Paul the Octopus has been laid to rest but a new “sorcery” has been out in full force during the group stages of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Jan Lin examines the politics and economics of the “Big Four” football leagues at this World Cup, of which Germany is the last still in play.
“A football is round”, they say. Favourites in football are often but just a label.
Safe for Germany, the Football Associations running the three of the four most competitive and commercial leagues that were shown early exits in Brazil will officially have a lot to answer as to the underperformance of their national teams.
With Spain (La Liga), Italy (Serie A) and England (the much-loved BPL) all coming unstuck early on, the Germans would have had reason to feel unsettled about getting through the group stages, especially going into their final group match against the USA with all four Group G teams still in contention for the knockout stages.
And after surviving the group stage, Germany needed stoppage time in the round of 16 to secure their quarterfinal ticket with a 2-1 win over a gutsy Algerian side whose man-of-the-match goalkeeper has been ‘Rais’-ing to the occasion in Brazil.
Likewise in the quarter-final, Germany sneaked past France via a lone Hummels’s goal to become the first country to make four consecutive World Cup semifinals.
Domestic football leagues have historically existed to give local talents a platform to be unearthed and polished for the benefit of the national set-up. With so much talent congregating in the European leagues, it was perhaps surprising yet unsurprising how three of the four major league countries self-destructed in Brazil.
Modern day football – it’s all about the money, money, money?
I don’t know about you but if you have like me clocked hours after hours to follow the “Big Four” commercial football leagues religiously weekly, this World Cup have left me questioning what football having I been watching, really?
In Deloitte’s Annual Review of Football Finance this year reviewing the 2012/2013 European football season, England, Italy, Spain and Germany were, in that respective order, determined as running the big four leagues in terms if revenue.
The European football market is currently determined to be worth €19.9 billion, with the Big Four bringing in almost 50% of the revenue.
La Liga was first to fall – or maybe last – if we consider how Real Madrid’s poster boy Cristiano Ronaldo only booked his air ticket home together with the palette of Spanish stars following Portugal’s exit albeit netting the winner in their final group match against Ghana.
Real Madrid, Spain’s king of the domestic league titles table, has come under criticisms for its recent shopping spree in the European football market. Spain’s early exit this World Cup could be the impetus needed to spice up the debate.
Despite topping the revenue table by a massive margin, England’s early exit in a devastating fashion may be the least shocking of the four, considering the Three Lions were drawn into a group of death that took out Italy alongside with them.
In the equally deadly Group G though, Bundesliga, in the form of Germany and to a smaller extent, USA, sent the La Liga’s poster boys in Portugal packing early.
Call it the Champions League finals 2013 vs 2014 showdown, but Germany has always been known to be the most rigorous of the four European countries in maintaining the integrity of its domestic league in terms of youth development.
Germany’s team of “winners” vs Everybody’s “rojak”
Thomas Muller, who netted Germany’s winning goal to see Germany through the group, may not be Bayern Munich’s brightest star but development means a domestic league offers a rigorous environment that would enable, rather than compromise, its local talents to grow to thrive on the global stage for the country.
Germany has not only consistently fielded a clear majority of its domestic league players in its starting line-up, but a majority of them were also Bayern Munich “winning” representatives. These German guns have not only won the two recent domestic league titles but also lifted the coveted 2013 Champions League trophy.
Mats Hummels, whose goal took Germany through to the semifinals, was a major feature for the Borussia Dortmund side that won two league titles and was twice runner-up in the last 4 seasons, and the 2012/13 Champions League runner-up.
In contrast, the 2014 league champions in England and Spain - Manchester City and Athletico Madrid - both saw just a lone ranger in their starting 11 for very different reasons. Spain, for one, had still relied heavily on its FC Barcelona “old guards” this World Cup while the English squad appeared to be lacking in depth.
Logistically, one has to remember due to club commitments that the national set-ups in these hefty price-tagged European leagues rarely train together as a unit.
Moreover, a highly diverse domestic league (and managers included) lends itself to a new brand of football and superstars who have to adapt to what could be an entirely different football systems, and leaves it to one’s versatility to cope with any major changes required of them when suiting up for the national team.
This leads to questions such as : has what it means to be “English” football today become diluted from what it was two decades ago before the rise of commercial football leagues in the 1990s? And, if FIFA’s losses this World Cup following the quick annihilation of the sport’s biggest stars in the group stages will suffice for policies intervention on Europe’s Football Associations to mitigate the brewing club vs national team tensions and disintegrations surfaced this World Cup?
While the debate continues from Italy to Ibiza where Steven Gerrard is currently taking his vacation, the Bundesliga boys appear to have a real good shot at lifting the Cup as the “hoodoo” has just claimed its latest La Liga superstar with Neymar being ruled out for host Brazil in their semi-final showdown next Tuesday.
Two Olympic Games and too many racket sports gigs later, Jan has been living her dreams traveling the world working at global sport events as a media girl. From watching Singapore win Malaysia Cup as a 9-year-old fangirl to finding her story published on Liverpool FC’s website 12 years later, she believes football is magic.