How the Champions League taught the big-spenders their lesson
They say money rules the world. They're right. To become respected and powerful, money is needed. Lots of it. Some football clubs have 'bought into' that idea in recent seasons. They believe spending should lead to Champions League dominance.
Every top side dreams of winning the Champions League. Different strategies can be applied in an effort to turn dreams into reality. One is spending. Here are three clubs who overdid it.
After La Remontada, in which Barcelona reversed PSG's 4-0 advantage with a 6-1 victory at the Nou Camp, the Parisians were further embarrassed when AS Monaco ended their four-year Ligue 1 reign. The capital club's weakness was exposed. The side was loaded with world-class talent but lacked a marquee player to bring focus to the project. Never ones to do anything half-hearted, the Qatari Investment Authority quickly acquired two marquee talents.
PSG went after the weapons that had hurt them. They activated Barcelona's €222 million release clause for Neymar. They weren't satisfied. The oil barons promised another €180 million to Monaco for Kylian Mbappe. The duo made Les Rouge-et-Bleu instant favourites for the Champions League.
The football world expected a glistening campaign. Real Madrid put paid to that. Neymar was injured for the second leg. Mbappe wasn't able to pick up the slack. Cristiano Ronaldo was the player who proved worth the money.
Manchester City and Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League on the same day. People saw it coming with City, so let's deal with Pep Guardiola's side first.
In the summer, Guardiola bought Ederson to replace Claudio 'Butterfingers' Bravo, then went on a shopping spree for fullbacks. He missed out on Dani Alves but landed Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, and Danilo. He also signed David Silva's unrelated heir apparent Bernardo. In January, he added Aymeric Laporte to his central defence. Overall, the Catalan shelled out just under €300 million for the lot.
As a result, the Sky Blues had long since made the Premier League a one-horse race. Only Liverpool had defeated them in the league. Few beyond their supporters believed the Reds could do it again. Those supporters provided a big assist before the first leg at Anfield, smashing the arriving City bus with debris so that their lads could grab a comprehensive 3-0 victory in the first leg. Pep couldn't find a solution in the second leg and his side were taken down for a third time in one campaign, something no coach before Jurgen Klopp had done. Buying players hadn't won the Mancunians European glory, but selling one might have done the trick for the Merseysiders.
Even though everyone knows how this season has played out, there is still an element of disbelief in the Cules' presence on this list. Barcelona weren't known as spenders before Neymar's departure. Sure, they had bought the talented Brazilian from Santos, but they'd done it under the table to protect their image as a club that brings its stars through the hallowed La Masia academy.
But Neymar's loss triggered Barcelona's panic. They broke the bank to pry Ousmane Dembele away from Borussia Dortmund for a staggering €115 million. Paulinho was a €40 million bargain from Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League. In January, they bought Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool for €120 million, and Nelson Semedo for another €30 million. When you consider the proceeds from Neymar's sale, the outlay was roughly €80 million. Nevertheless, it looks like the Catalans have forgotten how to develop their own talent.
Their liberal spending had the Blaugrana up 4-1 in the quarterfinal first leg against AS Roma. But they had hired a conservative coach. Ernesto Valverde wanted his squad to park the bus against Roma. They hadn't the first clue how to manage it. Roma came up with a 3-0 win at Stadio Olimpico to advance on away goals. Now, they're in a position to do it again against Liverpool. Meanwhile, Barcelona is faking their way through a La Liga title season in which they have yet to be beaten.
The sensible ones
Not many guessed Liverpool would be better without Coutinho. It has been the case. The club turned roughly two-thirds of his sale into Virgil van Dijk. Until his season-ending injury in the first leg against Roma, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, bought on the cheap from Arsenal, had been a revelation in the Brazilian's place. The Reds made a profit on their number ten and are looking ready to relive Istanbul's glory in Kyiv.
Forbes magazine ranks Real Madrid as the third wealthiest club in the world. Despite their financial strength and the club floundering in the season's first half, the Merengues remained calm during the winter window. They didn't spend much when many thought they should have chased Harry Kane or Mauro Icardi. Now, they are poised to defend their Champions League title again.
Because they understand there is more to the game than money, both Liverpool and Real Madrid are now strong favourites to lift the Champions League trophy.