Welcome to class. Please take your seats. Today’s lesson will look the notion of footballing power. What is footballing power? What grants a football club true power, and how can powerful clubs wield it? We live in an age where any club can legitimately force their way to the top of the table provided that the right conditions are met; Manchester City have gone from ‘typical City’ and playing Darius Vassell to two-time Premier League champions, while Paris Saint-Germain went from mid-table mediocrity (in Ligue 1, not forgetting) to seemingly permanent Champions League fixtures. It’s a sign of the modern day that a super-rich business person can pick a club - any club - and turn them into a global powerhouse through finances and will alone. Does money, and even more significantly, success, equal power, though? Let’s discuss.
Your first case study is James Rodriguez.
Blessed with limitless funds from rich Russian owner Dimitry Rybolovlev, AS Monaco created shockwaves upon their promotion to Ligue 1 in 2013 by signing Radamel Falcao, Joao Moutinho, and our topic of the day, James Rodriguez, for eye-watering sums of money. I’m sure the lovely continental location and lack of tax rules in Monaco also helped. Monaco sought to become a big name in world football, and did so by seeking out three of the most influential footballers in Europe today. All was looking up for Monaco, particularly with the club securing Champions League football last season.
On the other side, you have Real Madrid, giants of the game and recent Champions League winners. Real Madrid are already a big name in football, and already had one of the best squads available. When a club is in a position to simply offload players like the calibre of Mesut Ozil - and from the looks of things, Sami Khedira and Angel Di Maria - you’ve done your job right. Do Real Madrid need to make a public demonstration of power? Well, yes, and here’s why.
So why would Monaco, a team looking to challenge the likes of Real Madrid, sell one of their crown jewels to a continental rival? Well, because Madrid can do it, and Monaco, despite having a plethora of benefits available to their employees, simply can’t say no. Demonstrations of power are everything in football; if Madrid’s closest rivals, Barcelona, can sign Neymar, Real can sign Gareth Bale. If Barcelona can sign Luis Suarez, famous exhibit of the World Cup, then James Rodriguez, THE main exhibit, can be a Galactico. Money is no question; squad players being forced out of the team is also not a question and Monaco’s project is also no question. Incoming transfers and preparations for the upcoming season can be seen as a victory that’s just as significant as those off the pitch; Atletico won La Liga, but Real and Barca won in the transfer window. Juventus won Serie A, but appear to have lost the recruitment battle, having lost out on Alexis Sanchez and Juan Iturbe.
Monaco can legitimately feel that their project has taken a step back as one of its key components decided to abandon ship after just one year on board. The legitimacy of Monaco’s planning needs to be assessed too; a team that is heavily inconsistent in quality across the board (Falcao and Ricardo Carvalho in the same team?) has not built upon its initial success, and the £63m fee received for Rodriguez will not be much consolation for a club with practically limitless funds. Worth noting that Rodriguez will probably be taking home less money too, due to Spanish tax laws. Such is the power and allure of playing for Real Madrid that even money isn’t a factor in Rodriguez’s thinking. In the face of true footballing power, Monaco simply have to bow down and move on.
Case study #2 is Marco Reus.
Reports surfaced this week that Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola had a request to sign a player turned down by the board. The player in question is Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus, one of the last remaining remnants of the swashbuckling Dortmund side that won hearts through their Champions League run two years ago. Of course, the dismantling of that side is down to Bayern, who mercilessly snatched prize assets Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze from the club that made them famous. Quite sad to see that the world will see that the World Cup in Brazil was won by a Bayern player, rather than credit the club that raised him from childhood, but I digress.
The reports state that the board rejected Guardiola’s request out of fear that it would make Bayern look bad, or mean, or whatever you want to call it. This has not stopped Bayern before; FC Hollywood, as they are known in Germany, are famous for ripping their rivals to shreds simply by nicking all of their best players. Before Gotze, there was the acquisition of Manuel Neuer from an increasingly dangerous Schalke 04, and before Neuer, there was Michael Ballack, snatched from Leverkusen. Simply put, Bayern do not really care, but if we have reached the point where even Bayern wish to avoid a scenario where they rip the heart out of their closest rivals for a third time in a row… well, that’s power. My own personal belief is that the reports are fabricated, and such a request was not even made, but the fact that such a report can float around and be believed is a sign of true footballing power. A power that can cut their rivals’ feet off at will - and in theory, dictate when a rival club needs to completely rebuild - is certainly one to fear. And a power that can refuse to do so out of sheer pity is one that is probably going to remain unconquered for quite some time.
Our final case study is Chelsea.
Chelsea are a side that, over the last ten years, have forced themselves to the forefront of world football. Formerly a side that challenged for European places, Chelsea are officially a European powerhouse, and their squad at this moment in time is pretty much perfect. With the acquisition of Thibaut Courtois (back from loan), Filipe Luis, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, Chelsea have concluded their business in the transfer window before the end of July. The efficiency of Chelsea’s recruitment seriously should not be understated, as the club sought out their targets and secured them in record time.
This efficiency has come from smart decisions by the management to sell high-value assets too, rather than simply relying on their oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, to fund everything. With the £37m sale of Juan Mata to Manchester United, and the now-inexplicable £50m fee received for David Luiz from Paris Saint-Germain, two players that were deemed unnecessary by manager Jose Mourinho managed to raise more money than the sum total of those that came into the club.
Chelsea have become a club where high-value young players are willing to move, even if they end up on loan at other clubs for extended periods of time, and Chelsea are now in the business of selling the ones deemed unnecessary for even higher values; I imagine the seemingly impending sale of Romelu Lukaku will bring in a profit on their £20m investment, and I imagine any sale of midfielder Oscar would reach upwards of £35m. Chelsea, through their recent shrewdness in the transfer window, have shown themselves as a global footballing power, beating rivals to key players for reasons that aren’t simply financial any more, and with their targets well aware that they probably won’t start when they join. Players are simply, and bluntly, risking their careers to play for Chelsea, and that is the sign of a true footballing power.
What these three clubs offer is more than just financial and more than just success. Admittedly, all three of these clubs can point to vast sums of money, but they can all point to so much more. Real Madrid have the appeal of their Champions League trophy, sure, but Chelsea finished last season empty-handed, and haven’t won the league since Carlo Ancelotti was in charge, while Bayern’s first attack on Borussia Dortmund – their signing of Mario Gotze – was in the middle of a season where Dortmund were two-time Bundesliga champions and were steamrolling their way to the Champions League final. These three clubs find themselves with statuses that have been acquired through years of work and dedication, which allows seemingly unnecessary moves like James Rodriguez’s transfer today to occur. One thing’s for sure, though - these three clubs are not going to be allowed to wield this power freely, and with their rival clubs strengthening (Barcelona and Manchester City are notable examples of teams looking very strong), it’s clear that the upcoming season is going to be a fantastic battle between footballing titans.