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Friday 23 September 2011

Thoughts? - Are the big European clubs already feeling the pinch of financial fair play?

    A quick rundown of the early tables in the big leagues around Europe makes for a startling read.

    In Spain, Real Betis, Valencia, and Malaga top the table, while Barcelona and Real Madrid sit fourth and seventh respectively. 

    France’s Ligue 1 sees Montpellier and Rennes ahead of the likes of Lyon, PSG, last year’s champions Lille; not to mention Marseille, who languish near the bottom of the standings, a mere two points removed from bottom placed Nancy.

    Mostly shocking is the Italian table where Milan-based powerhouses AC Milan and Inter sit in sixteenth and eighteenth place, while Genoa, Udinese, and the retooled Juventus sit atop the table.

    Only Germany and England have expected contenders sitting in prime placing, where Bayern Munich and the two Manchester clubs have taken an early lead. Though in each league some clubs are having unexpected troubles. Perennial big boys Hamburg and reigning champions Borussia Dortmund have struggled out the gates in the Budesliga; while Arsenal find themselves in unfamiliar territory in the Premier League sitting in seventeenth with a goal difference of minus eight.

    Granted there are all some unexpected results in the beginning of a new season; it is too early to make sweeping statements or predictions about how things will conclude come season’s end. But it is worth asking the question: Are these results an aberration or a sign that the years of poor financial management is catching up with the bigger clubs who could once rely on their deep pockets to cover over their strategic misgivings?

    There was a time not so long ago that promoted clubs and the lesser sides of a given league stood little chance of reaching the upper tier of the league’s standings, but with the incoming restraints of financial fair play, as well as the limitations of roster size and homegrown requirements, this could be a sign that fiscal clout is no longer the overpowering cause of success.

    Smaller clubs have to be smarter with their money; they must make better decisions and take risks on unheralded talents. Big clubs have had the luxury of covering over their mistakes with yet another purchase, that Mr. X, a salve that is no longer an option as the march to FFP has become a reality.

    Clever management, a clear strategy, youth production and development, shrewd purchases, and less lucrative contracts could become the advantage in the future that deep pockets have been in the past.

    Of course it is far too early to read too much from the early standings, but it has been a surprising start to the season. Is the changing face of European football is upon us? Wait and see what comes with each successive Saturday.

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