When Sergio Aguero fired home Manchester City’s winner against QPR, the dramatic goal that clinched Man City’s first league title in over 40 years, it was yet again proof that money can buy a club trophies.
Manchester City’s owner, Sheikh Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has invested a tremendous amount of money to bring an ever-growing list of world class players to the Etihad Stadium. David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri are just a handful of the £20 million+ purchases that have helped Manchester City climb back to the peak of English football.
Manchester City are not the only big spenders on the European continent though, who in recent years seem to throw cash around as if it is going out of fashion. Roman Abramovich has spent over £1 billion on transforming Chelsea into European Champions, Paris Saint Germain are the new boys to the ‘big spenders’ club and Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala have also began to splash the cash, thanks to their billionaire owner, Suleyman Kerimov.
Perhaps the best case of the little guy rising to the top played out in the French Ligue 1, last season. It was a classic ‘David vs Goliath’, ‘Money vs Team work’, story in which Montpellier made history.
As we have seen with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, money can buy success. But it isn’t everything. It is of course harder, but it’s not impossible for a minnow club to win trophies without the funding of a rich sugar daddy. There are a number of means that contribute to a successful club besides money. Hard work, team spirit, wise spending, strong youth prospects and luck are all important factors.
Many will point to Borussia Dortmund as the glowing example of a club defying the odds and achieving success through careful spending and clever planning, but perhaps the best case of the little guy rising to the top played out in the French Ligue 1, last season. It was a classic ‘David vs Goliath’, ‘Money vs Team work’, story in which Montpellier made history.
Montpellier are without doubt the ultimate underdogs. Nobody thought of them as potential Ligue 1 champions this time last year. Carlo Ancelotti’s Paris Saint Germain, bolstered by their Qatari owners’ vast resources, were the hotly tipped favourites. Last summer, PSG spent £82 million on players, in comparison to the meagre £1.6 million spent by Montpellier. Even more staggering, Montpellier’s annual budget of £29 million was £8 million less than the £37 million PSG spent on signing Palermo’s Javier Pastore. Yet, despite their unfashionable background and modest wealth, Montpellier showed other strengths to beat PSG to the title by three points. They proved that team spirit, hard work and raw talent could be enough to overcome the big spenders.
For clubs like Newcastle and, to an even further extent, Montpellier, sustaining their recent successes is the next challenge.
As Montpellier proved when they signed Olivier Giroud for £1.7 million in 2010, clubs don’t necessarily have to spend £20 million+ to acquire the services of talented players; there are hidden gems all over the world which can be bought for far cheaper. Shrewd signings were the crux of last season’s English Premier League over-achievers, Newcastle United. Their chief scout, Graham Carr, did fantastic in finding value for money in the European market when he signed the likes of Yohan Cabaye from Lille, for a fee as little as £4.3 million, and also the Senegalese striker, Papiss Cisse, for around £10 million from the German side Freiburg. Cabaye and Cisse, alongside other inexpensive purchases in Cheick Tiote and Demba Ba, helped Newcastle finish 5th in the Premier League, ahead of English giants, Liverpool and Chelsea, in only their second season back in England’s top tier.
Liverpool, in fact, were an example of how spending large amounts of money doesn’t always work. Despite winning the Carling Cup and reaching the FA Cup final, last season, Liverpool stumbled to a lowly 8th position in the league, after spending just under £60 million on new recruits the previous summer. Most notably, Stewart Downing was signed at the cost of £20 million and Jordan Henderson was bought for around £16.5 million. Both of whom were hugely overpriced and that’s without mentioning the £35 million Liverpool paid Newcastle, the previous January, for Andy Carroll. It’s fair to say, Liverpool could have been smarter with their spending.
For clubs like Newcastle and, to an even further extent, Montpellier, sustaining their recent successes is the next challenge. For Montpellier, their triumph was built around promising home-grown talent, such as Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Garry Bocaly, Benjamin Stambouli, Remy Cabella and Younes Belhanda. As the likes of Ajax and Barcelona have demonstrated over years gone by, a strong youth academy and one-club philosophy can bare fruit for the future. However, for a club the size of Montpellier, their flourishing talents will no doubt attract the wistful glances of Europe’s elite clubs. Keeping hold of their high-flying talents will depend on the loyalty of the player and the success of the club. Of course, Montpellier will also enjoy the benefits of participating in Europe’s top competition, the Champions League, which will provide them with a decent portion of money to build on last season’s feat.
For every Hatem Ben Arfa, there is a Sylvain Marveaux. But if Newcastle continue to buy at low prices, then the policy carries far less risk.
As for Newcastle United, having reclaimed their place near the summit of English football, thanks to an excellent scouting network and clever purchases, can Newcastle honestly sustain their transfer policy? Head scout, Graham Carr, said himself that Newcastle’s transfer policy was to look at players who are playing first-team football at a young age. Clearly, their transfer exploits of last season reaped rewards, but the success of a signed player is never guaranteed. For every Hatem Ben Arfa, there is a Sylvain Marveaux. But if Newcastle continue to buy at low prices, then the policy carries far less risk.
Inevitably, without the money of Europe’s rich clubs, sustaining success is that much harder for clubs like Newcastle and Montpellier. Whether they can do so, remains to be seen. But for now, at a time where it seemed that the gap between the rich clubs and the poor clubs was widening, the recent achievements of the likes of Montpellier and Newcastle are a timely reminder that in football, it’s not all about money. With hard work, team spirit, smart spending and a touch of luck, even the underdog can triumph.
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