Timeout with Evan Lott: the rich are ruining professional soccer

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Frank Lampard celebrating a goal he scored. Photo courtesy of football365.com. http://www.football365.com/transfer-centre/7550575/VILLAS-BOAS-FRANK-ABOUT-LAMPARD

Wealthy people are ruining soccer. It started in Europe and specifically in the English Premier League (EPL), but its trickle down effects can be seen in Major League Soccer in the United States. An expansion club in the MLS this year is New York City FC, for which a big player in world soccer, Frank Lampard, is supposed to be the designated player, or the most important and potentially highest paid player on the pitch.

In the past few years in the MLS, it has been commonplace for older, big name international players to come to the U.S. to end their careers when they cannotphysically compete in Europe any longer. Examples include David Beckham, Kaka, Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane. So what is special in the case of Frank Lampard? It begins with Manchester City Football Club, and its run-in with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of international soccer, and the Financial Fair Play rules (FFP). In May 2014, MCFC was fined 60 million euros because of overspending on players such as JesúsNavas and Álvaro Negredo in the previous transfer window, which led to the violation of FFP rules.

This seems as if it would have no effect on the MLS and US soccer in general, but in order to alleviate costs from this, MCFC helped to establish NYCFC and gained 80 percent ownership of the new MLS club.

But what about Frank Lampard? Many NYCFC fans are angry with MCFC because they extended the loan period, which originally lasts until just before the beginning of the MLS season through the first two months of the MLS season, even though NYCFC technically owns Lampard. In short, the wealthy owners chose to hold onto Lampard for MCFC’s needs rather than the needs of their new team. Despite using the new club as a way of dispersing debt, MCFC has withheld one of NYCFC’s most important players. MCFC have now come out and said that Lampard was never on a loan deal from NYCFC to MCFC, but rather MCFC owned Lampard, and he has signed an extension with them.

The fact that MCFC has decided to withhold Lampard altogether must be extremely frustrating for NYCFC fans. It reminds me of the commercial with the fisherman holding up a dollar while goading a woman trying to reach it.

Meanwhile, other smaller clubs in the world like Anzhi Makhachkala, who have broken FFP rules in the Russian Premier league, were forced to pay two million euros in fines, even after they were relegated to the secondary league of Russian soccer.

So what is the issue? Both teams broke FFP rules, right? The difference is that MCFC is a global brand, not just a national brand or even a league wide brand. The difference is that the wealthy owners of MCFC were a bit wealthier than those at Anzhi. Consider the sponsors for MCFC, Etihad Airways. A decade ago, there was almost no influence of international business from the Middle East in English soccer, but now the influence of wealthy business owners in Asia and the Middle East has become a big part of the European game.

The wealthy have ruined the game of soccer worldwide. Why? Not only has MCFC been able to create a new club in order to spread out its financial burden, affecting the MLS, but the competitive nature of soccer, especially in Europe, has decreased significantly in cup competitions such as the Football Association (FA) Cup.

Although many Americans are not knowledgeable where the English Premier League is concerned, soccer lovers like myself may have noticed the decreased competition that has come in recent years with the FA cup in England.

Why is this? It all goes back to money. Teams that make it into the EPL simply want to stay there because that is where the money is. The EPL has money because of their TV deals with media sources. This means that they split the money among each time for allowing their teams to be televised. For smaller clubs this provides somewhat of a boost, but for giant clubs like MCFC, this simply widens the gap more. Smaller teams in the EPL like West Ham United simply can’t spend as much on transfers in the summer and January like big clubs can. As a result, the gap between the best and the worst in English soccer widens more and more.

On a European scale, teams like Barcelona have suddenly come into more European success as a result of allowing big foreign businessman to invest in their team as well. I had never heard of Qatar until I saw “Qatar Airways” on the jerseys of Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta Luján. Even though Barcelona hasn’t been the best per say in the past few years, there was a period of two to three years when they were. Ironically, those same years in which Barcelona dominated Europe was about the same time as when wealthy investors and shirt sponsors spurred the economy of the club at Barcelona, which resulted in their domination of other teams.

Now, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing that investors have come into world soccer. This helps to grow smaller clubs that otherwise would have no worldwide recognition into mega clubs. The cost of this, though, is the disparity between the money that can be used to build up a team. A small team like West Ham United may be able to develop a youth player into a world-class talent, but eventually that talent will be lured away in favor of a bigger club with more money.

As much as I enjoy watching Real Madrid destroying a small team in La Liga, I feel there should be more equality. The FIFA FFP rules were a good start, but in the next decade soccer fans can only hope to see FIFA help soccer clubs in Europe and America become equally successful. I hope to see the level of competitiveness become an even playing field as opposed to seeing Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, PSG or any other big name European team win the Champions League every year. Maybe someday West Ham United could win the biggest trophy on the biggest stage of European soccer.

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