Anfield Redevelopment Underlines Liverpool’s Financial Rejuvenation Under FSG

Ahead of a crucial Premier League title decider against Chelsea this Sunday, Liverpool this week announced their expansion plans for Anfield, while managing director Ian Ayre today credited, via the Telegraph, the role of current owners John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group in their financial rejuvenation.

Both the Anfield redevelopment announcement and the revelations behind the dire financial situation at Liverpool have not only boosted the feel-good factor around the club, who are five points clear in the Premier League and poised to win their first league title in 24 years, but also highlighted just how important FSG have been in their resurrection.

The Reds now seem a stark contrast to what they were just a few years ago, when Tom Hicks and George Gillett were in constant internal battles with then-manager Rafael Benitez and released plans for a new stadium in Stanley Park that got nowhere, a symbol of their failed reign that disillusioned supporters.

John W. Henry led FSG’s takeover in 2010, which saved the club from administration and that has subsequently transformed Liverpool’s fortunes on and off the pitch.

As Ayre claims that “the club is in a fantastically sustainable position now,” let’s look at just how Liverpool have been rejuvenated financially under the reign of Henry and FSG—and whether this can be sustained going forward.

 

 

Chris Brunskill/Getty ImagesCorporatization of Liverpool as a Global Business

It’s easy to say we were 10 years into a stadium move and it’s about time we are back in the Champions League, but if you think about where we were financially, just because you’re Liverpool it does not mean you have a right to get back up there. There are plenty of teams who could have slipped and slipped, despite new owners, so it’s an unbelievable achievement to get back where we are today. That is testament to the people who invested in it and worked on getting us back there.

Ian Ayre’s proud proclamations of the FSG-led transformation, dipped in bitter memories of the Hicks and Gillett reign, will reverberate around Anfield as a resounding endorsement of the way John W. Henry has run his sports empire.

Joshua Green of Bloomberg.com has encapsulated Henry’s reign at Major League Baseball club Boston Red Sox in a wonderfully revealing article on their baseball dynasty, and similar principles from Henry’s financial and business background have been applied to Liverpool.

The inevitable truth in the sports world these days is that it is becoming more and more of a global business, and Liverpool have, in many aspects, finally caught on.

When looking at models for sustainable growth in world football, perhaps Arsenal is always the go-to club given the building of their new Emirates Stadium and the well-known financial management of Arsene Wenger, but it’s no surprise that Ian Herbert’s column for the Independent draws comparisons with “the kind of machine that the Glazer family have developed at Old Trafford.”

That Manchester United have set up offices around the globe to push their marketing and sponsorship efforts is indicative of their aggressive expansion as a corporation; Herbert writes that their “far-sighted establishment of regional and global corporate sponsorship deals began well over a decade ago.”

This has only recently surfaced at Anfield—though, of course, it is a case of better late than never—with all kinds of backroom appointments boasting titles we would otherwise associate with financial organizations and the business world in general.

Liverpool, who have for years been in the top 10 of Deloitte’s Money League rankings despite missing out on the Champions League, have finally gotten in the sponsorship act and have begun raking in the millions as a result of the commercial push. Their announcement this week of a partnership with US restaurant chain Subway, per the Liverpool Echo, is only the latest chapter in their fast-growing business empire.

 

 

Liverpool FC/Getty ImagesAnfield Redevelopment: Finally Done Right?

When looking to expand the financial income of football clubs, the issue of stadiums will always come into the equation.

After all, gate receipts was the reason behind Arsenal’s decision to move from Highbury to a new stadium, and Manchester United, having expanded Old Trafford over the years, have been raking in a minimum of £3 million every home match since its capacity has come close to 76,000, per ESPNFC.

So it’s no surprise that much has been made over Liverpool’s next step in terms of their stadium: The question was always whether to develop the iconic Anfield, which would have a capacity ceiling due to construction constraints, or to move into their neighboring Stanley Park, which would require massive payments that might hamper their other financial activity, much as Arsene Wenger has experienced.

This Mirror Football article, in light of the new stadium redevelopment announcements, revisited the failed and widely mocked plans for a 60,000-capacity stadium in Stanley Park, which were first suggested in 2002 and then revisited in the Hicks and Gillett reign. They promised a “spade in the ground” within 60 days of their 2007 acquisition of Liverpool, but proved unable to finance the construction project.

By contrast, the £150 million redevelopment currently mooted will cost less than a third of the Stanley Park plans, and will likely eventually take the total seating capacity to 58,000 after expanding two main stands, according to Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph.

Surrounding all the recent fanfare has been the club’s shady policy of “buying up houses around the stadium and leaving them empty, driving the local area into dreadful decline” since the 1990s, which David Conn has uncovered in his revealing Guardian column.

The club apparently “used an agency to approach some residents, while some houses were bought by third parties then sold on quickly to the club. That left residents with the belief…that Liverpool were buying up houses by stealth, to keep prices low,” a tactic that has not gone down well with local residents.

But as Ayre and the club have published their plans publicly and also apparently been in dialogue with the local councils and residents with their Anfield redevelopment plans, the chance is there for FSG and the current hierarchy to redeem errors made in years past and commit to a bright future for the local area and the local community.

The public consultation of fans’ opinions on the Anfield redevelopment, through a public online survey on their official website, is a good start. The right opportunity has finally arrived for FSG to leave a positive legacy in the city of Liverpool, far beyond just bringing the football club back in the green.

 

 

Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesLooking Ahead to a Promising Future

This week’s announcement of the Subway partnership is the latest sponsorship arrangement Liverpool Football Club have landed in 2014 alone: The likes of Vauxhall and Dunkin’ Donuts all joined the Liverpool corporate partner list this calendar year.

Following the money-spinning and multi-year deals with Standard Chartered Bank and Garuda Indonesia, an airline, Liverpool may even solicit financing for the expansion of the Main Stand via a “lucrative naming rights deal with a major sponsor,” according to James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo. Following Macron’s naming-rights announcement with Championship club Bolton Wanderers, announced this week as well via BBC Sport, naming rights may well and truly have entered the English football mainstream—Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium are but two famous examples.

For Liverpool, it’s been a story of financial rejuvenation, underlined by Ayre’s comments regarding the long and difficult journey of infrastructure-building at the club since FSG’s takeover:

When I came here seven or eight years ago, there were all these stories of the club shop being closed the day after the [2005] Champions League final [win over AC Milan in Istanbul], and only having a couple of sponsors. Over a long period of time, we have been trying to lay the foundations and build the infrastructure that services a great club like Liverpool.

As the club look to cash in on their successes in the Premier League this season—they confirmed, with their win over Norwich City last Sunday, a lucrative return to the Champions League next season—and continue to bear the fruits of their commercial exploits, their highest-ever annual turnover of £206.1 million this past year will surely be eclipsed considerably in a year’s time.

Add to that the image of the club as a young and energetic force, spearheaded by a visionary young manager in Brendan Rodgers and featuring a host of young stars in the team, as well as the rejuvenated Anfield stadium and surrounding area—confirmed to go through this time—and you have, for the first time in many a season, a healthy outlook for Liverpool Football Club for years to come.

To think that the Reds were “seconds from disaster” before John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group swooped in for their rescue act.

What a roller coaster it’s been—and long may it continue.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

10 Reasons Brendan Rodgers Could Become Liverpool’s Very Own Sir Alex Ferguson

With three Premier League matches to go, Liverpool are well-placed to win their first league title in 24 years.

Brendan Rodgers has rightly received many plaudits for his work with the Reds this season, having succeeded Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish almost two years ago.

Contrast that with the fortunes of Manchester United, who this week dispensed with David Moyes after a disastrous 10 months at the helm of the Old Trafford club. Moyes’ troubles were not helped by the constant presence of Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager he replaced at the Red Devils.

The pendulum has seemingly swung back to Liverpool after Ferguson established a Manchester United dynasty, with a 51-point swing between England’s two most historically successful football clubs a damning indictment of Moyes’ disastrous reign.

Meanwhile, at Anfield, Rodgers is quietly going about his task with aplomb and could very well become Liverpool’s very own Sir Alex. Here are 10 reasons why.

 

Roots and Origins

Roots and Origins
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty ImagesIn terms of playing career, Brendan Rodgers and Sir Alex Ferguson experienced contrasting fortunes: The former had his career curtailed by a genetic knee condition, while the latter made over 300 appearances in Scottish football as a forward.

Rodgers started his management career in youth football before graduating to senior-level football with Reading and Watford, then found true success with Swansea City. Ferguson, on the other hand, started at East Stirlingshire and St. Mirren before landing an ultimately successful gig at Aberdeen.

It was at Swansea and Aberdeen, respectively, where the two managers found their first tremendous successes: Rodgers brought a Welsh club into the Premier League for the first time ever, while Ferguson gatecrashed the Old Firm duopoly by winning the Scottish league.

Those jobs proved to be stepping stones toward two of the world’s most storied football clubs.

 

Status of Club

Status of Club
Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesWhich brings us to our next comparison: the respective sizes, statures and reputations of their clubs.

That Liverpool and Manchester United are far and away the most successful clubs in English football is evident, though both clubs have had their fair share of ups and downs over the years.

Ferguson was the man to famously “knock Liverpool off their perch,” per Graeme Yorke of The Daily Mail, while Rodgers could be the manager to take advantage of David Moyes’ troubles at United to bring the Reds back to the top of the English game once again.

 

Home Record

Home Record
Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesThat Moyes has been criticized so roundly for his poor home record this season is a testament to the stunning successes of Sir Alex, who was responsible for turning Old Trafford into a fortress and “Theatre of Dreams” most seasons.

Rodgers has based his success this season on his record at Anfield, where Liverpool have only drawn once and lost once in 17 league games. They’ve scored 51 goals, an average of more than three per victory.

No wonder they’re calling it “Fortress Anfield” once again.

 

Man Management

Man Management
Sang TanPerhaps one of the most admirable traits Sir Alex showed during his time at the Old Trafford helm was his man-management technique. He was a no-nonsense manager who didn’t tolerate bad behavior but was also able to contain the personalities and egos of world-class stars.

He dealt with his players with consummate ease, with the underlying principle being that none of his charges could ever be bigger than himself or Manchester United, an approach that Rodgers perhaps referenced when he navigated the Luis Suarez transfer saga last summer.

Rodgers has also made a name for himself as an excellent man-manager and motivator: He has been able to coax improved performances out of Stewart Downing and Jon Flanagan, while Jordan Henderson has become a shining example of how Rodgers can help players develop.

 

Youth Development

Youth Development
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesIn the same vein, Rodgers has proven to be equally adept and eager to blood promising youngsters from the Liverpool academy. Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom broke onto the scene last season, while his current league-topping team is one of the Premier League’s youngest.

Sterling in particular has blossomed into one of England’s most exciting wingers, while Rodgers has unlocked Suarez’s potential and turned him into a 30-goal-a-season striker this year.

Ferguson was, of course, famous for his youth development as well, with his famous Class of ’92 one of the most well-known stories in the modern game. His coaching of Cristiano Ronaldo was a highlight of his reign.

 

Footballing Identity

Footballing Identity
Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesWhile the tactical approaches of Rodgers and Ferguson are quite different, the footballing identities that their clubs have adopted during their reigns have been equally notable.

Ferguson’s iconic successes in the 1990s came from a classic wing-heavy 4-4-2 formation, while his triumphs in the 2000s featured more flexible approaches, but devastating wing play and exciting counterattacks have become synonymous with Manchester United.

His ability to move with the times on the pitch was reflected by his evolving tactical approaches while staying true to an underlying footballing philosophy.

In the same vein, Rodgers has returned Liverpool to their famous pass-and-move roots and instituted a destructive attacking game as well. Not only are the Reds threatening on the counter, but they also keep possession intelligently and can build play patiently.

Rodgers has also shown tactical flexibility in shaping his team according to the strengths of his players, who are now comfortable in a variety of tactical formations as necessary.

 

Influence over the Media

Influence over the Media
Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty ImagesA glaring difference noticed at Old Trafford this season is the way David Moyes carried out his press conferences—his defeatist and pessimistic attitude were a marked contrast to the bullishness of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson was a master manipulator of the media; his success and longevity in the English game demanded respect and attention. He spoke with authority and arguably even held considerable sway over the Premier League officials.

Rodgers’ approach during his time at Liverpool hasn’t been nearly as controversial or confrontational as Ferguson’s was at United, but his authoritative stance and constant calmness in interviews and press conferences has been a refreshing departure from the at-times outlandish outbursts of Kenny Dalglish.

If Liverpool remain successful, Rodgers will be well on his way to becoming one of Europe’s most esteemed and respected managers as he develops his career at Anfield.

 

Dealing with Pressure

Dealing with Pressure
Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesGreat responsibility and power come with the managerial positions of England’s most successful football clubs, and the pressure that finds its way to their managers can be overwhelming.

Sir Alex dealt with the pressure most of the time in the best way possible: by winning trophies and continuing his impressive record. But he also knew how to manage his players and the media to cast the spotlight on whichever party he thought deserved it at the time. Hindsight tells us that he was by and large very successful.

Rodgers hasn’t even completed two full seasons at Anfield yet, but the trials and tribulations he’s had to go through, especially in his first half-year, showed his calmness and composure in dealing with pressure.

Of course, in an unexpected but exhilarating title run this season, the Liverpool boss has managed to keep the pressure off his players by insisting that they have already overachieved this season—in the process making it Manchester City and Chelsea’s title to lose.

 

Synonymy with Club

Synonymy with Club
Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesOver the years, due to his longevity and success at Manchester United, Ferguson made himself synonymous with the club, in the process making the club’s identity his and vice versa.

He was the one who implemented the attacking football for which United have become famous, as well as all other values, such as the importance the club treat their youth academy.

Rodgers has grown into his role in the Liverpool hot seat to the extent that Reds fans consider him as an embodiment of the “Liverpool way.” His championing of the Hillsborough Justice cause has made him a perfect ambassador for the club, while his well-spoken ways have made him an ideal spokesperson.

 

Start of a New Era?

Start of a New Era?
Julian Finney/Getty ImagesWhen Sir Alex Ferguson took charge at Old Trafford in 1986, Liverpool were the dominant force in English football. It took him four years to win his first piece of silverware at United.

What followed was a legendary period of success in which he defined Manchester United and left behind a lasting legacy both at the club and in the league.

Sir Alex won his last title at United in his last season, which happened to be Brendan Rodgers’ first at Liverpool.

And now, with United having dropped dramatically this season and the Reds poised to win the title in May, what an interesting coincidence it would be if Rodgers put in place the start of a new era at Anfield…

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

How Manchester United’s Global Brand Is Affected by Missing the Champions League

An underwhelming season for Manchester United has been capped by the news this week that the Old Trafford club had dismissed beleaguered manager David Moyes, who succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson last July.

As rumors have surfaced aplenty across various media outlets speculating the causes of Moyes’ downfall and what exactly went wrong in his tenure at United, the club have appointed Ryan Giggs as their interim manager as they strive to look forward to the future.

Their underwhelming performances this campaign have led to a disappointing failure to qualify for the Champions League next season, as they are now well and truly mathematically out of reach of the Premier League top four, for the first time in 19 years, which has led to some concern about the direction of the 20-time title winners.

For a club of United’s size and stature, how costly would missing out on the Champions League be for their future and their brand image? How will they pick themselves up from the wake of their recent managerial departures—first Ferguson and now Moyes?

Let’s explore how Manchester United’s brand will be affected by missing the Champions League across three rough timescales: The short, medium and long terms.

 

 

CHRISTOF STACHEShort Term: A Harsh Economic Hit

The immediate future of Manchester United as a preeminent footballing superpower is murky at least: The notion that they are not a “sacking club” has been dispelled after Moyes’ dismissal, even though his results perhaps made his position untenable.
To fall from the lofty achievement of winning the Premier League title last May to a current seventh place with no hope of making the top four this season will rightly be considered a disaster from the club’s point of view, given Sir Alex Ferguson’s longevity and record of success, which helped built an image of the club as a perennial contender and a winning institution over the years of his legendary reign.

So to fall from conquering England less than 12 months ago—and conquering Europe six years ago—to the prospect of regular Europa League football, or even no European action at all, will be a massive reputational dent: How can United keep up their global reputation if they’re not even continental?

In the wake of David Moyes’ sacking, Manchester United will miss out on a reported £50 million due to a failure to qualify for Europe’s elite club competition alone, according to Simon Goodley of the Guardian, who suggests that the same riches that are available to competing clubs will serve as a double whammy on top of United’s losses, considering their debts.

Goodley’s comparisons of United’s current situation with Bayern Munich’s in 2007—that they would need to spend massively to improve their squad without European football in a bid to catch up with their competitors—led him to estimate a potential £100 million summer outlay in transfer fees alone.

Which doesn’t include the wage expenditures for their high-earning star players and the considerable compensation that Moyes and his staff will no doubt fight for.

Make no mistake: As United count the costs of missing out on the Champions League, it’s not just to their reputation in the short term as a global sporting brand, but also a blow to their already shaky financial situation.

 

 

Jon SuperMedium Term: The Rebuilding Must Be Done Right

Considering the massive financial commitment that the club will need to make to steady the ship and turn it around, the short-term hit will only be compensated by an ambitious and focused rebuilding job done at all levels of Manchester United.
This involves many aspects across the front and back of the club, not least including a revisiting of the overall backroom structure in place at Old Trafford, which Gabriele Marcotti of ESPNFC suggests should include a Director of Football to alleviate the workload of the modern football manager, and a thorough review system to ensure that players are not signed for inflated fees (see Marouane Fellaini) or rewarded with bumper contracts despite being clearly surplus to requirements (see Nani).

That United have splashed £64.6 million on just two signings will not be lost on any observers: If anything, it will serve as an “eyes light up” moment to the agents of United targets and a major obstacle for the club to overcome. A quick glance at Liverpool’s eye-watering spending in the summer of 2011 will make for a horrifying prospect for many a Red Devil fan.

But besides the playing staff that have been the public face of United, both on and off the field for better or worse over the years, the figurehead that leads them to silverware and sustained success will need to be appointed as well.

The bullish nature and at-times extraordinary proclamations of Sir Alex Ferguson all added to the Manchester United aura and myth, which were almost instantly shattered by the defeatist and pessimistic utterances of David Moyes, who also oversaw the transformation of Old Trafford from a home fortress into a cauldron of fear.

They messed up a managerial appointment once; they can’t afford to do it again.

 

 

Handout/Getty ImagesLong Term: The Structure Is in Place for a Resurgence

As a football club, Manchester United have led the way in England and in Europe for many years, both on the football pitch and off it in the commercial realm. United were perhaps the first club to have built any global brand of note and formulated a wining commercial strategy that was based around silverware won on the pitch and the superstars that brought United that distinct success.
News that the club’s share price on the New York Stock Exchange has rebounded to a pre-Moyes, according to the Mirror, is both cruel on the newly deposed manager and reflective of the club’s standing in the global financial game, while Alex Duff’s commentary on Bloomberg.com considers the club’s power in terms of attracting lucrative commercial sponsorships and strategic partnerships.

Any new manager arriving at Old Trafford would be walking in a dressing room, while needing the injection of some much-needed fresh blood, still featuring some world-class stars, and operating within a commercial giant that is peerless in world football with a brand name that still resonates around the globe. Any comparisons with Liverpool’s dramatic downfall are as a result premature and naive, as the Anfield club have only recently caught up on the commercial side of things, whereas United were pioneers at building a commercial enterprise.

But while United fans shouldn’t panic at the current state of their club, even if the Champions League anthem won’t be playing at Old Trafford next year, they will realize that the club will only be able to bounce back—and the club officials will realize its brand power will only be fully realized—if they overcome a potentially significant short-term hit and approach their rebuilding job correctly.

Because if they don’t do it right, the Manchester United brand, which has been built so strongly over the years because they have become synonymous with success, will wither as a result of their on-field disappointments.

It’s imperative that they get it right this time, before it becomes a vicious, self-defeating cycle.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Norwich vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Nervy Win

A brace from Raheem Sterling and a close-range finish from Luis Suarez were enough to hand Premier League title-chasing Liverpool a victory over relegation-threatened Norwich City, who put up a valiant effort and scored via Gary Hooper and Robert Snodgrass in a 3-2 thriller at Carrow Road on Sunday.
Sterling opened the scoring after just a few minutes into the match with a peach of a long-range strike, before his cross was perfectly placed to find Suarez, who finished for his 12th Premier League goal against the Canaries.
Hooper pounced on an unconvincing piece of goalkeeping from Simon Mignolet to give the hosts a deserved goal after a period of sustained pressure in the second half, before Sterling ran the length of the field to score a second, albeit via a deflection.

Snodgrass’ emphatic header gave Norwich renewed hope, but the final whistle sounded with the Reds notching an 11th straight victory to go five points above second-placed Chelsea and nine above Manchester City, who have two games in hand.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s nervy but important win on Sunday. Enjoy and have your say in the comments below.

 

Raheem Sterling, Rising Star

Raheem Sterling, Rising Star
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesLiverpool’s victory on Sunday was all about Raheem Sterling: He scored two goals—the first a sumptuous moment of brilliance, the second a result of perseverance—and provided a telling cross for Luis Suarez.

Sterling’s brace brought him to nine goals this Premier League season, his first full season in senior-level football—if this even counts as a “full” season, given his irregular game time at the beginning of the campaign.Getting to double figures for the season is a reflection of just one of the many areas that he has massively improved in the past few months. Add his strength on the ball and admirable defensive tenacity, and Liverpool have one of the most complete wingers in all of England.

To think that he is still 19 years old. If he continues in the same vein, Sterling could go down as one of Liverpool’s best ever.

 

Questionable Defending Once Again from Liverpool

Questionable Defending Once Again from Liverpool
Michael Regan/Getty Images 

When Liverpool surged two goals up in the first half, their fans, and even their players, could have been forgiven for thinking that this would turn out to be another multi-goal rout—and perhaps Suarez would be able to extend his hat-trick record against Norwich.

Not so. Liverpool’s own defending caused themselves so much trouble in the end.Credit must be given to Norwich for coming out of their half-time team talk reinvigorated, and they went at the visitors with a sense of renewed purpose and confidence.

But Simon Mignolet’s punch was far from convincing, which led to Gary Hooper’s goal. Meanwhile, Jon Flanagan should have done way better as a defender who was tasked with marking Robert Snodgrass, a winger, on a routine header from a cross.

Norwich’s pressing also forced Liverpool into numerous hesitant clearances from the back, which put the Reds’ back line under necessary pressure.

 

Brendan Rodgers, Pragmatist?

Brendan Rodgers, Pragmatist?
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesWhen Brendan Rodgers sent on Daniel Agger for Joe Allen late in the second half, it might be looked back upon as a key milestone in his career as Liverpool boss.

Long known for his philosophical and visionary approach to football, he changed tack and sent on an extra body in defence, looking to stifle Norwich’s growing momentum rather than pushing his team forward.Norwich wrestled the game back from Liverpool’s hands, eventually dominating the corner count, overtaking the visitors in terms of shots and even challenging the possession count, after a first half that saw Liverpool play like they were the home team.

But make no mistake: Rodgers will be delighted with the three points from Carrow Road and might even discard everything else. His newfound pragmatism is a sure sign that Liverpool are challenging for top honors right at the business end of the season.

 

Too Little, Too Late for Norwich City?

Too Little, Too Late for Norwich City?
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesThat Rodgers turned to Agger to shore up his defence late on against Norwich—a team Liverpool have recently enjoyed a stellar record against—showed everything about how the Canaries played on Sunday.

While their first-half display was far from convincing, they came out of the dressing room after half-time full of energy, confidence and attacking verve and took the game to Liverpool every opportunity they had.

Having spent last summer shelling out for new and highly rated acquisitions like Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer, Norwich City were supposed to finish more toward the mid-table places than toward the foot of the Premier League table.

Instead, they have struggled to find any sort of consistency all season, which has led to their current precarious position and the recent sacking of Chris Hughton.

Their effort against Liverpool was commendable, but with four mammoth fixtures against Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United to finish off their season, Norwich might have found their energy a little too late in the campaign.

 

Reds’ Lack of Squad Depth Highlighted

Reds’ Lack of Squad Depth Highlighted
Jamie McDonald/Getty ImagesYet again, this result might be yet another hard-fought performance that title winners “need to grind out despite not playing well,” as the cliche goes, but also yet again, this result highlights just how shallow Liverpool’s squad depth actually is.

Without Daniel Sturridge, they relied on Raheem Sterling to provide an attacking thrust and a driving edge, and while the No. 31 provided the match-winning moments for the Reds, late substitute Victor Moses offered nothing to show that he was once considered one of the best attacking prospects in all of England.Without Jordan Henderson, Liverpool lacked a meaningful and forceful presence in the final third of the pitch—a midfield runner who could transition their play into attack and make useful runs into the box.

In his place, Lucas offered nothing of note besides a few clumsy fouls and a shocking miss at the end of the match after Luis Suarez set up him with a golden chance to bring the visitors 4-2 up.

While Suarez has proved that he has the quality to lead the line as Liverpool’s lone striker, it might turn out that Henderson will be their biggest miss due to his suspension.

 

Liverpool vs. Chelsea Is the Biggest Game This Season

Liverpool vs. Chelsea Is the Biggest Game This Season
Michael Regan/Getty Images 

Saturday’s monumental result at Stamford Bridge, where Gus Poyet’s Sunderland delivered a landmark 2-1 away win (which might yet impact Norwich’s survival status this season), cast the spotlight squarely on Liverpool, who responded accordingly (if not at all emphatically).

Five points separate Chelsea and Liverpool with three matches left to play, while the Reds lead third-placed Manchester City by nine points—though Manuel Pellegrini’s side have two matches in hand.Steven Gerrard said in his post-match interview after the breathless victory over Manchester City that Norwich City would be Liverpool’s biggest game of the season.

While the Liverpool hierarchy will carry the same narrative through the remaining three games, Chelsea’s visit to Anfield next weekend is undoubtedly the match of the season.

It will set the tone for the rest of the title race, and while Liverpool have plenty to look forward to at Anfield and on the back of a stellar winning run, Jose Mourinho has enjoyed an excellent record against the Reds in the league over the years—and his midfield will pose a considerable threat to a Henderson-less Liverpool.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Is a European Super League an Inevitable Next Step in World Football?

The past couple of weeks in European football have thrown up some interesting scenarios, perhaps unthinkable just a few years ago, which have thrown into question the competitiveness and balance even in the leading domestic leagues around Europe.

When Chelsea loaned Thibaut Courtois, then one of the hottest goalkeeping talents in the world, almost three years ago to Atletico Madrid, surely they didn’t expect to have to waive a contract clause at the prospect of facing their loanee in the Champions League semifinal.

When Borussia Dortmund won the Bundesliga and upset the status quo just a few years ago, surely they didn’t expect that a comprehensive 3-0 win over Bayern Munich in the league would mean as little as it just did, given that Pep Guardiola’s side had just become the quickest team ever to win the German championship.

These are but two incidents that have reflected the reality of European football these days (and there are many more—think Bayern’s ruthless snapping up of Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski from Dortmund, supposedly their closest rivals).

And the reality is that, while the top-tier leagues, especially in England with the Premier League, have started to break away from their lesser domestic competitions, those cream-of-the-crop clubs at the top of the European game have begun to form a mini exclusive club of their own.

Perhaps it’s time to consider not whether a European Super League would be a fun and interesting side project for club owners to think about, but whether it is actually an inevitable next step in world football.

 

Kerstin Joensson

 

Booming broadcast and television revenues

It’s hard to point a finger at a definitive starting point for this spiraling breakaway of the European elite, but BT Sport’s staggering £897 million three-year exclusive deal to broadcast live Champions League and Europa League games starting from 2015, announced last November via BBC Sport, is a good start.

Given the amount of money involved in the European game, it’s no surprise that the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool have made qualifying for the Champions League essentially a barometer of their season-to-season success in the Premier League.

Of course, it’s a cyclical game—perhaps even a snowball effect—in which money drives commercialization and encourages clubs and league administrators to package the sport as a “consumer product,” which focuses on entertainment value in the form of stadiums, overall team play and individual superstars, which boosts widespread interest and thus potential income, and so on.

But it’s not as if those involved in the beautiful game at the top level are trying their level best to keep the game devoid of any adverse effects from the money involved. Far from it.

Just this January, the Telegraph reported that the Premier League wanted to bring forth the next “auction” of football broadcasting rights by six months, which sources allegedly claimed was a show of “opportunism” from the league in “attempting to exploit the fierce competition between BSkyB and BT, and the resulting increase in the value of sports rights.”

As the game of football evolves at the top level and clubs become ever more like global corporations, even the ordinary football fan has evolved into being a consumer from their clubs’ point of view.

And how do businesses engage with their consumers? By providing high-quality goods (in this case, high-quality performances with a dose of superstardom, delivered at every broadcast opportunity across every possible channel).

A further case illustrating the financial explosion of the modern game once again focuses on the aggressive increase of Premier League prize money: A Telegraph report in May 2013 mentioned that Manchester United’s £60.8 million in TV money, a record sum for a Premier League champion, would be eclipsed the following season by the club that finishes bottom of the league because of new broadcasting deals.

 

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

 

Exponential inflation of player valuations

The sheer amount of money involved in top-level football highlights the indispensability of the sport to TV networks and channels, which in turn drives up their bids to carry these matches.

But from both the clubs’ and the fans’ points of view, this is merely a reflection of an ever-increasing and ever-vociferous demand for the sport—especially as clubs and leagues are becoming more business-savvy and expanding into markets never previously thought lucrative or even possible.

Which means that top-level footballers and top-level coaches, who turn top-level footballers into top-level teams on the pitch, gradually become a premium commodity to be traded to those willing to shell out a fortune in anticipation of the potential upsides.

And so we have eye-watering deals like Gareth Bale’s world record transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid, who themselves set the previous record by signing Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. And vastly inflated contracts like Wayne Rooney’s new extension at Old Trafford, which reportedly will land him a mammoth £300,000 a week, per BBC Sport.

Suddenly, the prevalence of money in the modern game has made it an essential part of both player decisions and transfer strategies. Players appoint ruthless agents to extract the best deal for themselves and their clients, while clubs head towards the murky waters of outbidding each other for star names.

The supply line has just shot up in value.

And those organizations who can afford to shell out the big bucks to procure such mercurial and overpriced talent—some through the generosity of a well-off benefactor—become the most important players in the financial game of football.

It’s no surprise, then, that Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski put forth in Soccernomics that football clubs in capital cities are best positioned to dominate the European game in the future: Take the financial “capital” in the cities and you instantly have the most powerful hybrids of money, geography and power across football clubs in Europe.

 

Marc Mueller

 

A whole new, exclusive playing field

Where does this bring us?

On the one hand, the growing demand of top-level football means that there will only ever be greater sums of money spent by fans and reflected in megadeals between leagues, clubs and broadcasters.

On the other hand, the explosion of player valuations means that agents will continue to grow in prominence and importance, while player power will entrench itself as an institutional concept in modern football—and only a handful of football clubs are even equipped to handle such major deals.

Which essentially means that the footballing world is their oyster.

As players vie to get into those clubs as a sign of their ability and ambition and as clubs strive to either maintain their place in that elite group or try their utmost to break into the oligarchy, a whole new, exclusive playing field has taken form for the big boys up top.

La Liga has traditionally been the easiest and most glaring example of a “top two” league, with Barcelona and Real Madrid maintaining a hegemony on proceedings in Spain until Atletico burst onto the scene this season, while recently Bayern Munich has become a textbook example of just how far a first-placed team can pull away from its closest challenger.

Sooner or later, as egos, ambitions and competitiveness are wont to trump all in sport, these big players will yearn for a platform where they can pit their wits against each other on a regular basis, to claim a title that will truly prove their dynasties.

The concept of a European Super League suddenly doesn’t sound so far-fetched after all. In fact, it almost sounds as if it’s going to be the next big evolution in world football.

And just as TV networks have continued to scramble for big broadcasting deals just to get a slice of the ever-growing pie, football clubs not yet in the “Super League” category will fight tooth and nail, and spend an arm and a leg to try to get there.

There will be plenty of new entertainment for football fans—and plenty of inadvertent and unfortunate financial casualties as well.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Comparing Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho with Aguero, Dzeko, Silva, Nasri

A few things have changed since Premier League fans were debating between three of its all-star strike partnerships this season: David Moyes has failed to unlock the potential of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, Alvaro Negredo has seen his starting place usurped at times by Edin Dzeko and we’ve come to recognise the brilliance of entire forward lines, not just that of two strikers.

And so these days, instead of choosing between Manchester United’s Van Persie and Rooney, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, we’re now left to pick between the all-star attacking quartets of Liverpool and City.

Specifically: Suarez, Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho versus Aguero, Dzeko, David Silva and Samir Nasri.

As we look ahead to Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield—billed as a title decider—we’re not just considering the impact of the result on the title race, we’re also looking forward to seeing the league’s two most prolific attacks going at each other in what promises to be an open, exciting and pulsating match.

Here, we’ve compiled a fun comparison between the two forward lines across five categories—investment, potency, creativity, consistency and potential—before we arrive at our own conclusion on which is the better strike force. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Investment

Investment

Michael Steele/Getty Images

First, let’s compare how the strike forces were assembled and for what price.

 

Liverpool

Luis Suarez: £22.8 million, from Ajax Amsterdam.
Daniel Sturridge: £12 million, from Chelsea.
Raheem Sterling: £600,000 (potentially £5 million, depending on performances), from Queens Park Rangers.
Philippe Coutinho: £8.5 million, from Internazionale.

Total: £43.9 million (potentially £48.3 million).

 

Manchester City

Sergio Aguero: £38 million, from Atletico Madrid.
Edin Dzeko: £27 million, from Wolfsburg.
David Silva: £24 million, from Valencia.
Samir Nasri: £25 million, from Arsenal.

Total: £114 million.

 

Summary

In signing undervalued players with potential—Raheem Sterling is the standout purchase here, having signed for Liverpool aged just 15—Liverpool have made some shrewd acquisitions who have blossomed under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers.

Coutinho and Sturridge in particular were players on the sidelines at their previous clubs who are starting to realise their full potential. Indeed, both players have transformed the club’s attacking fortunes since arriving at Anfield just over a year ago.

Manchester City, on the other hand, have opted to sign big, established names from leagues around Europe, fighting off stiff competition from top clubs to land their targets. In doing so, besides the initial outlay in terms of the transfer fees, all four players are on stellar wage packages, making them even more expensive as an overall financial investment.

That said, it’s hard to argue with their success at City—for it was Dzeko and Aguero who scored the two goals in injury time that won the club their first ever Premier League title in 2012.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

When it comes to initial investment, however, there was only ever going to be one clear winner here, a conclusion that might not have needed the above breakdown as justification. Liverpool win this round hands down.

 

Potency

Potency

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Attackers need to score goals. This category is all about league goals scored, and how important they are to their respective teams going forward.

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 29 goals in 28 games.
Sturridge: 20 goals in 25 games.
Sterling: Six goals in 28 games.
Coutinho: Four goals in 28 games.

Total: 59 goals this season.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: 15 goals in 17 games.
Dzeko: 11 goals in 24 games.
Silva: Six goals in 22 games.
Nasri: Five goals in 27 games.

Total: 37 goals this season.

 

Summary

In terms of just goal-scoring output this season, the above comparison might be a bit surprising for some, considering Liverpool and Manchester City are both flying high in the Premier League “goals for” column.

The combined total of 59 goals from Liverpool’s attacking quartet, out of their staggering total of 90, means that almost two-thirds of all the club’s goals have come from these four players. Add Steven Gerrard’s 13 to the mix and you have 80 per cent of all goals coming from five players.

Contrast that with City’s foursome, who have contributed just 37 goals out of their 84-goal total. Yaya Toure, who mainly operates as a central, box-to-box midfielder, is a glaring omission with his club-high haul of 18, while Alvaro Negredo has contributed a respectable return of nine thus far. Still, that’s just 76 per cent of all goals coming from six key players.

Injuries and squad options have had a large say as well—barring Daniel Sturridge’s mid-season injury, which deprived him of some game time, all of the Reds’ forwards have notched their goals in a 28-game season thus far. A quick glance at City’s shows the fewer games they have managed, in particular Sergio Aguero, who is still an injury doubt for Sunday’s clash.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

All of which means that, yes, Liverpool’s four forwards have the more impressive goal return, in terms of numbers and percentage of their club’s overall goals scored. It also means, however, that City have more options spread across the squad—which may yet be a deciding factor in where the Premier League trophy lands this May.

 

Creativity

Creativity

Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Now let’s see how they stack up in terms of creativity, which we’ll simplify into two categories: assists and chances created. (All statistics courtesy of Squawka.com.)

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 11 assists, 77 chances created.
Sturridge: Seven assists, 27 chances created.
Sterling: Three assists, 38 chances created.
Coutinho: Six assists, 51 chances created.

Total: 27 assists, 193 chances created.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: Five assists, 27 chances created.
Dzeko: One assist, 14 chances created.
Silva: Nine assists, 77 chances created.
Nasri: Five assists, 55 chances created.

Total: 20 assists, 173 chances created.

 

Summary

A close match, especially adjusting for the number of games played by each member here.

Suarez is the clear standout, both with the highest number of outright assists and with a chance creation record similar to that of a world-class playmaker like David Silva—which goes great lengths to show the phenomenal season that the Uruguayan striker is having.

When it comes to the supporting attackers, however, the numbers become more interesting. Despite having more games between them, Sterling and Coutinho only combine for 89 chances created, while Silva and Nasri have an impressive total of 132, which explains the dominant position City have held for most of the season in terms of total goals scored, and hints at what could have been for them had Aguero stayed fit for most of it.

 

Verdict: Tie

We had a hard time choosing a winner here, so we’re going for the easy option—a tie. If Aguero had stayed fit for the majority of the season and played in as many games as the rest of his attacking partners, City could well have won this category by a mile.

As it stands, though, both sides seem to have creativity bursting at the seams, which can only be a good thing ahead of Sunday’s match.

 

Consistency

Consistency

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Now for a category that is much harder to be backed purely by numbers and statistics. In evaluating consistency, we look for the contributions by the forwards on a week-to-week basis over the course of the season thus far.

 

Liverpool

It’s been an exhilarating campaign for the Reds, by almost all measures. At the base of it, their current first-placed position in the league table says it all—Liverpool have already overachieved this season.

Crucial to this excellent league performance has been Luis Suarez’s outstanding consistency. Despite missing his first five matches of the season through suspension, he has been an ever-present and even set a new record for league goals scored in one calendar month back in December. Daniel Sturridge carried the team on his back during Suarez’s early-season absence and stormed back to action after an injury layoff by scoring in eight matches in a row.

By the high standards he set for himself in the second half of the 2012/13 Premier League campaign, Coutinho has not quite performed to them this season. In contrast, this has very much been a breakout campaign for Raheem Sterling, who has cemented his place in the first team after a series of strong and mature displays since December.

 

Manchester City

Just as Suarez has set the bar for consistent excellence this year, Aguero has disappointed with his injury troubles. A league campaign that threatened to feature two genuinely world-class strikers running away in the scoring charts—much like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do in La Liga—has now resulted in a one-sided affair.

That Manuel Pellegrini has rotated between Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko means that there hasn’t been much consistency in terms of Aguero’s strike partner—Negredo’s skill set clearly complements Aguero well, but in Aguero’s absence, Negredo and Dzeko have yet to set the league on fire.

The same applies for David Silva, who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season and is rediscovering a good patch of form of late, but has also been beset by injuries. Samir Nasri is the flag-bearer for consistency in the City forward line this year, having shown a massive improvement in both attitude and attacking contribution since Roberto Mancini’s departure.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

Suarez’s performance levels this season are arguably enough to make Liverpool winners in this category on his own. Aguero might have run him close, given his outstanding record when fit at the start of the season, but his injuries have robbed City of any chance of coming close to the Reds here.

 

Potential

Potential

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since there isn’t a set formula to calculate potential return—both in terms of attacking contribution over the coming years and indeed in the amount of money the clubs could receive if they decide to sell these players—we’ll simply consider the current age and go from there.

 

Liverpool

One of the many things that has stood out from Brendan Rodgers’ achievements this season is how young his squad currently is. The attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho has an average age of just 22.75 years, which is both supremely encouraging from the club’s standpoint and also extremely exciting for the Premier League.

That Rodgers has gotten such a young team—don’t forget the relative youth of Simon Mignolet, Jon Flanagan, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson—to fire their way to the top of the Premier League is a big testament to his philosophy and vision at Anfield.

 

Manchester City

With an average age of 26.75 years, City’s forward line can be rightly regarded as entering its prime. That Aguero, aged just 25, has, when fit, run 27-year-old Suarez so close speaks volumes of the potential of the Argentinian striker, who still has a few years to go at the top level just yet.

The same can be said of Silva and Nasri, who have exhibited the tenacity to show that they can still perform at peak level for a few years still, but Dzeko’s status as the oldest among all contenders here, and the fact that his future at the club is still up in the air adds an element of instability.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

The four-year difference in average age is so considerable, it’s almost shocking to think what this Liverpool attack will be capable of in a few years’ time, when they collectively arrive at City’s level. That Liverpool signed all four of their forwards at prices arguably lower than market value also makes their potential resale value much higher than City’s from a profit margin standpoint.

 

Conclusion

Conclusion

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

From our verdicts across five categories here, Liverpool emerge as the clear winners in an attack-against-attack comparison with Manchester City.

They’ve signed their forwards at a relatively younger age, meaning that both the initial investment and the potential return are much higher, while their output and consistency are no doubt the more impressive of the two.

City come close in creativity, hinting that their season has been dampened by a very significant factor—the ongoing injury troubles of Sergio Aguero.

It’s intriguing to think how City would shape up here if Aguero had remained fit to complete a whole season—perhaps Pellegrini’s men would really be out of sight in the “goals for” column in the Premier League.

As it stands, however, it’s the 90-goal Reds hosting the 84-goal Blues at Anfield this Sunday. The imminent return of Sergio Aguero (per the Mirror), however, makes it that bit more interesting.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Why the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil Can Still Be the Best Ever

As we enter the final few months of the buildup to the 2014 World Cup, we’ve heard much about the current state of host nation Brazil and how behind it still is in terms of building the necessary infrastructure to successfully host and support a worldwide tournament and festival.

Just last week, FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke told BBC Sport that Brazil may not be “totally ready” for the start of the tournament due to building delays, with two stadiums in Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo still not finished.

And with the current political climate in Europe, amid criticism of Russia’s recent actions following the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Qatar’s human rights record ahead of its own World Cup in 2022, Valcke has even gone as far as to emphasize FIFA’s political neutrality, per Al Jazeera:

FIFA is not the United Nations…We are not there to discuss with political authorities what they should do…We can discuss with them, and again be the platform for them to meet, to exchange and to make sure they are using football as a tool for change…But we cannot tell a country what should be [sic] their foreign policy. That’s not our role.

All of which has thrown a considerable spanner into the Brazilian works, as the country makes frantic last-minute preparations for the global event amid an unsteady domestic political climate.

For Brazil to put on a successful World Cup, 64 years after it was last hosted on home soil, no doubt there are still major hurdles to overcome—not to mention many people to convince.

Yet lost amid all the negative news is the undeniable prospect of a fervent and vibrant tournament, of a famed Brazilian party, of a mouthwatering tournament featuring footballing talent in abundance on the pitch—and the underlying possibility that the 2014 World Cup can still be the best ever.

 

Leo Correa

 

A National Legacy

Let’s begin by looking at the positive impact that FIFA can bring with its local programs in conjunction with the tournament itself.

Its recent announcement of a $1 million television production internship program for Brazilian students, allowing them the chance to gain “invaluable work experience at the world’s biggest single-sport event,” is a glimpse at the “legacy” impacts that FIFA has now made a big part of its tournament-hosting packages.

By involving local students and providing technical and professional training in a sure-to-be exciting opportunity for local youth, FIFA has laid the groundwork for a potential boom in interest in the international sports business and the financial workings of a global tournament—quite in contrast to the uneasy local sentiment on show during the Confederations Cup last summer.

Looking at the legacy factor from a macro, country-level perspective, the Brazilian government forecasts, via Fox News Latino, that the World Cup itself will generate around 62.1 billion reais ($27.7 billion) in revenue, three times its income from the Confederations Cup.

The significant economic impact from the boom in tourism has been projected to include a total number of 3.6 million visitors to the country and an increase of 47,900 jobs in the tourist and recreation sectors, which would be a considerable injection of activity and revenue into Brazil’s GDP.

Alongside the inevitable focus on consumption on Brazilian soil, the Brazilian government has also launched advertising drives to highlight its other attractions, including “the Iguassu Falls, eco-holidays in the Amazon, the historic city of Salvador and Brasilia,” according to the BBC, as well as to draw attention to its capacity and capability to host global events and conferences.

Said Marcelo Pedros, the director of international markets for Embratur, the Brazilian Tourist Board:

Everyone knows that Brazil can play football and throw a party, but we want to show just how well we can organize international events. When Germany held the World Cup in 2006 it was the other way round. Everyone knew they would be well organized, but could they hold a party? They did, and it was very successful. We are going to prove the same success with Brazil’s organization skills.

And, of course, there is the small matter of the tournament kicking off on Brazil’s own Lovers’ Day, which, according to the Metro, is already capturing the imagination of many an innovative and entrepreneur.

 

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

 

An Unpredictable Contest

We’ve managed to come this far without even mentioning the football due to be on show in Brazil, which is a strong testament to the off-pitch factors that could see Brazil become the biggest and most successful global party yet.

But while the World Cup has arguably evolved from a pure celebration of football into a money-making exercise, at its heart football is still the beautiful game, and we could well be looking at one of the most exciting iterations of the tournament of all time, given the unpredictability of the contest this summer.

As football fans look ahead to the 2014 World Cup, many questions will no doubt pop into their minds. Who will rise to the top this year? Will Neymar confirm his status as the next big thing in football by bringing his country the World Cup at home? Or will Lionel Messi finally deliver a World Cup to secure his place in the pantheon of all-time greats?

Will Spain continue their recent dominance with a fourth successive win in a World Cup or a European Championship tournament? Or will Germany’s youth revolution end its own wait for a world title?

What about the dark horses—will Belgium’s new golden generation fulfill their potential as they look to take the World Cup by storm? Or will Uruguay better their last-four performance in 2010? Is it time for an African team to go all the way? Or will England finally get over their quarterfinal hoodoo and fire their way into the final?

The presence of so many international stars on Brazilian soil—the mythical Zlatan Ibrahimovic excepted, due to Sweden’s playoff loss to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portgual—will bring unprecedented levels of global coverage (and, of course, incessant marketing and advertising efforts), which will in turn drive up interest in the tournament around the world.

Even the statistic, tactic and formation buffs will be treated to an event of gigantic proportions, as the proliferation of data analysis in football will no doubt boost intelligent debate and substantiated discussion around the contest unfolding on the pitch. The different ideologies and philosophies adopted by different national teams may finally see distinct national “identities” form around the ball.

And we haven’t even gotten to the prospect of a nerve-wracking penalty shootout or a new Zinedine Zidane-esque flashpoint.

 

Handout/Getty Images

 

A Glimpse into the Future

All the talk so far has been of the present, but while the World Cup doesn’t involve the next host nation putting on a “teaser trailer” show to close out the current tournament—unlike the Olympics—one eye, as ever, should be kept on the future.

And this World Cup finds itself in a fascinating intersection between the old and the new.

On the pitch, what could be better for Brazil than to have traditional rivals Uruguay resurface as a strong contender? Or a new-look Argentina side to prove its dominance and legacy with Messi at the helm?

The prospect of a new Brazil team headed by Neymar winning on home soil is one that can’t be ignored—and no doubt one that would kick off an unprecedented party—while the recent dominance of Spain may start to make way for teams of the future.

We will get to witness the platform that Belgium may well set for itself in international football, while England is set to usher in a new generation of young talent following what will be a transitional tournament. And as ever, there are plenty of new names we might not have even heard of yet who will catapult themselves into the spotlight over just a few weeks in Brazil.

In the stadiums and on the streets, the local mood may well be poignant, as Brazil recalls hosting its last World Cup 64 years ago and considers the development and turmoil it’s gone through in that time.

From a traditional footballing heyday in 1950 to a global commercial extravaganza, those who have followed the tournament in years gone by may yet witness another chapter in the ongoing evolution of the World Cup as an event.

The fascination of welcoming visitors from around the world and partaking in a joint experience of an international tournament at home may inspire a new generation of Brazilian youngsters to not only embrace the power and potential of the simple game of football but also to serve the greater good of their nation through business and global collaboration.

And finally, Germany 2006 was a return to familiar European territory between two groundbreaking tournaments in Asia (Korea/Japan 2002) and Africa (South Africa 2010), while Brazil 2014 will be the last tournament to be hosted in a region with World Cup experience: The next two World Cups, if all goes according to plan, will be held in new frontiers—Russia (2018) and the Middle East (Qatar 2022).

For FIFA as much as for Brazil—depending on how this year’s event goes—the World Cup will be a key milestone and provide a glimpse into an exciting or murky future.

For if Brazil successfully overcomes its last-minute hurdles and political differences and ends up hosting an excellent tournament, we can all look forward to successfully charting new territory in the years to come.

South Africa did it. Why not Brazil?

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Scouting Reported Liverpool Transfer Target Lazar Markovic

With Champions League football almost secured for next season, Liverpool have set their sights on an outright title challenge. With this newfound status among the upper echelons of the Premier League, the Reds have found themselves linked with a host of transfer targets this summer.

Among the latest names in the rumor mill is Benfica’s Lazar Markovic, who is reportedly the subject of a £20 million bidding war between Liverpool and Chelsea, according to Alan Nixon of the Mirror.

Having seen two high-profile moves for attacking midfielders Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka fall through in January, Brendan Rodgers is still rumored to be in the market for reinforcements up front, and Markovic certainly falls into that category.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Markovic’s potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Liverpool.

 

Armando Franca

 

Pros

With his exciting dribbling and goal-scoring ability from midfield, it’s no surprise that Markovic made his senior debut for Partizan at the tender age of 17.

In fact, so impressive was his first season in Partizan’s colors that he was voted their Player of the Year on the club’s website back in 2011.

An encouraging performance in the Europa League against Internazionale in 2012 prompted then-Nerazzurri boss Andrea Stramaccioni to publicly praise the Serbian, according to Goal.com, saying, “He is a player with exceptional qualities. He possesses a very impressive acceleration and has a bright future ahead of him.”

Besides a quick turn of pace and a bag of tricks in his locker, Markovic is also composed in the finish and has a penchant for the unpredictable, much like a certain Luis Suarez at Anfield.

Having started his career as more of a conventional attacking midfielder, he has often been played in a striking or wing role since moving to Benfica, making use of his speed and dribbling to bamboozle opposition defences.

In that respect, he seems to combine the lightness of feet and quick-thinking creativity of Philippe Coutinho with the confidence and unpredictability of Suarez and would be comfortable playing across the front three.

 

Cons

Despite having a set of skills that make him a formidable opponent on paper, Markovic has yet to cement a place in Jorge Jesus’ starting XI, suggesting that he hasn’t found the consistency and maturity required to start week in, week out in a top-tier European league.

Standing at 5’9”, Markovic is relatively slight in frame and would only add to a Liverpool team that is not generally known for its physical and aerial dominance—though a low center of gravity compensates for that immeasurably.

A key point to note is the rumor of a release clause put in place by Benfica and Chelsea that suggests that the Stamford Bridge club would be able to sign him for a cheaper £12.5 million fee, according to Jonny Singer of the Daily Mail.

 

EuroFootball/Getty Images

 

Potential Role at Liverpool

With his pace, trickery, first touch and finishing, Lazar Markovic seems to have all the tools required to succeed in Brendan Rodgers’ young and dynamic Liverpool team.

Rodgers’ man management skills have been publicly lauded by many of his players this season, and Markovic will only need to look at the impressive development of the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson to know that if he does end up at Anfield, his future will be in good hands.

However, he is still a relative novice on the international stage and is very much a raw gem rather than the finished product, which does not necessarily represent the best option for Liverpool at the moment, especially if they head into next season having secured a top-three place and automatic qualification for the Champions League group stage.

And if the rumors of a potential release clause for Chelsea are true—or a first option, as reported by Jack Gaughan of the Daily Mail—the Reds might end up having to pay a fee much larger than £12.5 million, which wouldn’t be ideal for the Anfield club.

Given Markovic’s similarity to Coutinho and Suarez, shelling out for him would have to be a careful consideration—or a huge endorsement of his raw potential.

 

Conclusion

That Markovic is one of Europe’s hottest attacking talents should be established. His frequent links with both Chelsea and Liverpool are well-deserved given his scintillating displays over the past few years with both Partizan and Benfica.

That he would add to almost any Premier League team is also a given considering his skill set and capabilities on the ball. His playing style would see him slot seamlessly into Liverpool’s enterprising and relentlessly attacking brand of football.

But given what Liverpool need this summer, the amount of money it would cost them to bring him to Anfield and the presence of Coutinho, Suarez and a few other exciting young attacking talents, the transfer funds that would be put to Markovic’s transfer would be better used to address other deficiencies in the Liverpool squad—or toward a signing that would instantly upgrade their first team.

Markovic, for now, should be a luxury option to be targeted only if the rest of the squad has been upgraded.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Tense Win

Two Steven Gerrard penalties were enough to give Liverpool a precious win over West Ham United at Upton Park on Sunday, as the Reds climbed back to the top of the Premier League table with five matches to go.

James Tomkins’ handball against Luis Suarez and Hammers goalkeeper Adrian’s foul on Jon Flanagan gave Gerrard the opportunity to notch a brace from the spot, while Liverpool’s goals were sandwiched by a Guy Demel finish as Andy Carroll’s foul on Simon Mignolet went unnoticed.

It was a cagey affair, with Sam Allardyce’s men displaying yet again their infamous physical style of football in a valiant attempt to stifle the creativity and fluidity of Brendan Rodgers’ side. But the visitors did enough to hold on for all three points.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s tense win over West Ham. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not every match this season can be a four-goal demolition like Liverpool’s emphatic win over Tottenham Hotspur just a week ago, but it’s not the first time the Reds have ground out a much-needed win.

Away victories against the likes of Fulham and Stoke City come to mind, and Brendan Rodgers can rightly feel proud of his charges after another battling display at a traditionally difficult ground to visit.

It was far from vintage Liverpool, as West Ham’s closing down and clearing of their lines were enough to stifle the visitors’ attack. But Liverpool’s patience and insistence at finding the right moment and space to break through the Hammers defence yielded the two all-important penalties.

Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho—starting in place of the injured Daniel Agger—put on a show of commanding defending against the expected aerial bombardment of West Ham, and together with substitute Kolo Toure, they held on despite a nervy ending at Upton Park.

 

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

After all these years, where, still, would Liverpool be without Steven Gerrard?

His brace from the spot made it double digits for the Reds skipper this season from penalties alone, and they also took him past Kenny Dalglish in the Liverpool all-time scoring charts.

Besides the composure he displayed in dispatching two excellently clinical penalties, Gerrard also showed an ever-increasing ease in his newfound holding midfield role, as he dictated play from deep within the Liverpool half.

It was his sumptuous cross-field pass, of course, that set Luis Suarez on his way to winning the visitors’ first penalty. But it was all down to Gerrard after that to make sure they took their chances.

As usual, he delivered with aplomb.

 

Contrasting Fortunes for ‘SAS’

Contrasting Fortunes for 'SAS'

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It’s a testament to Luis Suarez’s brilliant form this season that his performance on Sunday could be considered disappointing, despite him winning Liverpool’s first penalty and hitting the crossbar twice.

But by the standards of any Premier League striker, Suarez already put in a blinder of a shift up front for Liverpool on Sunday, and his two audacious efforts—both of which hit the Hammers crossbar—deserved to go in from the sheer brilliance of his improvisation.

By contrast, Daniel Sturridge’s quiet form has continued for a second week running. A subdued performance against Tottenham last weekend was followed by an uninspiring display on Sunday, featuring a few hurried shots that he would normally have buried.

While a fit and firing Suarez should be more than enough for Premier League defences to deal with—especially with a confident and ever-developing Raheem Sterling alongside him—Brendan Rodgers could do with a resurgent Daniel Sturridge for the end-of-season run-in.

Starting with the titular clash against Manchester City next week.

 

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not for the first time this season, the match referee has grabbed the spotlight in a Liverpool match.

On this occasion, it was Anthony Taylor, who appeared to have overruled his linesman and awarded Guy Demel’s goal right on the stroke of half-time.

Andy Carroll’s flagrant punch at Simon Mignolet’s head was apparently spotted by the linesman, who seemed to have flagged right away for an infringement of the goalkeeper, but Taylor ruled the goal to be legitimate, much to Liverpool’s chagrin.

Ultimately, it didn’t make too much of a difference to the end result, but it could’ve been a decision to derail the Reds’ title challenge.

And that’s not even mentioning a contentious decision to award Liverpool a penalty after Adrian’s challenge on Jon Flanagan.

 

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

Julian Finney/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, Upton Park rang out in boos despite West Ham beating Hull City 2-1, which was met with derision by Sam Allardyce, as reported by BBC Sport.

It was alleged at the time, according to Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian, that the Hammers supporters were fed up with Allardyce’s direct and physical playing style, and on current evidence, perhaps the West Ham faithful have a point.

With the backs-to-the-wall defending that they employed in a home fixture and the rough playing style they adopted against the Liverpool defence, West Ham’s performance certainly didn’t make for any entertaining viewing.

For the self-styled “Academy of Football,” West Ham’s current approach doesn’t seem in line with their history and traditions—but they’ve practically secured their all-important Premier League status for another season.

 

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With five matches to go, Liverpool find themselves back at the top of the table after a Premier League weekend that saw both Manchester City and Chelsea notch convincing wins.

Liverpool are currently on 74 points—two ahead of second-placed Chelsea—and on a nine-match winning run, which makes next Sunday’s match against Manchester City all the more pivotal to either side’s title hopes this season.

That Liverpool have discovered a newfound mental strength and resoluteness has been a tried and tested theory this season, but they will need to display the kind of rearguard action that they did this Sunday for the rest of the campaign if they are to come out on top.

The underlying narrative doesn’t change, though: Win all their remaining games, and Liverpool will win the league.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

The Business of Football Kits: Sponsorships, Technology, Branding and Beyond

As we enter the final few months leading up to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the national teams taking part in the tournament have been unveiling their new kits to ride on the wave of growing interest in international football.

Brazil, England, Germany, Spain, Argentina and France have all released new kit designs for the summer, with various big-name sportswear companies and top international stars at the helm of high-profile launch events and flashy marketing campaigns. (The Mirror has a collection of some newly released kits here.)

As with most commercial activity in football, however, not all the recent kit launches have been met with universal acclaim: Ben Curtis’ article on the Mirror is a cynical rant at the hype machines that these events have become, while Lizzie Parry’s on the Daily Mail highlights just how expensive replica kits, launched over increasingly short time periods, have become.

In February, we explored the importance of stadiums in the overall commercial strategies of football clubs. As top-level football increasingly becomes big business and a huge revenue generator, let’s take a look at another money-spinning side to the sport: football kits.

 

Vincent Yu

 

Sponsorships

One of the first things that comes to mind when football kits are mentioned these days is the staggering amount of money they can generate for football clubs, both from the merchandising side and from the corporate sponsorship side.

While club merchandise is generally dependent on the popularity and on-pitch success of the clubs themselves—and the annual Deloitte Money League results generally attest to that—the larger context is the money that sportswear companies actually pay to be the official kit providers of football clubs.

In recent years, just in the Premier League, we’ve seen many instances of eye-watering commercial deals involving kit suppliers. Liverpool’s 2012 deal with Warrior Sports, the latter’s first foray into football, would, according to Andy Hunter of the Guardian, net the club at least £25 million a year.

Just this January, Arsenal announced they would be changing their kit maker from Nike to Puma, in a five-year deal reportedly worth more than £30 million a year, per the BBC. And, as ever when it comes to business deals, Manchester United shocked the world this March with their world-record 10-year deal with Nike, which, according to Simon Mullock of the Mirror, will see the Old Trafford club earn more than £60 million a year.

Besides contracts with sportswear makers, the other big player in the football kit boom is the corporate sponsorship deals that have taken center stage in recent years. This 2013 J.J. Colao article in Forbes listed Manchester United, Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Real Madrid as the biggest shirt sponsorship deals in the world.

Another interesting marketing tactic has been employed by Tottenham Hotspur this season, as they featured different sponsors on their shirts in different competitions, with Hewlett Packard their Premier League front and AIA their cup shirt partner. According to Kevin Palmer of ESPNFC, however, even Tottenham will revert to the traditional “principal partner” model at other big clubs, having agreed a lucrative £20 million-a-year deal with AIA for the next five years.

 

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

Technology

But with all the money that goes into the kits, and their burgeoning price tags, do those who get to wear them actually benefit?

Specifically, do the footballers themselves get anything out of the constant kit changes, or are they just excuses to step in front of a camera for yet another photo shoot?

Just ask the Italian national team stars. According to the BBC, the high-tech football shirts they will be wearing at the World Cup this summer will be able to deliver massages during the game. The shirts contain a special tape that provides “micro-massages” for their wearers and “maximise muscle power” by allowing the body to recover from exertion more quickly.

Away from the luxury options provided to footballers these days, far more important is the shirts’ ability to keep their wearers warm in extreme cold temperatures. This article from PRNewswire.com lists a few examples of temperature-regulating technologies that are present in football shirts on the market.

Different sportswear manufacturers—the same who enter into the lucrative long-term contracts with football clubs and will rely on such technology to win such bids—integrate different functions into their shirts, but the underlying principles are the same: adding layers onto shirts that keep players comfortable, dry, warm or cool depending on the surrounding weather conditions.

With the digital space increasingly at the center of the football fan experience, besides featuring on shirts themselves, technology has also crept into the marketing side of football shirts and kit launches, so much so that organizing such events can be considered an industry in itself.

See, for example, this analysis on Liverpool’s new kit launch in 2012 on Dan McLaren’s TheUKSportsNetwork.com. Liverpool’s multichannel marketing and promotion strategy, across different social media platforms, was all about putting out a united front for the kit launch, which also had to match the club’s corporate branding.

But, as they’ve tended to do so in social media in general, Manchester City will take home the technology and marketing hybrid approach for football kits as well.

They’ve since switched to Nike as their main shirt sponsor, but City’s launch of their Umbro kits for the 2012/13 season, as covered here by SoccerBible.com, took fan engagement to a new level when they invited fans to decide how the new kit would be officially launched.

 

Ray Stubblebine

 

Branding

Using a new innovative campaign to bridge the marketing and technology worlds with branding in football was yet another Manchester City-affiliated project, New York City FC.

Since their official announcement in 2013, New York City FC have caught the attention with their cutting-edge digital-marketing campaigns despite the MLS outfit not yet officially competing in the U.S.’s highest-tier domestic football league.

NYCFC put their fans truly at the center of their business and branding strategy by inviting them to submit ideas for an official club crest, which was met with widespread acclaim and culminated in a win-win scenario where the club also got their hands on an excellent winner, shown here on the MLS official website.

An example of how the football kit itself has become more than just one of the components of a football club’s identity; it’s evolved into an integral part of the football club’s business strategy on the whole.

So eager have clubs and affiliated sponsors wanted to tap into their fanbase for merchandising dollars that they have begun creating hype cycles out of kit launches to boost profits and increase circulation among their followers—at the risk of straying into grey areas and stirring controversies.

In tandem with the ongoing, controversial narrative that football is becoming more and more middle- and upper-class and moving away from the traditional working-class fanbase that gave the sport its following and popularity, clubs and corporations have rushed into a branding frenzy and become eager to associate themselves as “premium” titles.

A major recent example was that of Adidas, who, according to Anna White of the Telegraph, may refuse to supply Sports Direct, one of the biggest sports retailers in the UK, with a variety of World Cup football kits due to concerns over its stores and customer service.

Said Adidas, “Like all manufacturers, we regularly review, season by season, where our products are distributed. We determine distribution channels for all products based on criteria such as in-store environment and customer service levels.”

In other words, sportswear manufacturers are eager for their football kits to be treated as premium consumer goods—indeed, the mooted £140 price tag for the new England kits by Nike almost automatically price themselves into that category—and they’re not afraid to incur the wrath of fans and middlemen retailers to achieve their commercial goals.

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Prior to the World Cup row, Adidas also landed themselves in hot water with Sports Direct over their treatment of Chelsea’s official club kit. In light of the public spat, Matt Scott of InsideWorldFootball.com put together an excellent and in-depth analysis of the changing role of the football kit itself.

Linking the state and rationale of Chelsea’s commercial and branding activities with the area’s wealthy and exclusive reputation, Scott consolidates a list of the London club’s highest-profile official sponsors, who all pride themselves on their elite stature within their respective industries.

The ever-changing face of the football kit, then, is not just an evolution of modern shirt design and an extension of clothing technology into sport, but is a reflection of a shift in the status of merchandise and football itself in the eyes of football clubs, manufacturers and sponsors.

And with seemingly unstoppable momentum behind money-spinning sponsorship deals, it seems that football kits will continue to be at the center of football’s paradigm shift. One only hopes that it doesn’t one day become only limited-edition items due to their exclusivity.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.