The Fit & Proper Persons Test

In 1981 the English Football Association (FA) got rid of rule 34. Rule 34 stated that no director or owner of a football could be payed a salary of dividend for their custodian role. Since getting rid of this rule, the money in football as increased at an astronomical rate.

Almost a decade later in 1992 the FA Premier League was formed in a breakaway attempted to earn the top clubs more money as they felt they deserved it. From this media rights and sponsorships became lucrative.

The influx of money into football has tended to go into player wage inflation as they are the stars. However due to no rule 34, clubs were easier to manipulate by their owners for financial gain at the loss of the club. This along with the amount of money clubs had lost during the 1980s and 1990s started calls for better regulation on owners.

A few years late in 1997 Sir John Smith, the former Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, recommended that there should be a test on shareholder suitability to prevent them from using clubs for their profit. This was recommended in a report commissioned but it was later dismissed by the FA.

In 1999 the Labour government emergency unit called ‘The Football Task Force’ reached the same conclusion that Sir John Smith did. This along with Labour pressuring the FA led to an individual football commission called for a proper corporate and financial governance in 2003.

The FA, Premier League and Football Leagues agreed to implement regulations. This would include background checks on potential shareholders/owners. In 2004, the ‘Fit & Proper Persons Test’ was born. Depending on which governing body is doing the test for the club in question, there will be variations. Despite the variations, there are three clear aims.

Firstly, they aim to prevent anyone who holds a criminal record from owning or directing a football club. Secondly, they are there to protect football clubs from people who don’t have a long-term business vision for the club. And lastly, they prevent anyone who lacks integrity from passing this test and becoming an owner or shareholder of the club.

A potential owner will be disqualified from the test if:

He or she are found to have an unspent criminal conviction of fraud or dishonesty

Been banned from a sport ruling committee accredited association or other regulator

Been declared unlawful to act as a director of a UK-register company

Been a director of a football club that has been insolvent three or more times

Been declared bankrupt

Breached FA rules on betting

Been or still is on the register of sex offenders

Originally this only applied to people who wished to gain more than 30% of a club or directors of football clubs however, in 2009 this changed. It was Richard Scudamore who announced changed would be made to the Premier League’s test to apply with UEFA’s test. This expanded it to any shareholder of more than 10%.

Since it has been implemented, only a small number of people have failed. In 2009, then owner of Chester City, Stephen Vaughn was the first to be banned. This was because of his involvement in a VAT fraud worth approximately £500,000 while he was director of Rugby League club Widnes Vikings. However, this wasn’t too much of a problem as he just transferred his shares to his son.

Three years later, Craig Whyte, the man who sent Rangers into liquidation only 10 months after buying a controlling stake, failed. He failed after an independent inquiry led by Lord William Nimmo Smith.

In 2014, former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson and his business partner John Ryan failed. They failed at they only raised £757,000 of the required £2,000,000 for the takeover of Doncaster Rovers.

The test has come under a lot of criticism. This is despite it being beneficial to the financial health and integrity of football clubs. The criticism is mainly aimed at the test only focusing on integrity and finances. After a 2005 review by Jonathon Michie and Christine Oughton, they found that it doesn’t mention the words ‘fan’ or ‘supporter’. This means it fails to address the social and cultural importance of football clubs in more general terms.

Another criticism is that the Premier League and EFL oversee the tests which caused conflict of interest. This because they both have a clear economic motive as business entities. If the richest invested their personal wealth, it would increase the quality of competition which would attract more consumers and commercial opportunities. The conflict of interest comes with economical incentives and protecting the clubs and their supporters.

An example of someone who got through the test when they shouldn’t have was at Portsmouth. Vladimir Aleksandrovich Antonov’s Lithuanian bank, Snoras was banned from trading in the UK by the Financial Services Authority in 2009. They were banned due to them failing to provide necessary information. Despite this he purchased a share in Portsmouth in June 2011. Five months later he stepped down after his holding company was placed in administration and Portsmouth followed in February 2012.

Thanksin Shinawatra’s purchase of Man City is another example. The former Prime Minister of Thailand had been ousted by the military in 2006 following evidence leading to corruption and Human Rights abuse. Despite this and warnings from Human Rights Watch and Transparency International, his takeover of the Citizens was completed in June 2007 after passing the Premier League’s test.

Shinawatra was later found guilty of corruption by a Democratically Elected Government, this was enough for a warrant of his arrest. He sold Man City for a £20 million profit to the Abu Dhabi United Group.

The Glazer family’s purchase of Man United is another case as they bought the Red Devil’s using a ‘Leveraged Buyout’. This meant the purchase is completed by loans against the asset’s future value. This burdens both the club and the owners as seen by Man United’s monumental debt. When George Gillet and Tom Hicks bought Liverpool, they also used the ‘Leveraged Buyout’. This technique isn’t illegal but incredibly risky and in Liverpool’s case, it nearly saw them enter administration.

Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt said “I think it’s a disaster. It’s like me breath analysing you tomorrow morning and expecting you to not be on the beer tomorrow night”.

The test is here to stay but does it work? With the current coronavirus pandemic putting club’s finances into disarray, only time will tell if clubs can survive because of their owners.

The Story of Brain Clough

Despite all of his success, Brian Clough splits opinion. Some football fans love him, others despise him but what is his story?

On 21st March 1935 Brain Howard Clough was born in Middlesbrough. He was born in his childhood home, 11 Valley Road, Grove Hill and was the sixth of nine children. He remembered his childhood fondly as he said he “adored it in all its aspects. If anyone should be grateful for their upbringing, for their mam and dad, I’m that person. I was the kid who came from a little part of paradise.”

Despite the career he went onto have, he always remembered where he came from. “Everything I have done, everything I’ve achieved, everything that I can think of that has directed and affected my life – apart from the drink – stemmed from my childhood. Maybe it was the constant sight of Mam, with eight children to look after, working from morning until night, working harder than you or I have ever worked.” Clough never took his privileges for granted and always understood how fortunate he was.

Clough focused more on sport than education but preferred cricket over football. In his autobiography ‘Walking on Water’ he stated he’d rather score a century at Lord’s than a hat-trick at Wembley. But his negligence to his education shower when he failed his Eleven-plus exam and attended Marton Grove Secondary Modern School. Four years later Brian dropped out of school all together without any qualifications to work at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and between 1953 and 1955 he did his national service in the RAF.

He played for Middlesbrough’s youth team between 1951 and 1953 but whilst he was doing his national service he turned out for Billingham Synthonia. In 1955, he returned to Middlesbrough, this time for the first team.

He spent six years at Middlesbrough as he played 222 times and scored 204 goals. He may have been a hero for his hometown club, but he wasn’t happy. He often handed in transfer requests as he was annoyed by the defence. After a 6-6 draw with Charlton Athletic he sarcastically asked the defence how many goals do they have to score in order to win a game. He also publicly accused some of his teammates of betting against the team and deliberately letting in goals, it wasn’t a surprise he had a tense relationship with his teammates. It was at Middlesbrough where he met Peter Taylor who then was a goalkeeper.

Whilst at Boro he played for England. Brian played twice for England but didn’t score a goal. According to former Middlesbrough teammate Alan Peacock, Clough didn’t work for England because he insisted on playing centrally and not running for his team. Peacock said “when you’ve got people around like Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves you can’t tell those guys I will just stop in the middle.”

It was July 1961 when one of Clough’s transfer requests were accepted. He moved to local rivals Sunderland for a fee that’s reported to be between £42,000 and £55,000. At Sunderland his goalscoring continues as he netted 54 in 58 games. However, on Boxing Day 1962 he suffered an injury. In icy conditions he collided with Bury goalkeeper Chris Harker after being put through on goal. The Sunderland striker tore his medial and cruciate ligaments in his knee, normally that meant the end of a playing career back then. Clough returned two years later but could only manager three more games before retiring at the age of 29.

Clough was a goal scorer. Out of all the players to score 200 or more goals in the English leagues, Clough has the best goals to games ratio at 0.916. When Scottish leagues are added, Brain Clough falls to second.

In October 1965, Clough became manager of Hartlepools United (became Hartlepool United in 1977) after a short tenure managing Sunderland’s youth team. It was former Sunderland manager Alan Brown that was his biggest managerial influence. Brown was strict, he once fined Clough for talking during a training session. Clough adopted this mentality. Clough asked former teammate Peter Taylor to join him as assistant, Taylor took the offer and left his job as manager of non-league Burton Albion.

Clough became the youngest manager in the league at the age of 30 but even an experienced manager would struggle at this job. Hartlepools had finished last in the fourth division in five of the last six seasons and were in huge financial trouble. The financial problems were shown in November 1966 when then chairmen Ernest Ord sacked Taylor as he said the club couldn’t afford to keep the assistant. Clough refused this so Ord also sacked him. However, the board had a coup and Ernest Ord was gone which saw Clough and Taylor return to their jobs. In 1967/77, Hartlepools finished eighth but the following season saw the club promoted for the first time in their history.

Clough and Taylor then joined second division Derby County. They made big changes which included sacking the club secretary, groundsman, chief scout and two tea laddies after he caught them laughing after a Derby defeat. Despite the big changes, they finished a place below where they had finished the season before their arrival. The next season they won the league and gained promotion to the first division.

In the 1970/71 season Derby finished ninth. Clough bolstered the squad with Colin Todd for a then British record of £175,000, the same day he denied he was signing Todd. But the signing of Todd worked as in the 1971/72 season Derby beat Leeds, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs to the league title. This meant Derby were first division champions for the first time in their 88-year history. Taylor took the squad to Mallorca to celebrate.

After winning the league, things went south between management and the board. In August 1972 Clough refused to go on tour of the Netherlands and West Germany unless he could take his family with him. The board said it was work and not a holiday, so Clough put Taylor in charge of the tour, Derby also didn’t partake in that year’s Charity Shield. Clough also signed David Nish for £225,000 for a then British record but didn’t consult the board so the board told them there would be no more big signings.

In the 1972/73 season they finished seventh and got knocked out of the European Cup in the semi finals by Juventus. Clough referred to Juventus as “cheating bastards” and went on to question Italy during the Second World War. Clough wasn’t afraid to speak his mind as numerous times he had complained about Don Revie and Leeds United saying because of their discipline they should be relegated to the second division.

In October 1973 after Derby won 1-0 at Old Trafford, Derby chairman Jack Kirkland demanded that Clough apologised to Matt Busby and Louis Edwards after Clough reportedly made a V-sign at them. Brian later revealed it was at Kirkland over the lack of tickets for players’ wives. Also, that day Kirkland questioned Taylor’s role at the club.

On the 15th October 1973 Clough and Taylor wanted to oust Kirkland out. After failing, they both resigned. Derby fans protested as they wanted to board gone and Clough and Taylor to return but it didn’t happen. After his resignation, Brain Clough verbally attacked the Derby board on Parkinson as he said they had no football knowledge.

Clough, Taylor along with the scouts and backroom staff went to Brighton. However, it was a brief spell on the south coast. They won 12 of their 32 games with the third division side and after less than a year in charge, Clough left.

July 1974 Brian Clough was appointed in charge of Leeds United who were coming off a title winning season. This appointment shocked everyone after Brian’s previous comments about the club, players and former manager Don Revie who left to manage England.

Clough lasted only 44 days at Elland Road. In his first meeting with the players he said everything they had won was worthless as they won it by cheating, he famously said “You can all throw your medals in the bin because they were not won fairly”.

On the evening of his sacking, Clough went on Yorkshire’s Television along with Don Revie. It was here that Brian said he didn’t introduce himself on the first day and didn’t do it at all to the kitchen staff. Don Revie couldn’t believe it as he built that club on a family community and treated everyone as equals which Clough didn’t understand. It was clear to everyone Clough at Leeds would never work.

Twelve weeks later in January 1975 Clough was appointed as Nottingham Forest manager but it took until July 1976 for Peter Taylor to leave Brighton and re-join Clough. When Brian joined Forest, they were 13th but went on to finish that season in 16th.

In his first full season they finished eighth, then Taylor joined. In Taylor’s first season back with Clough they won promotion to the first division in the third and final promotion place. Clough and Taylor’s first season back in the first division was incredible. They lost only three of their first 16 games which included a defeat to Leeds but went on to lose only one more game which was an FA Cup game against West Brom. Nottingham Forest won the First Division by seven points in 1977/78.

1978/79 was even better. They went on to win the European Cup, a feat which they repeated the season after, along with another league title. This was the pinnacle of Clough and Taylor’s Forest and Taylor retired in 1982.

However, six months after retirement Peter Taylor was appointed as Derby County manager. The two faced each other in the FA Cup in January 1983 and they ignored each other as Derby ran out 2-0 winners. In May that year, Taylor signed John Robinson from Forest without telling Clough, Peter later said that this was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” as the two never spoke again.

Clough went on to call him a “snake in the grass” and they never became friends again. Sadly, Taylor died in 1990, Clough and his family attended his funeral and Taylor’s daughter Wendy said as soon as he found out, Brian called her, and he was very sad. “To Peter. Still miss you badly. You once said: ‘When you get shot of me there won’t be as much laughter in your life’. You were right.”

Clough retired after the 1992/93 season when Forest were relegeated. At the end of that campaign, Roy Keane left for Man United and Nigel Clough, Brian’s son, left for Liverpool.

Nigel Clough went on to have a fairly underwhelming playing career. He retired in 2008 after 10 years as a player-manager at Burton Albion. He has also managed Derby County and Sheffield United but returned to mange Burton Albion in 2015. Nigel resigned in 2020 as the club were struggling with their finances due to the coronavirus.

Brian Clough has accusations made against him for “bungs” which are illegal payments. The case of misconduct was dropped due to his ill health, but the FA released a statement saying “On the balance of evidence, we felt he was guilty of taking bungs. The evidence was pretty strong”. Former Nottingham Forest chief scout Alan Brown confirmed Clough had made illegal payments.

Brian died in November 2004 of stomach cancer but also was struggling with alcoholism. In January 2003 he underwent a 10-hour liver transplant and doctors said without that transplant he would’ve died within two weeks.

Brian’s legacy is clear, he won playing attacking football. As a player, he was a goal scorer and as a manager he wanted to win whilst entertaining the fans. He will be remembered as one of Britain’s best ever managers.

Are Man United’s Finances Feeling the Ramifications of Their on The Pitch Struggles?

In May 2018 Ed Woodward said, “Playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business.” But how correct is the Man United vice chairman?

Football clubs generate income from three sources: matchday, commercial and broadcasting.

In 2018/19 the Red Devils, they generated £111 million from matchday revenue. Although this is impressive compared to other Premier League clubs, it is in fact lass than 2017 and only a growth of £2 million from when Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

Historically, the Red Devils have been the strongest commercially. They do this through selling their image rights to partners in different countries. In 2018/19, they generated £275 million, the same as 2017 and a considerable increase from the £152 million in Ferguson’s last campaign. However, it is little growth from 2016 (£268 million) which suggests maybe the lack of silverware count be stunting commercial growth as companies prefer to associate themselves with success.

Broadcast revenue increased by £37 million (from £204 million to £241 million) from 2017/18 to 2018/19. This was mainly due to the new Champions League deal starting. In 2016/17, Man United won the Europa League which meant they pocketed £38 million whilst two years later they got £83 million for getting to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

Their lead over top six clubs has decreased drastically in recent years. In 2016/17, they earnt £217 million more than Liverpool, the following year that had dropped by £82 million. If Liverpool continue their success on the pitch, the Reds may overtake United within a year.

The 13-time Premier League winners also have to think about their costs. Their main outlay is in player wages. Despite having less trophy and win bonuses, their wage bill increased by £36 million from 2017/18 to 2019/20. Since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, the wage bill has increased by £151 million, just over £83 million. This leaves Man United’s average weekly wage at around £160 thousand.

Due to their huge income generated, they can afford to pay these wages. For every £100 of income, £53 is spent on wages.

Transfer amortisation is the cost of the transfer fee spread over the length of their contract. When Pogba rejoined the club in 2016, he set the club back £89.3 million and signed a five-year contract. This meant his annual amortisation is £17.86 million. In Ferguson’s last year the annual amortisation was £42 million, by 2017/18 this had risen to £138 million. This emphasises the club’s desire to get back to the top of English and European football by spending huge sums of money on players.

When Liverpool and Tottenham contested the Champions League final in 2018/19, their annual amortisation that season was less than Man United’s. This along with high profile failings have brought the club’s recruitment into question.

It cost the club £19.6 million to sack Mourinho and his staff. This brought the total cost of getting rid of managers to over £40 million since 2013.

Although the club have made profit (£50 million) in 2018/19, that is still £12 million less than 2012/13. However, this is before the club have paid back their debt.

In 2005, the Glazers bought the club for £790 million. Lenders were wary of their ability to pay back money which saw some interest rates exceed 16%. This leaves the club’s outstanding loan at over £500 million and they pay it off £450,000 a week. Due to the interest, the club’s cumulative interest cost has recently reached over £800 million, more than what the Glazer’s bought the club for.

In recent years, the club’s growth in sponsorship deal values has reduced drastically. This is potentially due to the lack of trophies and on the field success.

This evidence suggests that Ed Woodward is wrong and the struggles on the pitch do affect the club’s commercial revenue and finances. This would have the owners and shareholders worried.

Project Big Picture

The government have called for Premier League clubs to help out the EFL clubs. This is because they are facing financial struggles due to COVID-19 and there are concerns that several could fold by the end of October because of this.

This has led a proposal to be put forward by some of the biggest clubs in England, this is “Project Big Picture”. If it goes through it will see the biggest changes to football in Britain over the last few decades. The controversial project has been in the works for more than three years.

It was originally drawn up by Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group and it was backed by the Glazers who own Manchester United. In fact, the Glazers wanted it in motion for the 2022/23 season. Due to the financial implications because of coronavirus, it has been sped up and could even be happening for the 2021/22 season.

If passed, Project Big Picture will provide huge changes which include changing the voting structure of the Premier League whilst also changing the funding models for the English Football Leagues (EFL) and Football Association (FA). However, because of these changes there have obviously been a lot of resistance to it but what exactly would the changes be?

The Premier League would give the EFL £250 million to compensate for the loss in matchday revenue. On paper, this seems good, but it is a loan and to pay it back, the Premier League will take money out of future TV revenue. The Premier League would also give £100 million to the FA for their loss of money through COVID and for the women’s game and grass roots football.

Along with this, 8.5% of the annual Premier League revenue will go to operating costs and good causes including the FA. A further 25% would go directly to the EFL clubs.

The proposal would also see a cap on away ticket prices at £20, a minimum of 8% of the capacity being for away fans, away travel being subsidised and a return to safe standing for fans.

To go with these financial changes, the aforementioned voting would drastically change.

This would start with the league going from 20 sides to just 18. This would be done by relegating four teams and promoting just two in the first season. After this, the method for relegation would change slightly.

The bottom two (17th and 18th) would automatically be relegated and the top two in the championship would be promoted, this stays the same. However, instead of 3rd to 6th in the Championship going into the playoffs, it would see 3rd to 5th and 16th in the Premier League go into the playoffs. This means two or three sides would be relegated rather than the constant three.

The League Cup and Community Shield would also discontinue. Furthermore, the EFL would go from 92 clubs to 90. However, these aren’t the most controversial changes.

The rule of one club has one vote system would be scrapped. This would be replaced by a new system which would see special status given to the nine longest serving clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. The shareholders of these clubs would be given extra power.

At current, 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs is the majority and that is what is required when voting for a change of rules. If Project Big Picture goes ahead, only six of the nine is needed for the majority. This would give the ‘big six’ power over anything ranging from contracts to CEOs and most crucially, any potential new owners.

Other changes would include wage caps, new loan rules, new TV distribution and even a Premier League mini tournament in the summer.

One argument for these changes is the EFL’s desperate need for money. This has led Rick Parry, the EFL chairman, to give his support to the project. Along with Parry, a number of chairmen of EFL clubs have supported it as they believe it is a necessary step.

Others have supported it as it scraps the League Cup and Community Shield (as well as reduce the 38-game season to 34). This will clear up space in the English football calendar. Many would like to see this especially as there is talk of expanding the Champions League for the 2024/25 season and this would allow the English clubs to compete more fairly.

Despite some backing, there has been a lot of resistance towards it. People believe this is nothing more than the top clubs looking for more power and they’re trying to add some “charity” for the EFL clubs in order to get it passed.

The Premier League itself has opposed it. They released a statement in which they said it could have a “damaging impact on the whole game” and they went on to say they’re “disappointed” in Rick Parry for supporting it.

Not only are the Premier League and a number of its clubs against it but the government are to. The government also believe it is just a power grab by the big sides.

According to the Times, the FA will also say no to it. The FA are also willing to use their “golden share” gifted to them by the Premier League upon its inception in 1992 to vote it down.

How Hojberg’s Arrival Has Helped Ndombele

In August 2020, Pierre-Emile Hojberg joined Tottenham from Southampton. The deal has been valued at £15 million but it also saw Kyle Walker-Pieters go the other way for £12 million. Since making the switch, Hojberg has made four appearances for the Lily Whites. Although his performances haven’t been headline grabbing, they have helped Tottenham’s most expensive player hit form.

Tanguy Ndombele struggled with fitness in his first year with Tottenham, but his performances weren’t helped by the lack of a defensive midfielder in the side. Although a double pivot of Ndombele and Lo Celso would work, it would require one to stay back if the other went forward, this would restrict them a little.

With Hojberg’s ability and willingness to sit back and defend, this has given Tanguy more freedom. Tanguy’s performance levels have skyrocketed since Hojberg’s arrival and he has also looked happier under Mourinho. This has been a huge turnaround for the Frenchman who looked like he was out of Mourinho’s plans and halfway out the door already.

Ndombele now looks like the player Tottenham thought they were buying. He is talented both physically and technically, one of the best all round midfielders in Europe. Spurs have someone to progress the ball with pace through his excellent dribbling and smart passing.

If Mourinho opts for a midfield three of Lo Celso, Hojberg and Ndombele, the Tottenham have one of the best midfield threes in Europe.

Why Lionel Messi Wants to Leave

The attack has been in decline for years. 2019/20 is the fourth consecutive year in which the club has averaged fewer shots than the year before with over 17 in 2016/17 to around 13 in the last campaign. Not only is the volume of shots decreasing, but also the quality as for every year from 2015/16 their xG has fallen. In 2015/16 they had an xG of 113, in 2019/20 it sat at just 72, this is a fall from just shy of 3 a game to less than 1.9. This is alarmingly worrying for any side but especially worrying for a side that prides itself of free-flowing attacking football.

This is down to the side having less possession and doing less with that possession. Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona only had less possession than their opponent in one of 247 matches and under Luis Enrique this only happened six times in 181 matches. Under Ernesto Valverde, they had less possession than their opponent in nine of his 145 matches.

Quique Setién tried to change this. Under him, Barcelona had more of the ball but have made the side more conservative as this season the side have played a few proportion of their passes in the final third than they did last season.

This all combined have meant the squad have become more reliant on Lionel Messi. In 2019/20, not only did he lead the squad in goals and assists but also for dribbles, through balls and crosses. This had led to him having the most progressive passes in the squad, more than double second place, and he also leads the squad for passes into the penalty box, three times the next best.

The over reliance on the Argentine has largely come from bad transfers. Since 2014, the Catalans have spent over £800 million on transfers which has also led to them having the largest wage bill in sports. This money has been spent on over 30 plays and many would say only Clement Lenglet and Marc-André ter Stegen have been successes.

Players like André Gomes and Malcolm clearly weren’t ready for an elite club which didn’t stop them spending over £30 million on each of them. Their three largest signings (Griezmann, Coutinho and Dembélé) seems like they were bought without the manager being on board. This has seen Ousmane Dembélé hardly feature even when he has been fit, Coutinho shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich for a season and Griezmann played out of position just to get him onto the pitch. The latter was someone that they had failed to sign twice previously and instead of moving onto younger players that will fit the team, they spent around £120 million on the then 28-year-old.

This method of buying old players that aren’t needed is a recipe for an aging squad in decline. By overpaying for them and giving them huge contracts, it means the club is in a horrible place financially. These two things combined have meant the squad needs a massive overhaul, but these is no money for that to happen.

Of course, the board are to blame for this. Bartomeu is unpopular at the club and Messi has publicly criticised him. Bartomeu hasn’t helped himself by appointing Ronald Koeman as manager. It is obvious Koeman was picked ahead of other candidates to try an appease the fans as he is a club icon and help Bartomeu has he won’t criticise him in the media. Koeman has already upset Messi as he has told his best friend, Luis Suárez, he can leave for free.

With the Barcelona presidential election coming up next year, only months before Messi’s contract finishes, we could see Lionel Messi leave for free. This will leave the next president, who will more than likely opt for a better manager, a huge task.

An aging squad, no money, debt of over £750 million and the club’s best ever player leaving for free. The rebuild at Barcelona is difficult to say the least and it is clear why Messi doesn’t want to be around for it.

The England Squad

With upcoming international matches against Wales (friendly) and Belgium (Nations League), Gareth Southgate has named his 30-man squad. In full, the squad:

Dean Henderson (gk)

Jordan Pickford (gk)

Nick Pope (gk)

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Ben Chilwell

Conor Coady

Eric Dier

Joe Gomez

Michael Keane

Harry Maguire

Ainsley Maintland-Niles

Tyrone Mings

Bukayo Saka

Kieran Trippier

Kyle Walker

Jordan Henderson

Mason Mount

Kalvin Phillips

Declan Rice

James Ward-Prowse

Harry Winks

Jack Grealish

Tammy Abraham

Harvey Barnes

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Danny Ings

Harry Kane

Marcus Rashford

Jadon Sancho

Raheem Sterling

Many people have been confused by this selection. Players like Lewis Dunk, Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden have been left out of the squad. The last two aren’t too surprising as despite their recent form, their antics during their last England callup the pair broke quarantine rules and had to be sent home from the squad.

Despite the match on the 8th of October being a friendly, it won’t be played like that due to the intense rivalry between England and Wales. However, the match against Belgium will be taken more seriously due to it being a big game in their Nations League group.

Valencia’s Downfall

Valencia enjoyed great success as early as the early 2000s under Rafa Benítez. Under Rafa, Valencia won two league titles and a UEFA Cup before the Spaniard resigned over differences with the director of football. Since, the club have been in decline and even turmoil.

Despite having the fifth biggest stadium in La Liga with similar attendance to Stamford Bridge, the club’s finances have caused issues. This saw Peter Lim buy the club in 2014 for around 100 million euros. At the time he was seen as a saviour but since, opinions have changed.

In the six years under his ownership, the club have gone through six permanent managers and six directors of football. This is similar to the six chaotic years before Lim’s takeover. This alongside another disappointing season in which Valencia have failed to qualify for the Champions League again has seen the club take cost cutting measures.

Star players like Rodrigo, Ferran Torres and Francis Coquelin have been sold whilst Dani Parejo was allowed to join rivals Villarreal for free despite being captain since 2014. The club have brought in over £50 million in player sales but at the time of writing, are yet to bring in a single player. It is also rumoured that the clear out will continue with more key players up for sale.

As recently as 2018/19, it looked like Valencia were putting their bad business in the past. The Murciélagos were coming off their second season under Marcelino and their second consecutive fourth placed finish. Not only this but they also beat Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final to win their first trophy since 2008.

Lim didn’t see winning the trophy as a success as it put his objective (finishing in the top four) at risk. Marcelino was sacked not long after meaning the manager that could deliver Champions League football was gone.

Valencia is the third biggest city in Spain. This means that there is a huge pool of young talent they can snap up. The club is known for developing young players such as David Silva, Albiol, Isco, Gayà, Ferran Torres, Paco Alcácer, Bernat and Nolito all being recent graduates. As the club struggles financially, they will have to trust in the youth to replace their outgoing stars.

Valencia are in a downward spiral with no continuity on or off the pitch. Fans want Peter Lim out but if he is to stay, he’ll have to rebuild his relationship with the fans and get the club back to being Spain’s third club.

What Will Ronald Koeman Bring To Barcelona?

When working with the Netherlands, he had similar talent to that he will inherit at Barcelona. Ronald Koeman started using a 4-3-3 that was often open and attacking before his switch to three centre backs against front threes. More so than any of his previous sides, his Dutch side emphasised the traditions valued at the Catalan club. The priority is possession and to have an attacking impetus.

Even the goalkeeper has been involved in this. When in possession, he can act almost as an extra central defender. This has increased the passing options, allowing the Netherlands’ build up play to flow better.

The midfield three are always in a triangle, normally with a single pivot but occasionally two depending on the opposition. Frenkie De Jong has often taken up a role as the influential pivot where Sergio Busquets has played for the last decade for the Blaugrana. The fullbacks and wide forwards also rotate to test the opposition and to create more space for passing options for the pivot(s).

When possession has progressed into the final third, horizontal passes are rare. They prefer vertical passes or passes into dangerous areas.

The Dutch have faced a lot of sides that try to counterattack them rather than press them. This saw the central defenders push up the pitch more, especially when they had the ball, and could be seen as an extra midfielder.

Koeman’s side would often try to move the deep blocks using switches. By switching the play, the low blocks would have to shuffle across but if they weren’t quick enough, they were leaving space for the Netherlands to exploit.

Do Defences Win Leagues?

Sir Alex Ferguson famously said, “attack wins you games, but defence wins you titles”. This worked in the first season of the Premier League as Man United won the league conceding nine fewer than anyone else, but they were outscored by Blackburn Rovers. A more recent case would be Liverpool signing Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker who are given a lot of credit in Liverpool’s Premier League and Champions League winning campaigns but was the Scot right?

Well, between and including the 1992/93 and 2018/19 seasons, the team who conceded the least amount of goals won the league 12 of 28 times, 43%. In contrast, the team that scored the most goals won the league 17 times or 61% of the titles whilst the team with the best goal difference won 19 titles, 68%.

Only six times have a team topped all three categories, these teams are considered some of the best the league have seen as they include Arsenal in 2003/04, Man United in 2007/08 and Man City in 2017/18. Three sides have won the league and not topped any of the categories, most recently Chelsea in 2016/17 but also Leicester the year before.

Although the team with the best defence won the league in the first season, it only happened three more times up to and including 2003/04. It has since happened eight times showing defensive sides are more of a recent trend. However, it obviously helps to be great at both ends of the pitch which is shown in goal difference. This is highlighted in the 2014/15 Premier League campaign; Chelsea won the league with the best defence as they only conceded 32 times but finished with a goal difference of 41. Southampton had the second-best defence as they only conceded one more, 33, yet finished in seventh place as they found scoring difficult which meant they finished on a goal difference of 21.

The authors of “The Number Game” looked at data from the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga between 1991-2010. They found the best defence won the title in 46% of the campaigns whilst the best attack won the league 51% of the time. The Bundesliga and Serie A saw the best defence win the league more whilst Premier League and La Liga saw the reverse. Although it is marginal, it is better to have the best attack. However, the book does point out if you are just looking at the output, you don’t know how the teams won points; this led them to investigate.

They analysed Premier League games between 2001/02 and 2010/11 to look at the values of goals scored, and goals conceded. When looking at avoiding defeat rather than winning, the goals clubs didn’t concede were each 33% more valuable than the goals they scored. This means when winning, scoring goals and not conceding goals are of roughly the same value whilst when considering how not to lose, it’s more valuable to not concede.

Although it is very difficult to look at the value each player brings due to the thousands of actions they bring each game, we can look at Liverpool’s goalkeeper. Even if you can’t contribute winning games to Alisson, he is a huge improvement on their previous goalkeepers. Since 2017/18, Alisson has the highest save %, least goals conceded per 90 and most xG saved per 90 of any goalkeeper Liverpool have used. His goals conceded per 90 is under half that of Mignolet’s. As previously mentioned, these goals that haven’t been conceded are worth nearly a third more than goals scored at the other end.

In Liverpool’s case, upgrading goalkeeper and defence has helped them avoid defeats. This transformed Liverpool into title challengers and eventual winners, turning a shaky defence into the league’s best has also given their attackers more freedom to score goals to win games.

Not only can they avoid defeat, but they can now win them. This combination wins titles.

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