With the introduction of the Champions League in 1993, the balance of power and money in Europe has gradually isolated some former giants and spawned a number of nouveau-riche replacements. Twenty years ago, sides like Celtic, Ajax, Galatasaray, and Benifca were all top clubs. Now, former also-rans like Man City, Chelsea, Spartak Moscow, and Shaktar Donetsk replace them in the top 20, courtesy of the money being pumped into their sides. According to the current UEFA Co-efficient rankings, Italian giants Juventus sit a whole 21 places behind CSKA Moscow, and lowly Fulham are an incredible 16 places above German titans Borussia Dortmund.
The most significant shift in power (or expenditure, to give it another name) is taking place in Eastern Europe. With clubs in Holland, Scotland, and even France (aside from PSG) unable to keep up with the rich boys, the new money is mostly coming out of Russia (Zenit, Spartak, Rubin, and Anzhi Makhachkala).
There is a joke about newly rich clubs in England that the first thing you have to do is spend a stack of cash on Shaun Wright Phillips (Chelsea, then Man City, now QPR). Though the Russian clubs haven’t gone for the diminutive winger, they have made a number of equally overpriced, ostentatious signings under the belief that a few big names will make everyone fear and respect them.
Anzhi have been the worst perpetrators as far as this kind of signing goes. It surely wasn’t for footballing reasons that Guus Hiddink became their manager. Likewise, when most clubs in the world would have loved to build a team around him, Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o chose Anzhi—a club who train in Moscow and then fly 400 miles to Makhachkala to play their home games. Anzhi are yet to reap the benefits of their massive outlay (the Europa League doesn’t count, as winning it would pay about 20% of Eto’os annual salary), and neither have Zenit St Petersburg, despite splashing out over $70m on two players in the summer, they lost their opening Champions League game to Malaga.
With the World Cup coming to Russia in 2018, the time seems to be ripe for Russia to become a new footballing superpower. However, the wealthy club sides seem to be following the same path as PSG, and Man City in spending a lot of money quickly in the hope of instant success. History tells us that it takes time to build up a culture and squad of real footballing quality. It took nine years of Roman Abramovich owning Chelsea before they won the Champions League, whereas clubs like Barcelona and Man United mix big spending with careful nurturing of youth and good scouting.
The result of this is arms race is an ongoing legacy of success, something the Russian sides should think seriously about.
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