In my last article, Soccer Made in Germany
, I have discussed the success story of
German MNT and the lessons we can learn from them. Now let us have a look at a three other countries and the associated professional men’s leagues, namely England, Japan and USA, three countries
from three different continents. I should note that information is limited for the Japan /J1 League due to the limited information in English and for MLS due to their limited transparency.
|Country ||League ||League Ranking ||MNT Ranking ||League Revenue |
||EPL ||1 ||13 ||$5.3B |
|Germany ||Bundesliga ||2 ||1 ||$2.8B |
|USA ||MLS ||13 ||35 ||$461M |
|Japan ||J1 League ||14 ||46 ||$440M |
If we look at the table, you will see that Germany is the most successful country, both on the business side (ranked second) and the developmental side (ranked first).
The English Premier League is by far the most lucrative soccer investment. Its 2016 revenues of $5.3 billion are nearly twice
revenues of the Bundesliga ($2.8 billion). It is natural that other leagues to try to model the business aspect of the EPL.
On the other hand, the English MNT has not won a single major
competition since the 1966 World Cup. The English MNT was only once in the World Cup semifinals in 1990. The English MNT’s record in the European Championships is not any better. The English MNT
played only twice in the semifinals of the European Championships (1968 and 1996). Out of the 15 European Championships since 1960, five times it did not even qualify for the championships. One can
say that the EPL started in 1992; well, the record is even worse then. The recent U-20 championship might give some hope to the English MNT fans, but the history shows that no correlation exists
between the U-20 WC winners and the winners or even the semifinalists of the WC in the years ahead.
How about the EPL teams and the UEFA leagues (Champions League and Europa League) since
1992? They won the UCL four times (Liverpool 2005, Manchester United 1999 and 2008 and Chelsea 2012). They won the Europa League three times (Liverpool 2001, Chelsea 2013 and Manchester United 2017).
For the league ranked No. 1 in revenue with a good margin, the results in international competitions could hardly be counted as a success story. So the bottom line is that EPL is a business success
story. Its positive reflection on the English MNT and the international competitions is very questionable. Some EPL teams play with a starting eleven of all foreigners, since there is no limitation on
foreign players in EPL.
It is interesting to note that EPL’s mission statement (*) has six items. Only the sixth and the last one talks about youth development. “Use our
resources to develop playing talent that will provide for international success with England team at all levels ….”
It is obvious that the owners of EPL only care for the team to be
profitable and be successful on the pitch. For EPL clubs being profitable and being successful on the pitch are related because of the promotion/relegation in the English leagues. Whether they are
successful with English players or not is not their concern.
Even then EPL has a document for Youth Development
, which is 188
pages long (d). The adherence to these standards is monitored by Double Pass. I do not how much of this effort is due to the FA requirements and how much of it is genuine.
Now let us have
a look at the mission statement (*) of the J1 League: The very first item on the mission statement is: “To raise the level of Japanese Football and promote the diffusion of the game through the
medium of professional football.” That shows that the owners of the J1 League care about their MNT.
Also the J1 League has very specific conditions for membership in five
-- Players and Coaching Licenses
-- Team Structure
-- Stadium Facilities
Under team structure, the minimum
requirements for youth development are defined.
J1 League clubs have won the AFC Champions League five times in the last 25 years. They rank second in Asia after their historical rival South
Korea (11 times) in the number of Champions League championships won. The Japanese MNT qualified and competed in the last five World Cups. They made it to the round of 16 twice (2002 and 2010).
Both Japanese MNT and J1 League show comparable success on the field and in the accounting books.
After a thorough search on the internet, I could not come up with the mission statement
of MLS. I am sure it exists, but it is a well-kept secret.
CIES last year published a report: “Governance Models across Football Leagues and Clubs." Although published last year,
the research covers the 2013-14 season. It researches 16 Leagues and affiliated clubs in six confederations for governance models including the EPL, MLS, J1 League and Ligaverband (German League).
One can learn a lot from this publication. For example, according to this research, the three leagues that do not employ promotion -- relegation are MLS, A-League (Australia) and Papua New
Guinea’s NSL. You also learn that there are only two leagues that do not have their national association (the soccer federation of that country) with shareholding interest: MLS and NSL (South
Well, one might be hopeful to find the missing information of MLS in this publication. Alas, other than a couple of responses, wherever there is MLS in the report it has N/R (not
reported) with it. Even a simple question like “Legal form of clubs required by the League” has an N/R associated with it for MLS.
So MLS’s concern for privacy even
extends to a formal survey of FIFA. Hence, I am not surprised that one cannot access their mission statement, let alone their annual loss/profit values for the clubs.
It is a well-known
fact even though U.S. Soccer or CSA does not mandate MLS with youth development systems, but still all USA MLS clubs except one -- Minnesota United -- had DAs in 2016-17. (Minnesota United's DAs debut
later this summer). The standards of the DAs are put down by U.S. Soccer and the DA leagues are run by U.S.
MLS at this stage of financial maturity needs the DAs to cut down its costs. None of the MLS clubs can afford to pay millions of dollars for soccer stars of Europe and South
America. If one day MLS is ranked in the top three leagues, I can assure you they will not be the least interested in youth development.
In the Concacaf Champions League (2008-09
onwards), only Liga MX teams won the championships. Prior to that in the Champions Cup era (1962-2008), two MLS teams -- D.C. United 1998 and LA Galaxy 2000) -- won. Although Liga MX ranks 10th with
$555 million revenue and is comparable to MLS’s revenue, it’s on the field performance is far superior.
The USMNT has been competing in every World Cup since 1990. It made the
quarterfinals once (2002) and the round of 16 three times. That might look like a success story. Let us not forget the USMNT competes in Concacaf with 3.5 slots available to it in the World Cup. Only
one Concacaf MNT team ever finished in the final four at the World Cups: the USA in 1930 (semifinals). With the USA and Mexico the only dominant soccer countries in Concacaf, it usually would require
a miracle for the USMNT not to qualify for the World Cup. Just be honest, if USMNT competed in Conmebol or UEFA, would it have qualified for all the World Cups since 1990?
It is obvious a
national association cannot depend solely on the business success of its professional league to launch a successful MNT campaign. Most of the time, the interests of the professional leagues and the
owners will collide with the interests of the national associations. This is inevitable.
The national association -- U.S. Soccer -- should realize that it has the upper hand. The upper
hand is given to the national association by FIFA. Unlike any other professional sport in the USA, an international governing body has incredible powers that the National Associations can pursue
effectively. For example, if U.S. Soccer does not sanction MLS as a professional league, MLS teams cannot play in a single international tournament, it cannot transfer a single foreign player and the
list goes on. One cannot witness the same relation between NBA, USA Basketball and FIBA.
The USMNT can be a world soccer leader. You need three things for this to happen:
Time and patience;
-- The awareness of U.S. Soccer of its rights and power bestowed on it by FIFA; the fair and wise use of this power.
-- Correct governance structures for both
U.S. Soccer and MLS.
That is that simple or complicated depending on one’s perspective. Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of the Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish
FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.
Policy in Sport Organizations, 3rd Edition by Hums and MacLean, pages 367-369.