Commentary

Can Europe's other leagues survive the Premier League's generosity?

By Samuel Charles
@SoccerIsArt

Recent fears about the huge sums of money heading toward England's Premier League shifting soccer's landscape are becoming realized, as it monetizes its enormous popularity at the expense of talent and balance in Europe's other top leagues, even as these riches are being shared elsewhere.

This trickle-down soccer economy is reaping benefits in the form of windfalls elsewhere, with piles of cash landing on the United Kingdom spilling across the English Channel, dramatically reducing the cumulative annual losses for the 700 clubs in UEFA's 55 member nations.

But at what cost, and what is the end game?

Gabriele Marcotti wrote on Monday, those total losses had been reduced from a record high of $2.3 billion in 2011 down to its current figure of $360 million, with the Premier League doing its share to help make soccer a profitable enterprise.

Marcotti wrote: "From this season, under the new TV deal, Premier League clubs have seen their cumulative broadcast rise from around $2.4 billion to around $3.75 billion. Throw in bumps in revenue across other European leagues and increases in commercial income, and we could be looking at close to another $2 billion splashing around the continent. We might even see the game as a whole become profitable."

As many have done recently, Marcotti emphasizes the concept of 'net spend' for clubs or leagues over the total transfer outlay figures long cited.

The $1.6 billion spent on transfers by Premier League clubs in the most recent transfer window looks even more magnanimous, or ominous, depending on your point of view, when you only look at players who actually left or arrived in the Premier League, without including those that were transferred between EPL teams.

English clubs net spend of $570 million in the summer of 2015 skyrocketed to $930 million this summer.

The total net spend of Germany, Spain and Italy combined was just $170.5 million, or barely 18 percent of what the Premier League spent on players outside its league, by itself.

On one hand, that's nearly one billion dollars leaving England that other clubs will have at their disposal.

On the other hand, English clubs didn't do it out of the goodness of their own heart, and the consequences are looking more and more devastating, with talent and competition in other leagues being the chief victims.

A piece in Sunday's New York Times also touched on these Premier League 'subsidies,' laying out the various ways teams use the money, including new facilities, video equipment, or just stability for the future. But Arnaud Tanguy, Chief Executive of Le Havre in France's second division, made it clear he'd rather have the players available to his coach, former U.S. national team boss Bob Bradley, than the cash.

Thirteen of the 20 teams in the Premier League broke their own transfer records this summer; with reigning champion Leicester City doing so three times in this summer's transfer window (buying players from teams in France, Russia and Portugal).

With leagues marketing now penetrating the less saturated markets in Asia and the United States, the size of the pie in this global cash game is growing, but the talent pool remains relatively fixed, leaving everyone but the superpowers outside England scrambling for what are essentially more expensive crumbs.

My kingdom for some unpredictability. Spain has had by far the closest title races among Europe's top five leagues over the last three seasons, with those three La Liga titles decided by a total of six points, compared to cumulative margin of 22 points in England the last three years.

However, regardless of how we massage the numbers, it's plain that last season's Premier League title race had far more teams owning a realistic shot at winning the title than any other top league.

The only questions left unanswered in Spain recently seem to be which La Liga player will win the Ballon d'Or, whether Atletico Madrid will be in the mix at season's end, and who will finish fourth? (Last year it was Villarreal, which finished 24 points behind third-place Atleti.)

Consider this. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico have outscored their La Liga opponents by an average total of 198 goals the last three seasons, including 204 last year, when Celta Vigo finished sixth in Spain -- while being outscored by eight goals on the season.

France, Germany and Italy have all started their league campaigns, and surprisingly, they have yet to schedule victory parades for Juventus, Parist Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich.

Juventus has won five Serie A titles in a row, by an average of over 11 points. PSG has won four straight Ligue 1 titles, by an average of 14 points.

Bayern Munich, which is the only one of these three teams that has another top club to contend with, in Borussia Dortmund, just became the first Bundesliga team ever to win four straight titles -- and Bayern won its past four German titles, in its 34-game seasons, by an average of 16 points.

Cui bono: Who actually benefits? When Juventus sold Paul Pogba to Manchester United this summer for a world record fee of over $120 million, that largesse only further strengthened Juve's grip on Serie A, even as it lost Italy's most valuable asset.

Napoli and AS Roma each finished second in Serie A twice, and third once, during the last four seasons.

If you include Juve's sale of Roberto Pereyra for $17 million to Watford (another EPL club record), Juventus essentially broke even while buying Roma's best player, Miralem Pjanic, and making Gonzalo Higuain soccer's third most expensive player in history, snatching him from Napoli --- where his 36 goals broke Serie A's 66-year-old scoring record last season, and helped Napoli finish second.

It isn't quite this simple, but you could argue United's money bought Juve the best players from its only recent competitors for Serie A supremacy, all in one fell swoop.

Roma and Napoli both made huge profits on the sales, Juventus may have gotten stronger, and United got the fanfare accompanying the world's most expensive player. Everybody's happy, except the fans of Roma, Napoli and Serie A, or those praying for unpredictability outside England.

A variation on this theme continues to play out in Germany, where Bayern has plucked Dortmund's best players whenever its only remaining Bundesliga competitor gets too close.

This summer Dortmund was hailed throughout Europe for its impressive eight-player transfer haul, but this promising group of mostly young players will make it even harder for Dortmund to contend with Bayern this season.

The arrivals came in a transfer window that found Dortmund basically forced to sell three of its five best players at player requests for more lucrative locales, with Mats Hummels headed to Munich, Ilkay Gundogan off to Manchester City and Henrikh Mkhitaryan now at Man United.

Until further notice, the Tour de France is the country's only race worth watching. Which is a shame, as Ligue 1 was perhaps the only truly unpredictable title race remaining among Europe's top leagues, producing five different champions in the five seasons before the takeover in Paris abruptly ended that for what looks like the foreseeable future.

In spite of its reputation as the weakest of Europe's big five leagues, the abundant talent in Ligue 1 continues to become evident once those players arrive elsewhere.

Little know outside Ligue 1 before leaving, Dimitri Payet heard his name sung time and again by West Ham supporters last season, when he was named to the PFA Team of the Year while leading the Hammers to a seventh-place EPL finish, their best since 2002. Payet parlayed his visibility into a star turn with Les Bleus at Euro 2016.

Marseille received a relatively paltry $17 million for Payet’s sale, and fell from fourth in France in 2015 to 13th a year later without its best player. (Marseille finished 14 points behind PSG with Payet in 2015 --- and 48 points behind PSG in 2016.)

Later we'll look further at the effects of this record spending, and head to Old Trafford in preparation for this weekend's derby in Manchester, a city that is now the center of soccer's transfer universe.

Saturday's derby will include what many consider the world's two best coaches, Jose Mourinho at Man United and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, overseeing a pair of clubs that combined to spend nearly half a billion dollars on incoming players this summer (a measly $495 million between them, to be precise).

Until then, if you have a first grader lying around that refuses to do his homework, we'd recommend more chores, or taking away his video games instead of his soccer ball, who knows, he may be worth $10 million to Sunderland by the time January's transfer window opens up.

4 comments about "Can Europe's other leagues survive the Premier League's generosity?".
  1. aaron dutch, September 7, 2016 at 12:38 p.m.

    Excellent article, super job going thru all of Europe in a single swoop. There is one missed point. If England is overpaying buy 2-4x for players and they still can't get out of the quarter finals of Champions then they are subsidizing the other top 4 leagues & dozens of other leagues with 2-4 more then they are worth. 1/2 of those players then go on loan back to Europe. Look at the Dutch league it is a virtual minor league AAA farm system for the European top leagues and they get teams in the group stage in both Champions & Europa every year. With world class academies, low cost club models, excellent local support (financially, politically, operationally & socially) the dutch have nailed it. What is sad is how lame MLS & NASL are in they will not build a model which could enrich them so much.

  2. Joey Tremone replied, September 8, 2016 at 2:09 p.m.

    MLS spends more on youth development than it spent on first team rosters 8 years ago.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 8, 2016 at 6:09 p.m.

    Don't waste your breath Joey - AA ignores anything that contradicts his world view.

  4. beautiful game, September 8, 2016 at 12:14 p.m.

    Pogba, a $120M player? Juve got the best of the deal. As for Higuain, 36 goals in Serie A, record breaking accomplishment> Can he be that consistent in the future. Players solely grabbing for the money, don't think about the consequences, i.e,. Sheva, a prolific scorer for A.C. Milan failed miserably in the Premier League Chelsea side. His crowning achievements in Seria A never appeared again.

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