Superclubs and Spring Nights


Your last column was needlessly equivocal about why the Bundesliga is so boring,” S.K. Gupta feels. “There is only one reason and that is the 50+1 rule. By precluding outside investment, no one can challenge the status quo. If the Bundesliga wants to become a genuine sporting competition with some uncertainty about the end result, they must make their clubs attractive to investors who would invest funds to build a competitive team.”

There have been times, I will admit, when I have been tempted to come to the same conclusion. The Bundesliga acting as Bayern Munich’s fief is, I think, a problem for German soccer.

But I’m not convinced that breaking the bond between team and fans is the solution. I suspect that particular road leads to the Premier League, where, instead of one rich team, you end up with a cartel of four or five or six, monopolizing not only the title but all of the other prizes, too. German fans cherish their culture. Change is necessary, but not at any cost.

David Hunter is closer to my way of thinking. “You didn’t mention the obvious solution: a salary cap,” he wrote. “American football has one, and there are rarely routine winners season after season.” This is true, of course, but there is one giant hitch: a salary cap could only work if it was agreed to by clubs in every league in Europe, rather than just one. And that prospect is, unfortunately, an extremely distant one.

Finally, let’s go back a couple of weeks. “If we, the fans, decide what matters in football, it’s worth noting that the viewing public and teams’ owners have very different ideas of the concept of risk,” wrote Alex McMillan. “Fans cherish risk: It’s what makes winning anything worth something. The owners of the wealthiest clubs detest it: It threatens their billion-dollar investment.”

This is, to me, the crux of the issue over soccer’s future. The game thrives on risk. It is the running of it and the taking of it that makes it appealing. But, yes, that is diametrically opposed to what owners want and — if we are being kind — what sustainable businesses need. Almost every debate about where the game goes, or what it must do, boils down to that tension. How it plays out will define what shape soccer takes.



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