Football at the elite level has seen widespread changes to the game over the past 30 years, from tactical advances to increased global exposure.
One thing that is not different, however, is the desire to win. Bringing joy to both fans and players by achieving the goals each club has at the start of the season. But as a sport so associated with finance today, is it in danger of becoming less competitive than it used to be?
The problem is that some leagues in Europe are somewhat routine. In England, Manchester City have won four of their last five Premier League titles. In Germany, Bayern took their 11th win in a row, while in Spain, Valencia has won La Liga since 2004, none other than Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. So is football getting more predictable? And how much of a problem is that actually?
“I think football moves in cycles based on who is at the top,” said former Premier League footballer Neil Mellor.
“In a few years there will be another team. I don’t like to see this domination, but it’s happening in every country right now.”
Of course, every rule has exceptions. That’s why we, as football fans, love sports so much. There are rare occasions when small teams can achieve great success, but these moments are becoming less and less and the distance is narrowing.
Mellor continued: “I think the Premier League is the most competitive league in terms of the money it creates. A bottom-up team like Bournemouth, for example, could spend more than £100m in a window, which means if the top teams don’t do that, it’s off the table. “It means they can get stuck much more often against teams below them. We’ve seen that this season with teams like Liverpool and Chelsea who have really struggled to get in shape.”
The problem is that big teams always come out on top during a season. Despite one-off ‘freak’ results, the same teams always win in the end. GiveMeSport journalist Alex Batt believes this is football’s biggest headache right now.
“I think the main concern is that people start a new season in a way that they can pretty much predict the future. They’re already thinking, ‘Well, City will win again this year’. I think that’s the biggest problem in English football, because at least there were three or four teams that could get into the mix before.”
But what about from a player’s point of view? Former Brazilian defender Gilberto Silva was part of one of the best Premier League teams of all time and won the trophy as a member of Arsenal’s undefeated ‘undefeated’ teams. He believes the sport has evolved a lot since his days playing in England.
“It was really competitive when I was there,” Gilberto said.
If the game is changing a lot and things are getting less competitive, how can we stop it? Can it be reversed? When you look at other sports, there are some innovative efforts to keep everything on an even playing field. Teams that finish low in the Formula 1 championship qualify for more wind tunnel time next season to test their cars further. In addition, the entire grid is now capped by a cost cap to prevent wealthier teams from running off with races every week.
In America, the NFL uses the famous ‘draft’ system, where teams with the worst records at the end of a season receive first rejections in the best young stars coming out of college-level football. Franchises also have salary caps that apply to their entire staff, so if they want to trade with another superstar, they have to make room for them financially.
So, with the same teams consistently winning big prizes, it may be time for football to rethink its strategy. There is inspiration, but only time will tell if governing bodies like FIFA and UEFA are open to change.