THE BALANCE OF POWER
Much as it pains me to admit it, I don’t think there's a more obvious choice for FIFA World Player of the Year in 2008 than Cristiano Ronaldo. With deference to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, it’s unlikely that any other player would command the same transfer fee or salary as Ronaldo, and based on his performances in the 2007 and 2008 season, it’s fair to say that this award is well deserved. To me, it appeared Messi had some lingering effects from not being selected as the Europe's best, as he trudged ignominiously through a league match against Valencia last weekend, but it’s also a safe bet that he’s in the running for next year’s Ballon d'Or and FIFA's POTY.
When Cristiano Rolando arrived at Man U as a replacement for David Beckham, few could have imagined that this free-styling bafoon would make it in the man’s game of professional football, and fewer still believed he could do it in England – after all, it’s the last place in the world you’d think such skill on the ball as he has exhibited, would be even possible, let alone appreciated. Fortunately, 17 touches in the span of 3 seconds, fabulously enthralling as it may be, is not why he has been deemed the best in the world.
43 goals in all competitions – that’s why.
At the end of the day, by winning the Champions League with Manchester United, despite missing a penalty and appearing to wilt under the pressure of the big match, Ronaldo’s star shines brightly, and few could argue against him as a worthy recipient.
But what does this say about the balance of power in football?
A brief review of all players of the year since FIFA decided to encroach on the Ballon d’Or’s territory, reveals that EVERY SINGLE ONE was playing, and lighting it up, in either La Liga or the the Serie A.
As a matter of fact, there are only 5 teams who have ever had a world player of the year, and they read like a who’s who of the biggest clubs in the world – the clubs who’s jerseys every young player aspires to wear one day:
Financially, although Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelski all fare as well or better than the teams in this aforementioned list, the fact remains that these 5 are the standard bearers in world football in terms of prestige, and FIFA’s bias towards them is an indication of such.
But in 2009, that’s about to change.
For the 4th year in a row, all 4 English teams entered in the Champions League have progressed to the knockout stages – neither La Liga nor the Serie A can boast such league consistency. And moreover, an English team has contested the final for 4 years in a row as well. Last year, the international humiliation was complete when two English teams contested the final – guaranteeing the first English champion since my beloved Liverpool lifted their 5th European Cup in 2005.
So let’s, for the record, take a look at what the EPL can boast in the debate over the best league in the world:
1. 3 of the 4 richest clubs in the world are English (Man U(seless), Arsenal and Liverpool) and the richest of the rich is Manchester United
2. All four of England’s Champions League representatives have contested the final in the last 4 year (2 have won – Liverpool and Man U(re))
3. 2 of the top 10 average stadium attendance teams are English (Man (F) U and Arsenal)
4. Of the 4 leagues who have had players nominated, but never won, the FIFA World Player of the year award, England have the most with 11
5. 25% of ALL PROFITS IN EUROPEAN FOOTBALL are generated in England.
So it appears the only thing left for the EPL to win is the FIFA World Player of the Year, which we should expect shortly, and it's no small irony that he's not English. The fact of the matter is that the balance of power in international club football, if not international football, has gone beyond shifting to England, to now residing in it. Without going on another extended tirade of why I think the England team are crap, I doubt it will translate into the success at the World Cup or European Championships (assuming of course, England qualify) but that’s about the only thing left that we could reasonably use as an argument against English dominance of the game altogether.
Of course Brazil do, and probably forever will, produce better players than the English, and Italians clubs will probably win more in Europe, and La Liga will likely continue to host the biggest stars; but in the terms that matter the most in professional football (that being moolah) there’s no doubt that the balance of power has shifted to England.
(Not for the first time) God save (the rest of us from) the Queen.