The European Game: An Adventure to Explore Football on the Continent and Its Methods for Success

The European Game: An Adventure to Explore Football on the Continent and Its Methods for Success

by Dan Fieldsend


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781909715486
Publisher: Birlinn, Limited
Publication date: 09/01/2017
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 407,221
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Daniel Fieldsend is a UEFA qualified academy coach and scout working for Liverpool Football Club. He has worked in the football industry for many years, following the completion of a BSc degree in Football Studies. Alongside his current academy role, he is the Liverpool FC researcher for the Football Manager series. As a writer, he is the founder and editor of

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After a day spent at each end of the Eurostar, the similarities between London and Paris become apparent. There are, it seems, two faces to each city. There's one that tourists see, with cathedrals, landmarks and museums, and then there's the cultured yet economically deprived periphery where most people live. Those well-dressed, well-spoken people inside, who create the hustle of both capitals, caught up in that fiercely competitive quest for prosperity, differ little in their mien. They are quiet and well-mannered, softly courteous. On the metro inside Paris' Périphérique, much like London's underground, conversation is recherché. Yet what is exceptional about Paris as a city is its insistence upon presenting new arrangements of fine architecture at the exit of every station. There can be nowhere in the world that decorates itself as thoughtfully. The invisible constant that Lawrence Durrell speaks of as 'a tenderness of good living' can be felt in the sights and sounds. It is the only city sensitive enough to treasure art's many forms, with ambitious young men determined to see their street paintings one day hanging in the Louvre. At long last, thankfully, for this fine metropolis, there is a football team romancing locals with worthy displays.

It has not always been like this, though. At one time the Paris Saint-Germain emblem was too shameful, without a weight of sophistication, undeserving of the gift shops of Paris. The club began to tilt in the favour of Parisian society when the world-famous Swede Ibrahimovic (the footballer is known as 'Ibra', the caricature as 'Zlatan') arrived from Milan. Wearing a crystal white shirt, smiling in front of the Eiffel Tower, PSG jersey in hand, surrounded by an adoring public, this was the standout image of a football club reborn. 'It is a dream come true,' he said at the time, before admitting: 'I don't know much about the French league.'

Nor should he. When Ibra was presented at Camp Nou in front of 55,000 hopeful Barcelona fans back in 2009, the French first division (Ligue 1) was in a state of decline. That season, PSG averaged 33,266 fans, Lyon 34,767 and AS Monaco, with its seemingly uninterested fanbase, 7,894. Fast forward eight seasons and Ibrahimovic came to France, brought commercial investors, upped levels of curiosity and departed. He left in his wake a great rippling of interest. In 2016, PSG averaged 44,433 fans (a 33.5% increase brought on by five league title wins), Lyon 38,113 (a 9.6% increase that would be higher were it not for the location of their new stadium outside city boundaries) and AS Monaco 9,752 (a 23.5% increase, impressive for the champagne south-coasters).

PSG and Ligue 1's rise was mostly thanks to money from the Persian Gulf, which coincided with a gentrification of image and spectators. Throughout much of its history, the state of Qatar, a desert country in the Arabian Peninsula, relied on pearl hunting and the exportation of gems for a steady economy. The country regarded later as a financial power had its genesis in 1971 when the world's largest natural gas field, the North Dome Gas-Condensate, was discovered off its coast. Yet for all Qatar's economic potential, the ruling Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani was unable to capitalise. He was dislodged from his rule in a bloodless coup d'état by his son, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and other members of the family in 1995 whilst out of the country in Geneva.

Sheikh Hamad (for short) transformed Qatar between 1995 and 2013, from naturally blessed yet underachieving desert land, into the largest financial exporters of oil and gas post-millennium. No longer would they rely on pearl fishing. One of his first moves was to fast-track the development of the North Dome field. The country's GDP skyrocketed and Qatar amassed a sovereign wealth of $170 billion. Smartly, Sheikh Hamad treated income from natural resources as a hedge fund of sorts. He founded the Qatar Investment Authority in 2003 and purchased Western institutions like Harrods, Porsche and Volkswagen. If the well were to dry, so to speak, the money would be safe.

His son, Sheikh Tamim, was educated at Harrow School in England. Whilst there, the young sheikh witnessed the influence of football on Western culture and grew to admire the sport. Qatar Investment Authority set up a sporting branch in 2005, Qatar Sports Investments (QSi), to be managed by Sheikh Tamim's close friend Nasser Al-Khelaifi. In 2011, coherent to their strategy of permeating Western consciousness, QSi spent &8364;70 million to buy the young but troubled football club Paris Saint-Germain.

At the time of the purchase, PSG were in a raging inferno. 'Fans' faux pas ensures that PSG lose even when they manage to win' was a Guardian headline as early as 2008, as the club sat 19th in Ligue 1. Supporters had unfurled a derogatory banner against Lens in the French League Cup final, calling the northern Ch'tis inbred paedophiles, inciting national outrage. But there's a reason why, during a lunch meeting in 2011 with Michel Platini and President Sarkozy, Qatari representatives decided to invest in PSG. They were the only major club in a city of 12 million inhabitants. What did it matter that the fans had a violent element and attendances were declining? This was Paris, the elegant, spiritual capital of Europe. Home of the bourgeois; art, fashion, food and good living. Its centrality and famous landmarks drew more tourists than anywhere else in the world. Plus, this was modern football; local fan dependency was no longer a thing. The Qatari government had a business plan to monopolise Western institutes and, as PSG-supporting Sarkozy most likely pitched, owning the Paris club would be a continuation of that. Sheikh Tamim and Nasser Al-Khelaifi liked the project – PSG in many ways were similar to the Qatar they grew up in during the 1980s – a miniature sleeping giant – and decided they would fund PSG to make them a 'super-club' no matter the cost. 'Revenues generated from ventures are to be reinvested into Qatar,' the QSi website rationalised.

Super-club Domination

A Harvard University paper by Matt Andrews written in 2015 likened super-clubs to multinational or transnational corporations. It defined them as having, 'Much higher revenues than average clubs, [potential to] win many more games and titles, and greater likelihood to contribute positively to their economies.' The current super-clubs are (excluding English examples): Real Madrid (with &8364;620.1m revenue in 2016 – Deloitte), Barcelona (&8364;620.2m), Bayern Munich (&8364;592m), Paris Saint-Germain (&8364;520.9m), and Juventus (&8364;341.1m). They are defined as such because of their mass revenue and ability to monopolise wealth domestically. Juventus, for example, earned &8364;159m more than second-placed Napoli in 2016, and Bayern Munich some &8364;194m more than Dortmund.

The most ominous aspect of super-club rule is their grip on success, strengthened with every passing season. 'Successful clubs earn more from TV revenue which, in turn, allows them to acquire and retain better players and that enables them to continue to be successful,' wrote Gab Marcotti for ESPN on the perpetual cycle. PSG and Bayern won four consecutive league titles in France and Germany respectively from 2012 to 2016, and Juventus five consecutive titles in Italy. In Spain's La Liga, having overtaken Italy's Serie A as the home of superstar footballers, Barcelona and Real Madrid shared 25 of the 30 league titles won between 1986 and 2016.

Historically, as the Harvard paper explained, super-clubs built up a brand over many years. Their success came from identifying investors and offering them new products through advertisement and media campaigns. As society evolved, super-clubs recognised the shift from local dependency and ticket sales towards internationalisation, much earlier than their rivals did. Manchester United, for example, noticed commercialisation in football, or at least capitalised on it, before Liverpool. As did Bayern Munich before Dortmund and Real Madrid before Valencia. New forms of finance were available and they pushed their history to attract sponsors, television deals and new fans.

But that crop of super-clubs (Bayern, Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona) all had a history to push. Their status was founded on years of success. Take Bayern Munich. Following the Second World War and the creation of communist East Germany, big businesses like Siemens moved to Munich. Before the Bundesliga came to be in 1963, Audi and BMW had moved to the city and its population swelled. Such companies chose to invest in FC Bayern and not city rivals 1860 München because of the domestic successes achieved in the 1970s. In a parallel universe, 1860 could be a super-club rather than Bayern, had they convinced Gerd Müller (from TSV Nördlingen) and Franz Beckenbauer (from Giesing) to join them instead of their city rivals (Beckenbauer was slapped in the face when playing against 1860 as a boy and thus chose to play for Bayern when he was old enough to do so).

Bayern moved into the 70,000-capacity Olympic Stadium in 1972 and were represented by the German company Adidas in 1974. They have, since, maintained their position as the richest club in Germany, later joining a band of equally ambitious super-clubs on the continent. Similarly, the Harvard paper acknowledged how success coupled with early internationalisation at Real Madrid and Barcelona provided foundations for their brand promotion and subsequent super-club status, citing Alfredo di Stéfano's arrival from Colombia in 1953 and Johan Cruyff's from the Netherlands in 1973 as examples. 'Real Madrid is legendary for building on similar blends of historical legacy and brand identity, dating back to the nationalist identity with Franco's Spain,' it writes.

Joining the Party

However, thanks to developments in globalisation and instant degrees of communication, a club does not necessarily need a rich history of domestic success to become 'super'. PSG are living proof of that. 'The world is now instantaneous, digital. It took 50 years to make Real Madrid into a great world club. Now it can be done in five years,' club directeur général Jean-Claude Blanc told Simon Kuper of the Financial Times.

During my visit to Paris, PSG showed me a report presented usually to potential commercial investors. It is subtle, yet between the rather boastful paragraphs praising recent successes, one can analyse where PSG and QSi felt key areas of investment were. By that I mean areas they chose to focus on in order to propel the club from incompetence to super-club significance. From eternally underwhelming capital club, the coming together of Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain in 1970, with a hooligan problem and no money, to becoming one of the richest and most sponsored teams in world football, PSG have evolved like no club before. They have done so, according to the report, by: developing club facilities; prioritising academy development; creating a favourable style of play; harnessing the power of media; and investing in famous players.

Step 1: Facilities

At one time, Parisian socialites wouldn't dream of being seen at le football. But with the gentrification of traditional, often unruly, fans and the increased presence of celebrities (Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Rihanna, Jay Z and Beyonce), Parc des Princes stadium replaced Théâtre de la Ville as vogue. 'Dream Bigger' read the sign outside the player entrance on the afternoon of my arrival, written in perfect English, the consumerist tongue. Below it, where fans at one time mingled, ran a red carpet and velvet rope. PSG, by all appearances, had made their dreams reality.

Cédric is a student from Paris and a lifelong PSG supporter. We met outside Parc des Princes, a grey cinderblock structure built over highway A13, on an overcast February day. Construction workers circled the complex in yellow hard hats, their conversations inaudible over drilling noise. 'They're beautifying the stadium for the European Championships!' Cédric shouted.

A stadium is the face a club wishes to present of itself. Parc des Princes stands between the two Parises; close enough to the 2 million well-to-do living inside the ring road, and the 10 million less-welloff people on the outskirts. Photos of 'club legends' (depending on perception) were screwed into the stadium, much to the annoyance of Cédric. 'There are more pictures of Beckham than of real legends like Raï or Pauleta.' There were in actuality four images of David Beckham, taken during his five-month stint at PSG (in which time he made ten league appearances), in contrast to two of Pauleta, PSG's one-time record goalscorer, and one of Raï.

What Cédric deplored was, he felt, an attempt by the club to forget their history. Beckham's presence enticed celebrities, businessmen, clients and wealthy socialites to Parc des Princes, which in turn transformed to accommodate them. 'Paris Saint-Germain's hospitality programme has also attracted a considerable number of corporate clients,' their report confirmed. 'They have been drawn to the exceptional collection of fourteen luxury suites at the Parc des Princes and the range of premium services on offer.' Revenue from the hospitality programme increased six-fold between 2011 and 2016, reaching Euros 24.6 million.

'Thanks to an increased amount of VIP seating, the reorganisation of the Parc, the improvement of refreshment areas and the creation of new products, Paris Saint-Germain has put in place one of the most competitive ticketing policies in world football,' they wrote. Competitive pricing at PSG, however, became more adherent to theatre rates than football, Cédric moaned. Average season ticket costs rose from &8364;460 in 2011 to &8364;938 in 2015, hence the gentrification of fans and the subsequent attractiveness of the club to the middle classes. 'Paris Saint-Germain now possesses a stadium which measures up to its ambitions,' the report concludes.

Harvard University wrote that super-clubs would create new products to retain their status as elite. PSG, in accordance to that rule, created a concierge service with American Express. 'This partnership is in line with our strategy, initiated three years ago, to reposition the club as a premium brand,' said commercial director Frédéric Longuépée. Clients are chauffeured around le Gai Paree, taken to a Champions League game and then invited to party with the players afterwards. 'We represent Paris, France and Qatar,' Ibrahimovic explained – the boy from a ghetto in Malmö.

Step 2: Academy

Barcelona and Bayern Munich won Champions Leagues in 2013 and 2015 with a clear vision of how to play the game, allowing for young footballers to transition into their squads with greater ease. Barcelona had seven home-grown players in their full squad, while Bayern started four. A historic allegation attached to Paris Saint-Germain is that they were always blind to the local talent under their nose. 'The best player who came through has been [Mamadou] Sakho. He was our captain at 18 and could have been our [Paolo] Maldini, but we sold him,' Cédric later told me on our train journey to Lyon. PSG were playing OL that weekend and we had tickets.

'We have been blasé with local players; our academy never used to be good but it is getting better now.' In 2015, the winner of the Golden Boy award – a trophy given to European football's best under-21-year-old player – was Anthony Martial, a striker raised in Paris but signed by Lyon. Kingsley Coman, another Parisian talent allowed to leave PSG, was the runner-up. Other such stars from a wider Paris region who PSG overlooked are: Riyad Mahrez, Lassana Diarra, N'Golo Kanté, Abou Diaby, Patrice Evra, Hatem Ben Arfa and the world's most expensive footballer, Paul Pogba. Even Didier Drogba spent his formative years living in the city but was not signed by PSG.

Whilst it can be argued that some talent is quiet, requiring years to announce itself, as was the case with Drogba, Kanté and Mahrez who needed time to slowly develop, other talent screams from an early age. Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet were examples of that. By 20, they were World Cup winners with France, and European Championship winners at 22. Both were overlooked by PSG as youth players despite living in the suburbs of the city.

Trezeguet was born in France but raised in Buenos Aires. When he moved to Paris in 1995 he went on trial with PSG and asked for an apartment for his family to move in to. The club refused. Consequently, he joined AS Monaco, where he would form a partnership with fellow exile, Henry. 'My dream was Paris! During the test training, Luis Fernandez told me, "David, you're going to stay here." The only thing I wanted in the contract was an apartment for my family. It was supposedly agreed, but ultimately my requests were not accepted. Two days later, I was forced to leave Paris.'


Excerpted from "The European Game"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Daniel Fieldsend.
Excerpted by permission of Birlinn Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

ONE: Creating a Super-club: Soccernomics in Paris,
TWO: A Legacy for the Future: Aulas' Lyon,
THREE: Basque in their Glory: Athletic Bilbao and the Power of Identity,
FOUR: Masters and Apprentices: Oporto's Tactical Innovators,
FIVE: Creating Cristiano: Sporting's Superstar,
SIX: The Gateway to Europe: Benfica's Soaring Eagle,
SEVEN: Light in the Shadow of a Giant: Paco, Rayo and a Philosophy of Resistance,
EIGHT: Barça: An Empire's Palette,
NINE: Hagglers, Merchants and Mediterranean Dreams: The Agent of Marseille,
TEN: The Secrets of Scouting: How Juventus Dominate Italy,
ELEVEN: Style, History, Prestige, Milan,
TWELVE: Castles, Kings and Fables: Bayern of Bavaria,
THIRTEEN: Wings of Change: Red Bull Salzburg,
FOURTEEN: An Intermission Read: Investing in Potential; European Transfers,
FIFTEEN: To Dare Upon the Danube, Part I: Vienna and a Love of Place,
SIXTEEN: To Dare Upon the Danube, Part II: The History of Honvéd,
SEVENTEEN: Knights of the Yellow Wall: North Rhine-Westphalia,
EIGHTEEN: The Goldmine Effect: Feyenoord Rotterdam,
NINETEEN: Understanding Ajax of Amsterdam: Literature,
TWENTY: The Coca-Cola Recipe,

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