Elite clubs start buying spree aimed at re-establishing old order

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The celebrations were still flowing in Oporto yesterday when news came through that the old guard of European football were not going to accept another year of upstart success.

The celebrations were still flowing in Oporto yesterday when news came through that the old guard of European football were not going to accept another year of upstart success.

Bayern Munich, four times winners of the European Cup, had followed up the dismissal of their coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, and the installation of Felix Magath as his replacement, by signing Lucio, the Brazilian defender, from Bayer Leverkusen for ¤10m euros [£6.7m]. They intend their next trick to be the capture of Deco from Porto.

Even before Porto completed their remarkable Champions' League triumph, defeating Monaco 3-0 in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday night, other members of the European élite had acted. Milan, six times winners and the dethroned holders, had signed Jaap Stam and Lyon's influential midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo. Even more crucially, they had fought off Chelsea's advances and persuaded Andriy Shevchenko to sign a contract extension binding him to the Serie A champions until 2009. The nine-times winners, Real Madrid, the most gloried name of all, also fired their coach, replacing Carlos Queiroz with the hard man Jose Antonio Camacho. The message was that entertainment will now take second place to winning.

Porto's victory has shaken the giants, not least because (relatively) tiny Monaco also reached the final. The Champions' League concept was devised to prevent such giant-killing, not encourage it. It was thus inevitable that, even in the moment of Porto's triumph, many of the questions concentrated on their impending pillage by wealthier clubs.

Jose Mourinho's imminent departure to Chelsea was the focus for English journalists, but the local, German press were more interested in Deco. The Brazilian-born, Portuguese international playmaker, is strongly rumoured to be Bayern's next acquisition.

This move would accelerate the transfer merry-go-round, as Michael Ballack, it is claimed, would then move to Barcelona. The Catalan club, back in the Champions' League and determined to impress, have freed up their wage-budget by releasing a cluster of players and telling Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars, they can go. Expect some of these refugees to arrive in the Premiership.

But can buying a team, as Chelsea appear about to do again, work? Mourinho said of the line-up at the final: "This wasn't an accident. When you have the money to buy the best in the world you have more chances, but only if you build the team. Sometimes, when you have the players, you feel you don't need to work. This is the future. The most important thing is the team philosophy."

Mourinho was helped by being able to field a starting XI in Gelsenkirchen who shared the same native tongue: Portuguese and its Brazilian variant. The last European Cup finalists to do so were another outsider, Steaua Bucharest, the Romanian Army team. They fielded all-Romanian XIs both in 1989, when they lost to Milan, and 1986 when they defeated Barcelona.

Steaua, like all East European teams, have declined since the collapse of Communism and ending of player-movement restrictions. Not a single team from the old Eastern Bloc will qualify automatically for the Champions' League next season.

The prospect of Portuguese and French clubs returning to the final are not so bleak. Though Portugal is a relatively small television market ­ a key factor in club finances ­ it has some wealthy individuals, the country's footballing strength is concentrated on just three teams (Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon), and historically flexible employment links with Brazil provide easy access to the game's greatest reservoir of talent. It is also in the midst of a boom prompted by hosting Euro 2004.

However, Porto's immediate prospects of aping Liverpool a quarter of a century ago and establishing a dynasty on the back of a Uefa Cup-European Cup double seem slim. As well as losing Mourinho and Deco Porto are likely to find it hard to hold on to several players including Ricardo Carvalho, the imperious central defender, the Brazilian teenager Carlos Alberto, who scored the opening goal, full-backs Paulo Ferreira and Nuno Valente and midfielder Maniche Ribeiro. "It's going to be hard to do better than this," the captain Jorge Costa said.

Monaco, who were seeking to become the first new name on the Cup since Borussia Dortmund seven years ago, are also unlikely to make next year's final. Didier Deschamps, the coach, is due to replace Marcello Lippi at Juventus while Fernando Morientes' loan period has expired. He is expected to pitch up at Stamford Bridge.

With Dado Prso joining Rangers and Jérôme Rothen going to Paris St Germain, Deschamps' successor has a tough assignment. Monaco's disappointment was magnified for their captain, Ludovic Giuly. The attacking midfielder tore a muscle in his abdomen on Wednesday night and is likely to miss Euro 2004.

However, the French league remains on the rise despite a player-drain resembling that of Brazil and Yugoslavia. An excellent coaching structure and the ongoing success of the national team has kept the post-France '98 boom going. It can only be a matter of time before Lyon, who have just completed their third successive title, make a serious impact on the Champions' League.

The odds, however, are on the likes of Milan, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich occupying at least one dressing room in Istanbul's Ataturk Olympic Stadium come 25 May 2005. This two-year-old 80,000-seat stadium will be the first in Turkey to host a European final.

This intriguing prospect is sadly tempered for English observers by the memory of violent clashes between supporters of English and Turkish clubs. Before worrying about that, however, an English club first has to reach the final.

Comments