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    New Year’s wish III: The world


    I don’t suppose many of us wished for a global economic downturn. This financial faceplant has already hit a lot of us very hard – my own good self included.

    But as long as it’s here, we might as well go hunting for silver linings in the sludge storm. And I think soccer’s got one!


    All of a sudden, having the most money may not be the best way of doing business. Huge teams with huge debt – Manchester United pops immediately to mind – could find themselves with a whole lot less pressure in the monetary firehose. Putting out fires on the roster with big money may suddenly not be easy – or possible.

    But if you’re a well-managed smaller club – preferably without a brand new stadium that isn’t really paid for yet – you might have a great chance to move up in the coming couple of years.

    Or so it looked a few days ago. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is on a clear and present youth movement, and recently said he wouldn’t be buying in this month’s transfer window. That’s with the Gunners currently sitting a game out of the top four, after frying a late lead at fourth-place upstarts Aston Villa.

    Well, now we hear Wenger may have 20-million quid put aside for a run at Zenit St. Petersburg target man Andrei Arshavin, even though he would not eligible to play for Arsenal in the Champions League. That, at least, is an admission that Arsenal needs help to finish in the top four.

    The subtle change, however, is that moves like this aren’t as automatic as they used to be. That could be very good news for Villa, and other similar big-ambition, modest-money clubs.

    The Big Four move I really can’t stand goes something like this. Feisty small team rides great first half from young rising star to third place at Christmas. Big team, citing artificial concern over alleged, unprovable roster thinness, pirates young star for many, many megaquid. Feisty small team falls back in standings, and big team barely even notices the money going out.

    Aston Villa and Everton are presently ripe for exactly this sort of picking. But if the condors have lost their claws, and just aren’t bothering to swoop off the cliffs this winter, the present competitive balance might actually be preserved. Villa and Everton may yet live to claim a spot in the UEFA Champions League.

    I know money will always affect the outcome of world football. There’s just a couple of key places I want to mount a defence. Big Four spend-and-destroy swoops are very high on my list.

    The economic downturn, in other words, may be the best news in years for overall competitive balance in Europe’s top soccer leagues. And when a Big Four side inevitably hoists the EPL trophy in May, I’ll at least be able to admire the achievement a bit more if the best of the rest still have their finest sides on the field for the final four months of the domestic season.



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