You know the one. And so does the Guardian:
The Ajax coach Frank de Boer is not jealous of Manchester City’s vast wealth as he prepares to do battle with the English champions. After a rapid rise facilitated by the millions of their owner Sheikh Mansour, City now find themselves competing among the European elite in the Champions League.
The club intend to become a force in the competition, and senior figures at some of the continent’s biggest clubs – last season’s opponents Bayern Munich and Napoli, for example – have expressed their reservations about City’s ascent.
More and more, journalists paint a picture of big money teams “cheating” by spending well-in excess of turnover on player transfers, while clubs like Ajax still work to develop talent from scratch. Under this view, morally bad teams “jump the queue” and spend money in the transfer market on proven world class talent, while the risk of long-term investment in player development rests on several feeder clubs, some of which include the well-known academy-focused teams like Ajax, Dortmund, and Barcelona.
The implication in the question above is that Man City spends money in the transfer market to buy “ready made” players, while Jong Ajax, the famed Amsterdam academy, develops them from childhood. Moreover, City’s practically limitless transfer market spending (they don’t spend what they earn in turnover) artificially inflates market prices, wreaking havoc across Europe. Hence the need for Financial Fair Play.
This is all true, broadly speaking. But there is no “cheating” here. It depends on short-term versus long-term gains. A team that relies on spending its way to regular dominance at home and in Europe with no recourse to development is essentially taking on decades of losses. They may be ‘sustainable’, particularly if the investors in question have near-limitless capital, but it’s clear with both Paris Saint-Germain’s backers and with Manchester City’s owners that their future plans include a focus on player development to help offset on-going losses, whilst using early successes to shore up their commercial brand.
The point here however is that an all-or-nothing approach to development versus transfer spending is unwise. A financially responsible team-building strategy would involve a mix of youth scouting, academy development (which often relies on an intelligent national development program like that in Germany and Spain), and transfer market activity. Ideally, a club would sell on homegrown players in the transfer market in order to help pay for certain star acquisitions, without at the same time becoming a mere farm club that wins nothing whilst keeping money in the bank.
It’s not clear whether any club in Europe has secured the ideal mix, although Barcelona certainly comes to mind. But this need not be a good versus evil proposition.