spend only what they earn, which means those who are at the top of their respective leagues will now continue to be there for the foreseeable future as they are the ones earning the most money.
Think of Spain where Barcelona and Real Madrid can negotiate their own TV rights. How else can anyone get close to them without a wealthy backer (such as at Malaga) who is willing to pump in a vast fortune to the club? This situation is even worse in other countries: think Scotland now that Rangers are not around or Porto in Portugal (10 titles in 12 years). This will only get worse.
A look at the winners of the English top flight when it was called the First Division sees a number of different winners and apart fromLiverpool, no team was able to continue their dominance over such a long period of time. Think of the great achievements of Ipswich under Ramsey and Robson or Forest and Derby under Clough.
Those days are now almost certainly over with the majority of Premier League clubs now going into every season just looking to avoid relegation. A cup triumph – whether domestically or in the Europa League – is the best that can be hoped for. As good as Swansea and Norwichwere last season, their managers were always like to leave eventually, even if Paul Lambert’s move to Aston Villa appears bizarre.
If you compare the situation between club football and county cricket you see a much different complexion. Durham were only awarded county status in 1991 but won the County Championship in 2008 and 2009. In the last 10 years six different counties have won the Championship, with only Sussex and Durham retaining their titles.
Yorkshire have won it 30 times, by far a record, but only once since 1968. Last season they were tipped to challenge for the title with a young homegrown team but ended up relegated, whilst an unfancied Lancashire side won a number of hard-fought victories to take the Championship for the first time since 1934. The defending champion have one win from nine this season and may soon be in the relegation places. A strongly fancied Durham team are currently bottom with no wins. This competitiveness is something which club football should take notice of.
But led by the parasites in Fifa, the ridiculously inept Michel Platini at Uefa, and the money obsessed Premier League, we will never get anywhere. The news this week of one Fifa President taking bribes and another who was aware of it yet did nothing about it is small change compared to the massive corruption which has gone on, including the strong suggestions of rigged elections and bids bought.
Moreover, the contrast between football at club and international level is an interesting one. Certain countries such as Brazil, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands have always been strong. Even when they weren’t winning England and Spain have always had good players and the same can be said about France. Yet, there is nothing stopping a nation such as Belgium coming from nowhere and winning the next World Cup. Yes, it is extremely unlikely, especially after they failed to qualify for this Euros, but their squad shows a depth of talent few others can match.
New countries are now attempting to catch up: in South America, Chile are top of qualifying for the World Cup. Uruguay showed their true quality by reaching the semi-finals of the last World Cup and winning Copa America. This is what sport should be about: equality of opportunity. Generations can come together for one country yet not be adequately replaced for a number of years. Think of the great Hungarian team of 1954.
However, with countries in the Far East starting to place greater emphasis on sport there is the chance of a change in dynamic. Before, the Asian dominance was consigned to sports which saw the Olympics as the ultimate, but they have made great strides in golf (with Y.E. Yang winning a major) and are starting to see their best footballers play in the top European leagues. It is far from inconceivable that in the future we will see our most popular sports being won by teams and individuals residing from the East.
But this is how sport should be allowed to work. Internationally at least it is seen as a measure of a country’s worth and putting in place a system which allows the best competitors to thrive on a global scale is a great challenge which some do much better than others; think of the continuing obsession in this country over the production of young English footballers.
We watch sport to be enthralled and for the unexpected. Think of golf, where we have had 15 different major winners in a row. Or tennis with Novak Djokovic’s incredible 2011 and early 2012. But when the best we can ever hope for is a mid-table finish then we know something has gone completely wrong with the way sport is being run.