There’s an old song by 1960s group, The Grass Roots, titled, “Live for Today.” You can probably figure out the gist of it via the title: Live for today, don’t worry about anything else. It’s straightforward song-writing, with some la-la-las thrown in.
That ethos might as well serve as the operating principle for most big-time European soccer clubs.
It’s worth bringing this up in the wake of Tottenham firing manager Andre Villas-Boas after 16 games in the Premier League this season. In a vacuum, sure AVB — or any manager — likely deserves a little more time considering the massive summer overhaul the club went through this summer after selling off Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and replacing him with a half-dozen high-priced new recruits from around the globe.
There’s even the term “sack culture” being bandied about the Premier League after West Brom fired Steve Clarke over the weekend. Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan appears on the verging of firing Malky Mackay for reasons likely only the Malaysian businessman can explain. Clubs like Norwich City and West Ham contemplate managerial changes. The other two EPL firings this season — Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland and Martin Jol at Fulham — were hardly unfair.
[RELATED: Trying to Learn to Love Luis Suarez]
There is, however, no such thing as time afforded most top-flight clubs and that has nothing to do with the whims of ownership. The chance for Tottenham to finish within the top four of the EPL thus earning a place in the lucrative Champions League and the financial windfall it represents was slipping away with each increasingly flat performance under AVB. Remember, there aren’t any playoffs in most soccer leagues. You can’t squeeze in like, say, the New York Giants at 9-7 and go on to win the Super Bowl. Three points piled up in August, count the same as November, March or May.
The free-market nature of European soccer doesn’t allow for American-style sports organizational planning over the long haul. You can’t exactly build yourself up through a well-run farm system as you can in baseball. There isn’t a No. 1 draft pick waiting for the worst teams in the NFL or NHL. A struggling team can’t wait out a miserable season, hoping to land an Andrew Wiggins-type player in the draft to immediately turn around their fortunes. The idea of “tanking” isn’t even conceivable.
Instead it’s the complete opposite. There aren’t guidelines in place to help prop up the weak team and hope to make them competitive. The worst teams are relegated to the lower division. Even when teams try build up young talent, it’s usually only a matter of time before its snapped up by the bigger fish in the pond. Take promoted side Crystal Palace, which had the best player in the Championship (second division) a year ago — Wilfried Zaha–but saw him signed in the summer by Manchester United. (United might be the exception to the rule, as the club has afford David Moyes plenty of time despite his struggles taking over for Sir Alex Ferguson.)
As an example, a few seasons ago Aston Villa looked like it might be on the verge of cracking the top four. Under Martin O’Neill, the club finished in sixth place three straight seasons between 2006-2009. It never got over the hump. Ashley Young was sold to Manchester United, while Gareth Barry and James Milner eventually wound up at Manchester City. The younger players who briefly showed promise like Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan, or Curtis Davies never panned out and have since moved on or been loaned out. Villa is doing the process again and 16th place seems more realistic for the club than sixth. And even if all the players performed, Villa was/is no match for the financial clout which has fueled Manchester City’s rise to the top.
Overriding any sense of long-term planning is in any given year across most major European leagues only a handful of teams, maybe three or four max, enter a season with a realistic expectation of winning the title. In the EPL, the majority of clubs are happy to avoid relegation and pocket the television money. Perhaps a smart club, with strong roots and infrastructure which lacks a billionaire Qatari owner, takes that tv money and re-invests into the club in areas like youth development or stadium upgrades. Otherwise the plan for most clubs outside the top echelon of the league seem to just throw money at different players, hoping to find some combination that keeps them around another season.
We can briefly look at a team that has the financial wherewithal to plan ahead a few years down the road such as Chelsea. The Blues have bought so much young talent in recent years that they’ve been forced to loan out guys like Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, Marko Marin and Josh McEachran since there’s no room at Stamford Bridge. There’s no guarantee any of the loaned out players ever even make a meaningful contribution, like Belgian youngster Kevin De Bruyne, signed from Gent in 2012 and loaned immediately to Werder Bremen in Germany. Now back at Chelsea for the current season, he already wants a permanent transfer elsewhere.
So add this together and it makes some sense why Villas-Boas wasn’t given a season to see if he could shape the new-look Tottenham team into a winning side. The Spurs’ braintrust of chairman Daniel Levy and Director of Football Franco Baldini didn’t assemble a team with the goal of winning in 2014 or 2015, it was put together to win immediately. At least AVB can take solace he was fired by justifiable sporting expectations, unlike Mackay who’s on the verge of being kicked to the curb for no exact reason aside from Tan’s Steinbrenner-like tendencies.
Suarez Keeps Getting Paid
Luis Suarez put pen to paper on Friday, signing another contract at Liverpool. This one should pay him, somewhere in the range of $17 million per season through 2018. The Uruguayan, based on current form, is worth it. His 17 goals in 11 games in the EPL this season give him a realistic shot to set a new single-season goals record.
Details are still coming out, such as the release clause figure. Suarez signed a new contract in 2012 and then tried to force his way out of Anfield over the summer only to see club owner John Henry stand firm. Liverpool are in good position to return to the Champions League, but if the club stumbles down the stretch will Uruguayan star be unhappy once again? With another contract logic would say he would have a little loyalty toward the club, however we know that’s a foolish sentiment.
For now, if you’re a Liverpool supporter consider it an early Christmas present.
Games of the Weekend:
Fulham vs. Manchester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m.) The actual best game of this round is on Monday when Arsenal (minus Jack Wilshere) hosts Chelsea, but this match could be interesting mostly due to City’s inconsistent road form along with the long-term injury to Sergio Aguero.
Mancester United vs. West Ham United – (Saturday, 10 a.m.) Both clubs won in the mid-week to advance to the semifinals of the League Cup, easing pressure on David Moyes and Sam Allardyce. Manchester United are 10 points behind first-place Arsenal, but only 11 clear of West Ham which is in 17th and one off the relegation zone.