Nou Camp no match for Messi's talents

Talking Point
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The Independent Football

There was no disputing Barcelona's on-pitch superiority over Arsenal but, behind the scenes, it was a different tale. The Nou Camp may be one of the great stadiums, but when compared to the Emirates it looks tired.

There have been facelifts, most recently in 1999, but the stadium is essentially the one rebuilt for the 1982 World Cup. Food, drink and merchandising outlets are basic and most seats lack backs and covering.

Given the choice many Arsenal fans would rather sit in a fleapit and watch Lionel Messi in red-and-white, than watch in luxury while he embarrasses their defence. Many, but not all. Much of English football's financial prosperity is built on the quality of its stadiums, which both encourage wealthier supporters to attend, and expertly opens their wallets.

Most Premier League clubs own their grounds but a recent Uefa survey revealed that only 17 per cent of clubs in Europe's top divisions do while 65 per cent rent from the public sector. This does guard against rapacious owners flogging the ground for housing, or using it as collateral for debt. But councils have other priorities, with the consequence, notably seen in Italy, that great temples of sport like San Siro and Rome's Stadio Olimpico are, to be blunt, shabby. Moreover, clubs are unable to use grounds outside match day to increase revenue. The Emirates has swiftly become one of London's major conference venues.

This is one reason reports of English football's demise following this season's Champions League failures are premature. Premier League clubs are huge income generators and money talks. Not that this is an advantage over Barcelona who, as it happens, do own the Nou Camp and have commissioned British architect Norman Foster to oversee a £250m renovation. Messi will soon have a stage appropriate to his talents.