Allied to a summer when the World Cup returns to the shimmering, samba shores of Brazil, there have been a number of romantic footballing stories across the UK and Europe this season.
The re-emergence of Liverpool as a genuine force to be reckoned with and Arsenal’s return to trophy-winning ways has reignited a slightly stagnant English game.
In Spain, Atletico Madrid’s miraculous title win in Spain – followed by their even more unlikely appearance in the Champions League final – not to mention Athletic Bilbao’s return to the Champions League, has been inspirational.
Italy’s Serie A is also going through a renaissance of sorts, too, with the likes of Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina providing bucketfuls of entertainment all season; and it’s not just the major leagues, either. Even in the smaller countries, you have wonderful success stories such as Dundalk in the League of Ireland.
These aforementioned teams are succeeding without being bankrolled by bottomless pits of money. Some are restricted so acutely, their achievements are beyond the wildest of fans’ dreams. In the age of the ‘super club’, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, whilst the financial disparity between the rich and the rest grows even further, it can still be negated by excellent management; both on and off the field.
In terms of the Premier League, Liverpool - and possibly to an even greater extent, Everton and Arsenal – have proven that with excellent strategic management, you can still thrive without a vast pot of gold.
In the last five or six years, Liverpool have spent exorbitant amounts but, under Rodgers, they have come on leaps and bounds. A progressive policy of identifying young, potentially brilliant players and developing them within a vibrant brand of attacking football has seen them surge this season.
Arsenal and Everton are prime examples of how to run a football club. Over the last five years, they have spent a net average sum of -£825,000 and -£2,463,100 a season, respectively. Consider that Man City and Chelsea have averaged a net spend of £96 million and £56 million a year in the same period, and it’s incredible to think that both have remained so competitive year upon year.
Managerial decisions have been key in that stability. Arsenal’s faith and patience in Arsene Wenger has finally been rewarded with an FA Cup win - their first trophy in nine years. Everton, after a decade under David Moyes, took a chance on the precocious Roberto Martinez; a decision that has paid handsome dividends, with a fantastic season culminating in a 5th place finish.
In Spain, Diego Simeone has been recreating his own ‘loaves and fishes’ tale. Somehow, despite Barcelona and Real Madrid’s vast resources, he has taken a squad costing little over £62 million and turned them into La Liga champions and Champions League finalists. It arguably defies logic but then football so often does. The right man, at the right time, with the backing of the right board and all the money in the world can, sometimes, be no match.
Maybe that’s too fallacious, though? If we examine the leagues across Europe, the super club, generally, still rules. Manchester City have won the Premier League; PSG and Monaco are the top two in France whilst Bayern rule the roost in Germany. Atletico’s reign in Spain probably won’t last more than a season. Whilst the financial landscape there still slants in Real and Barca’s direction, the other 16 La Liga clubs continually fight an uphill battle each season. Money may not be everything but it certainly helps.
In the age of Oligarchs and oil sheikhs, it’s important for clubs not to lose sight of football’s ideals. Patience and prudent planning are paramount; a good manager with a progressive philosophy can neutralise the need for monstrous amounts of money.
Football can be a cynical sport but it is vital we retain our romantic notions of the beautiful game.