It has been, without a shadow of a doubt, a fruitful season for Liverpool. But many of us will remember that in the years leading up to this season, the advent of ‘moneyball’ had plenty of fans, Reds and rivals alike, anxious that their financially prudent clubs would be knocked off their respective perches and left in the dust of the big-spenders.
Paris Saint-Germain, owned by a state-owned Qatari organisation, were making seismic waves in the transfer market, beating others to the signatures of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and other hot properties. In the Premier League meanwhile, Abu Dhabi-bankrolled Manchester City had won the league for two seasons running from 2017 to 2018, each time amassing more points than anyone in the history of the competition. Real Madrid boasted a similar monopoly over Europe, having won three consecutive Champions League titles from 2016 to 2018. It was understandably difficult for other, more cash-strapped clubs to envision displacing these deep-pocketed giants from their decadent thrones.
However, this recently concluded campaign has been a tale of hope for the (relative) financial underdogs of football, which Liverpool fans will be the first to attest to. Despite Manchester City adding the likes of Rodri and Joao Cancelo to an already well-furnished squad, Liverpool took the league by storm with virtually no major signings, eventually wrapping up the Premiership with seven games to spare.
It was a classic tale of heart and desire trumping wealth (and arguably talent). The Reds’ perseverance and never-say-die attitude was simply too much for the rest of the league to handle. While snatching last-gasp winners and staging dramatic remontadas became characteristic of their season, Liverpool’s closest rivals Manchester City developed a propensity for complacently throwing away leads in the dying minutes. With every passing game, it became clearer and clearer that all the funds in the world can’t match up to the right mentality, coaching and team camaraderie.
But the Reds weren’t the only ones out to prove a point this season.
Bayern Munich’s success in this season’s truncated Champions League competition was a testament to spending smart over spending big. Juxtaposing their starting line-up against that of defeated finalists PSG provides some startling context to the Bavarians’ victory; For instance, while star striker Robert Lewandowski was signed for free by Bayern on a Bosman transfer, his opposition counterpart Neymar arrived with a jaw-dropping price tag of €222 million. Match-winner Kingsley Coman, meanwhile, cost Bayern less than a fifth of what PSG paid for his compatriot Mbappe, who disappointed on the day. Yet while Bayern may be financial underdogs compared to PSG, no one with any sense about them saw the Germans as underdogs for the final. It really does go to show how efficiently Bayern have gone about using the limited funds at their disposal.
Of course, while football is far from a plutocracy, a certain amount of spending power is required to compete for football’s top honours. Even the most optimistic of Newcastle or Burnley fans will find it difficult to envision their clubs in the mix for the Champions League spots anytime soon. It feels incredibly privileged to call the likes of Liverpool and Bayern underdogs, regardless of context.
But what’s important is that there is room for mobility amongst the ranks in football, whether it’s through shrewd business or an elite winning mentality – both of which both Liverpool and Bayern have displayed bountifully in recent times. It can only be a good thing for football if money is mitigated as a factor in the competition- we’re all egalitarians at heart when it comes to the beautiful game. It’s why so many people enjoyed Leicester’s and Sheffield’s valiant but ultimately underwhelming bids for Champions League and Europa League football respectively.
And if we are to see more of this, FFP needs to step in and enforce itself, lest we witness another extended period of unassailable dominance by one of the financial superpowers. Football has never been defined by money, and it doesn’t have to be either in the future.