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Football! The gap between rich and poor clubs has never been so great in Europe

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Hello and welcome to a new edition of the L.A. Times football newsletter. Im Kevin Baxter, the football writer of the Times and we start today in Europe, where the gap between the rich and the poor clubs has never been so great.

The defending champion in three of the continent's five best competitions – Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus – are among the richest clubs in their country, according to accounting firm Deloitte, which ranks the best teams in the world annually based on football revenues.

In all three cases there is no other club nearby.

And Barcelona, ​​the reigning champion in Spain, is the second richest club in the world behind any competition rival Real Madrid.

But in recent years, a few little boys have proven that you can still beat the big clubs, even if you can't spend them.

In 2016, for example, the humble Leicester City, just two seasons away from the second-line championship, won the EPL title despite a $ 100 million salary with a ranking of 17th in the competition.

Chelsea and Manchester United each spent nearly 4½ times that season on players.

Perhaps the real master in doing more with less is the Spanish club Sevilla, winner of three of the last six Europa League titles. Twenty years ago the club had so many debts that it almost sold its stadium to pay its bills.

"We didn't even have money to buy football," said team president Jose Castro.

So the team found other ways to compete. Because it is cheaper to make a player than to buy one, Seville built an excellent academy, one that sent stars such as Sergio Ramos and Jesus Navas to the first team, and then to rich teams for exorbitant transfer fees.

“All these players have made us a better side. And then went on to help the finances of the club when they were sold, "Castro said." We were the first to understand that, however unpopular, selling a star player can mean taking a step back and then three steps forward as long as we knew how to invest the money. "

That's true Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo – better known as Monchi – comes in. A former goalkeeper who spent his entire career with Seville, Monchi, now the club's sports director, is the Billy Beane of international football.

He has built a deep scouting and player development system that has been thrown through the bushes to find and then produce young players. But it has also helped him to find value in players who have overlooked others, allowing him to buy low and sell high, running players through his first team as if they were on a conveyor belt.

And just like Beane, Oakland Athletics executive vice president of baseball, he has managed to win.

"The plan will always be different from the rest," Monchi said. “On the sporting side, we bet on innovation and development and create a specific department for this. We use tools and advanced ideas to view data.

“Everyone has the data. We are now trying to ease this process. This is the key. We try to cover as much as possible and also do this in the fastest way.

“Twenty thousand players play in professional competitions every weekend. We try to make tools to extract the evidence and data as quickly as possible. "

Between 2005-2016, that Seville strategy won six Europa League titles and three national cups. Then Monchi left for Roma and the team won nothing.

He returned in March, made 38 moves in the summer transfer market and now Seville is in third place in La Liga – one point behind deep-pocketed Barcelona and Real Madrid – and undefeated five games in the current Europa League tournament.

"This is how we did it," Monchi said. "By becoming different again and setting a trend."

When Monchi started sending scouts to U-20 games, he says that few teams followed. Now those tournaments attract hundreds of club representatives, he said. And although he did not invent the idea of ​​developing talent with a view to selling it, Monchi probably played the transfer market better than any other European football executive.

And although that hasn't changed the names at the top of the ranking in Spain, it can make those top clubs a bit uncomfortable.

“We know in advance that the two top places are for (Real) Madrid and Barcelona. And the third is for Atletico (Madrid) because these teams have a much larger budget, "he said." It is a remarkable achievement to be close to these teams or even to beat one of the third places.

“I believe we are close to this level. Our goal to be among the best teams in Europe. "

We did not light the fire

Zlatan Ibrahimovic went to social media last week to share a photo of a green Hammarby sweater with his name on the back, which immediately sparked speculation that the former Galaxy attacker signed with the Swedish club.

It turned out that he had just announced that he had become co-owner of the club. But given what happened next, he wished he had kept it a secret.

Ibrahimovic started his professional career in his hometown with rival club Malmo, who erected a statue of him in front of the stadium last month. So when the news spread that Ibrahimovic now owned part of another club, Malmo & # 39; s ultrasonic lighter fluid poured over the statue and used flares to set it on fire. Another group of fans went to the house that Ibrahimovic keeps in Malmö and wrote "Judas" on the door.

Ibrahimovic became co-owner of Hammarby, a Stockholm-based club, by acquiring a 23.5% stake previously held by AEG, the parent company of the Galaxy. The transfer of ownership was part of an agreement that Ibrahimovic had with the Galaxy when he signed with the MLS club, similar to the deal David Beckham In 2007, Beckham & # 39; s deal included an $ 25 million option to purchase an MLS club, an option he exercised at Inter Miami, which enters the league next season.

"Everyone is extremely critical," Kaveh Hosseinpour, vice-president of the ultra-supporter group, told Swedish journalists. “Some are disappointed, others are angry and others think it is an idiot.

“He has probably lost his grip on what he means to Malmö. He misunderstands his position when he says that Malmö will be happy for his good. There is no one in Malmö who walks around in a LA Galaxy shirt and plays with Ibrahimovic on his back. "

Former player and coach of Malmö Jens Fjellstrom said in a podcast that Ibrahimovic's decision was "a declaration of war" and that Ibrahimovic should be considered a "rival" for the club.

Hosseinpour has meanwhile called for the statue to be removed and reinstalled in Stockholm, closer to the new Ibrahimovic team.

Crossing the border

Last month's announcement that the Mexican League MX would participate in the 2020 MLS all-star game is just the latest in a growing list of collaborations between the two competitions that are already benefiting both. But Landon Donovan, who played on both sides of the border, said the biggest impact is not yet felt.

Last season there were six Mexicans in MLS with four of them – Carlos Vela and Pablo Sisniega from LAFC and Jonathan dos Santos and Uriel Antuna from the Galaxy – playing in Southern California. And Donovan, who retired to play part of a year in Leon in the League MX, says he expects that number to increase significantly as the competitions come closer together.

"For a player, each of them came to me at a certain point in four months and said," Can you take me to MLS? "I want to play in MLS," Donovan said about his Mexican teammates. “In the past, the pay gap was so great that it was just too logical to play in Mexico. Now it is very small or negligible. And now they want to come and play here. & # 39;

Days after Donovan made those comments, Chivas de Guadalajara striker Alan Pulido indicated that he was about to do that.

"Probably I go to MLS. There are a number of important teams out there that are interested in me," Pulido said.

Juan Jose Macias, 20, one of League MX's most dangerous strikers in 2019, is also repeatedly considering moving north.

"It's great for their family. It's a great opportunity from a lifestyle perspective. They can make a lot of money, & # 39; said Donovan." They can be stars in this, but they also have relative anonymity. It is for them in many cases a dream to come and play in America. "

Count the house

Five of the 10 largest crowds for a women's football match in 2019 were the American national team.

1. England vs. Germany (friendly in London), 77,768

2. Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona (Spain, Liga Femenina), 60,739

3. USA versus the Netherlands (Ladies World Cup Final in Lyon), 5700

4. US vs England (semi-final of the Women's World Cup in Lyon), 53,512

5. US versus Portugal (friendly in Philadelphia), 49,504

6. The Netherlands vs. Sweden (Semi-final Women's World Cup in Lyon), 48,452

7. Athletic Bilbao v Atletico Madrid (Spain. Copa de la Reina), 48.121

8. US vs France (quarter finals of the Ladies World Cup in Paris), 45,595

9. USA vs Chile (women's world cup championships in Paris), 15,594

10. France versus South Korea (group phase Women's World Cup in Paris), 45,361

(Source: Soccer America)

Geography class

With expansion teams in Nashville and Miami going to Major League Soccer next season, MLS had to add one team to each of the two conferences. Miami was the natural addition to the Eastern Conference with 13 teams, leaving Nashville, east of the Mississippi River – and east of Chicago – in the Western Conference.

But that is not the biggest problem with the latest expansion round. With 26 teams and a 34-game schedule, MLS teams are not playing all their competition rivals in 2020 for the first time.

Each team plays 24 games in conference, where the other 12 clubs are met at home and on the road. But because the competition maintains a schedule of 34 games, there is still room for only 10 games against clubs from the other conference, leading to the most unbalanced schedule in the 25-year history of the competition.

And that makes the competition for the Supporters & # 39; Shield, which goes to the team with the best regular season record of the competition, controversial because teams don't play the same schedules. LAFC and the Galaxy, both in the Western Conference, for example, play twice defending champion Seattle, while the New York Red Bulls may not play at all in Seattle.

MLS could have prevented this by extending the schedule to 37 games, which allowed all 26 teams to meet at least once. But that would mean that an already planned schedule would be repressed.

The competition will face more planned headaches in 2021 when Austin joins the competition, and again in 2022 when St. Louis and Sacramento begin to play.

The competition hopes to announce the full 2020 schedule by the end of the year. The season starts on February 29, the earliest start in the history of MLS.

Quotebook

“I never stopped dreaming and enjoying football like when I was a kid. I hope I can enjoy more years, although I know how old I am. Everything happens very quickly and I know that the moment of retirement is approaching. "

Lionel Messi, 32, after winning a record sixth Balloon d & # 39; Or on Monday

Until next time

Stay informed for future newsletters. Subscribe here, and I arrive directly in your inbox. Anything else you would like to see? Email me. Or follow me on Twitter: @ kbaxter11.

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