Author Archives: Andrew Wenger

About Andrew Wenger

I was born and raised in Lititz, Pennsylvania where I began playing soccer at age 5. I continued my soccer and academic career at Duke University where I started every match in my 3 year career. I completed a history major and was awarded the Herman Trophy in 2012. Following my Junior year I was selected #1 in the MLS Superdraft by the Montreal Impact.

UEFA Financial Fair Play


            Over the last 20 years European soccer has gone through an exciting but dangerous period of global expansion.  When Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV signed the English Premier League to a $115 million television rights deal in 1992, he set the European club sport on a terror of worldwide expansion.  The Spanish Empire of the 1700s is the only conquest that rivals the expansion of European soccer.[1]  With the additional capital, individual clubs could grow.  More potent, though, was the exposure the clubs garnered worldwide through the advent of technology.  This exposure turned community institutions into global brands that have been wielded with a capitalist’s fist.  The dangerous part is that this expansion has gone unregulated.

In European soccer, regulations are largely non-existent.  Thus it is a utopia for any ambitious owner to attempt to lead their club to the apex of European soccer, the UEFA Champions League.  Many clubs have attempted to attain this goal by building a team full of talent.  Clubs have used modern financial instruments such as leveraged buyouts and excessive amounts of debt.  They have given their plans fancy names such as the “Galacticos Project.”  This sometimes-dangerous process of building a talented team is where regulation is lacking in protecting European club soccer.  In 2009, UEFA did a study of the 655 European soccer clubs and learned that half of them ran a deficit the previous year.[2]   The lack of financial regulation has recently allowed several soccer clubs to go into bankruptcy because they could not pay their creditors.  In response to such occurrences, there is increasing pressure to implement some financial regulations to help protect the solvency of the world’s game.

This post will first investigate how the idea of Financial Fair Play (FFP) was created.  I will examine what some European Leagues already do to curb financial delinquency.  The post will then gloss over concerns skeptics have of the new regulations before delving into how the regulations are structured and how they will be governed.  This will be followed by questions pertaining to how UEFA will be able to achieve their desired goals that FFP is supposed to achieve.  Finally, it will discuss critiques and suggestions meant to improve the current FFP model.

Introduction to FFP

Financial Fair Play is the brainchild of UEFA president Michel Platini.  Mr. Platini did an October 2009 interview with the Wall Street Journal just a month after the UEFA Executive committee accepted the idea of Financial Fair Play.  In it he said, “’I was a leader on the field,’ Mr. Platini, 54, … ‘Now, I should be a leader for the game. To me, it is a game — with many, many things attached.  It has to remain a game, or nobody will save it.’”[3]  His goal is to protect the game of soccer and level the playing field so all can compete equally.

Platini admitted to spending extensive time with sports franchises in the United States to learn how they were so successful, for he claimed they weathered the financial crisis in 2008 better than anyone else.[4]  The reason American sports leagues weathered the crisis so well is due to the uniqueness of the leagues.  “The main role of the leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, and MLS) within this framework is to implement rules aimed at furthering the collective interest of the teams in achieving joint profit maximization.”[5]  At the highest level of each league, the team owners and commissioner work together to succeed together as a league rather than destroy one another.  This is done by strategically placing teams, sharing revenue, and imposing restrictions on labor markets to ensure competiveness.  These are aspects that are innate to American sports ideology but would not work in the free capitalist markets of European sports.

The French and German soccer leagues already have a form of financial governance.   France’s Lige 1 has the Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion (DNCG) that oversees every club’s financials and has the power to levy appropriate sanctions on clubs that do not protect the financial sustainability of their club.  Germany’s German Football Federation requires each team in the DFB to apply for a license each season that allows them to compete in the league.  The license application is based on the financial solvency of the clubs.  These regulations do not guarantee that every club will be exempt from financial troubles, but they do protect the entire league from spiraling into a debt-funded competition.  These regulations have protected the French and German leagues from the widespread financial follies that have plagued the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, and Italy’s Seria A.
Financial Fair Play will be based on the DFB policy of issuing licenses to clubs, which will allow them to participate in UEFA sponsored competitions.  The FFP regulations have been set out with six goals in mind.

  1. To introduce financial discipline
  2. Decrease salary and transfer fee pressure
  3. For clubs to compete within their revenues
  4. Long term investment in youth academies
  5. To protect the long term viability of club football
  6. For clubs to settle their liabilities with creditors on a timely basis[6]

The way Financial Fair Play will work is that over a five-year period soccer clubs will be required to slowly balance their books.  The implementation process was expanded to give clubs more time to comply and the 2012-13 season is the first year that introductory regulations will be in place.  The five-year process will ease clubs towards a balanced budget.  So, in theory, at the conclusion of the five-year period they will only be allowed to spend as much as they make.   The hope is to end the frivolous spending that often runs clubs into extreme debt.  The two chambers of the Club Financial Control Body will regulate this process.[7]   The CFCB will have the power to expel clubs from UEFA competitions if individual clubs do not make the appropriate actions to adhere to the new regulations.  Mr. Platini has repeated that FFP is a provision soccer clubs have asked for.

General FFP Concerns

Even though European clubs have asked for additional regulations, this does not mean that FFP has been met with open arms.  The biggest concern for the overall game is that FFP will create a status quo for big clubs.  Clubs will be required to operate within their revenue streams.  This clause protects clubs from over exerting themselves financially.  The flip side is that clubs with large amounts of revenue will be able to maintain their current financial dominance.  FFP inhibits smaller clubs from borrowing to fund future growth, which is normally how businesses grow.

A big component of FFP is prohibiting an owner with deep pockets to personally fund the team’s growth, but with the requirement of a balanced budget this is no longer possible.  The concern is that clever clubs will increase their revenues by signing exceptionally large sponsorship deals, sometimes with a company their owner is closely affiliated with.  Manchester City’s owner Sheikh Mansour is a Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and four of Manchester City’s eight main sponsors are companies owned by the UAE government.  A main job of the CFCB will be to watch for shady accounting practices aimed at avoiding FFP regulations.

Other major concerns are how the actual FFP regulations will take into account the customs and tax policies of each individual league.  For example, the FFP regulations say that each club must audit their books under their own national conditions.  Well, higher taxes in certain countries will have serious ramifications for the amount clubs can reinvest in the club.  It is also very ambiguous about what can be discounted concerning certain charity payments and investments in other parts of the club.  Third party ownership is not covered in FFP and this could lead to a rise in clubs only owning a portion of a player’s rights.  This would keep the club’s initial costs low but force the club to share the future proceeds from the player’s sale with the third party.  The final concern is that some of the larger clubs are investing their excess capital in non-soccer related investments, like housing projects or a Real Madrid resort in the Middle East.  How does the return on this investment play into Financial Fair Play?  Will the bigger clubs be allowed to count their return as revenue and thus have larger budgets to invest in the team?  It is going to be a full time job to make sure that FFP creates an equal playing field from top to bottom, or if it is simply a guise of equality.

FFP Structure

As stated before the goal of financial fair play is to force clubs to operate on a balanced budget or be penalized by UEFA.  What that simply means is that clubs must make more money than they spend.  The tricky part of FFP is discerning what portions of a club’s income and expenses play into this equation.  Article 58-1 of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations 2012 edition states that relevant income is,

Gate receipts, broadcasting rights, sponsorship and advertising, commercial activities and other operating income, plus either profit on disposal of player registrations or income from disposal of player registrations, excess proceeds on disposal of tangible fixed assets and finance income. It does not include any non-monetary items or certain income from non-football operations. [8]

Article 58-2 follows and states that relevant expenses are,

Cost of sales, employee benefits expenses and other operating expenses, plus either amortisation or costs of acquiring player registrations, finance costs and dividends. It does not include depreciation/impairment of tangible fixed assets, amortisation/impairment of intangible fixed assets (other than player registrations), expenditure on youth development activities, expenditure on community development activities, any other non-monetary items, finance costs directly attributable to the construction of tangible fixed assets, tax expenses or certain expenses from non-football operations.[9]

UEFA has done their due diligence and clearly stated what income and expenses UEFA participants should apply in their financial statements necessary to receive a license.

Once a club has figured out what is relevant income and expenses, the club then submits a financial report stating whether the club finished with a positive balance.  Though it is not as easy as simply finishing in the green.  Article 61 states that there is an acceptable deviation of 5 million Euros.[10]  This number is subject to change for if the equity partner can supply the difference, up to a certain amount, the club is able to pass the solvency test.  As stated earlier, FFP is in a 5-year implementation process.  This process is directly felt in Article 61 because in 2013-14 and 2014-15 owners can contribute up to an additional 45 million Euros to help their club break-even and 30 million Euros in 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18.  After which time UEFA will make a decision about a lower amount.

Another fact about Financial Fair Play is that the break-even requirement is also supplemented by an extended monitoring period.  This monitoring period is for the 2-years previous to the 2013/14 season and 3-years there after.  This means that clubs may have a deficit in one of the three years but, as long as they post a surplus for the aggregate of the three years, they pass the test.  So, a club can post a surplus in T-1, T-2 but not T,  as long as the reported deficit is within the acceptable deviation for all 3 years, then the club passes the break-even requirement.  This entire process is defined in detail in Article 63.

The break-even requirement is not the only stipulation that dominates the FFP regulations, though the toughest to comply with.  Article 62 lays out 4 indicators that are monitored to determine if a club is in jeopardy of being denied a license to compete.[11]  These indicators are Negative Equity, Break Even Result, Going Concern, and Overdue payables.  Break even has already been discussed and dissected.  Negative Equity is based on a net liabilities position that has deteriorated as compared to previous reporting periods.  This means that clubs must actively manage their debt to keep their debt at consistent or reduced levels that can be earnestly managed.  Negative indicator 62-3-iv protects all club employees from being denied payroll.  It means that clubs must be able to pay all club employees and other vendors it owes money to.   The final indicator UEFA uses to judge clubs is in article 62-3-i.  It is titled “Going Concern.” The indicator will be breached if “the auditor’s report of the club included an emphasis of a matter or a qualified opinion/conclusion in respect of going concern.”  This clause allows UEFA to reserve the right to expel clubs that are putting their club in dangerous waters financially, but outside of the previously stated regulations.  These are the major aspects of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations that are used to grant clubs a one-year license to compete in UEFA competitions.

If a club or individual is found to be in breach of these regulations the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) has the ability and power to levy penalties on guilty parties.  The CFCB is made up of two chambers, the investigatory chamber and the adjudicatory chamber.[12]  Members serve a four-year term with an unlimited number of terms.[13]  The Control Body adjudicatory chamber can, under article 21, warn, reprimand, fine, deduct points, withhold revenue from UEFA competitions, prohibit registration of new players in UEFA competition, restrict the number of players a club can have in UEFA competition, disqualify a club from competition, or withdraw a title or award.  Similarly, the body can warn, reprimand, fine, suspend, or ban an individual from competition.[14]  These penalties are the same penalties that have been used in the past.  What will legitimize the CFCB is the precedent they set and the equality they have among cases as they proceed with their task of defending the FFP regulations.  A key factor is that Article 28 states that prosecution is barred after five years of the incident.

The CFCB has already punished several clubs for failing to meet the FFP regulations.  As of September 11th 2012 the UEFA CFCB imposed sanctions against 23 clubs (Index A) by withholding prize money and setting an October 15th deadline for the clubs to prove that their finances are in order.[15][16]  UEFA has also disqualified three clubs, AEK Athens of Greece, Gyor of Hungary, and Besiktas of Turkey, from the 2012-13 Europa League Season.  These are the first of such actions, which exhibit that UEFA is deadly serious.  The problem is finding out to what degree the clubs breached one of the four indicators so as to provide a base line for comparing future decisions.

FFP Concerns

One innate problem with UEFA club football and the FFP regulations is that the tax policies throughout Europe vary greatly and can have a huge impact on a club’s final financials.  In Europe players’ salaries are all done on a net basis so that they can be compared from one league to another.  Each club must pay the players’ taxes.  These taxes can add up very quickly when you are paying a top player a net salary of 10 million Euros and the income tax rate is 50%.  Well, since his salary is net 10 million Euros, you end up paying 15 million Euros for his services.  That extra 5 million Euros is a big difference when you are competing against another club in a country with a 15% tax rate.

The top bracket in the Premier League, for example, is 50% on income above 200,000 pounds ($316,000). In Russia, for foreign nationals, there’s a 13% flat rate. In France, if President François Hollande follows through on his campaign pledge, iast will be 75% on anything over 1 million euro ($1.25 million).  What does this mean? The take-home pay of a soccer player grossing $10 million could be as little as $2.8 million in France and as much as $8.7 million in Russia.[17]

This article has it wrong, however, because many players negotiate their contracts on a net salary basis so as to avoid paying high taxes, and their club ends up footing the bill.  FFP does not address the differing tax issues.

There are also problems with the terms and language within the regulations.  Article 58 of FFP regulations was discussed earlier and, as stated, it lays out what is and is not “relevant income and expenses.”  There are loopholes in UEFA’s criteria.  In article 58-1 “finance income” is considered relevant.  That is a very vague term.  What is stopping a club from gambling on risky and complex financial instruments in an attempt to side step the regulations by classifying the gambles as “financial income” to get ahead?  Or, in another instance, to lend money to a wealthy owner’s parent company at an interest rate that is above the market rate?

Similarly in Article 58-2 “expenditure’s on community development activities” are not considered relevant expenses.  If Arsenal redevelops the area around their new Emirates Stadium, they are developing the community and reinvesting in it, but this redevelopment will surely bring a profit from the increased property values.  Where does this fit into the guidelines?  On a positive note youth development is a discounted expense.  It is the goal of FFP to promote self-sustaining clubs and youth development is one way to cut expenses on transfer fees.

The biggest problem with the Article 58-1-2 is the term “non-football operations.”  Real Madrid is building a resort in the UAE with its brand name attached.  Since the resort is using the Real Madrid brand, does that make it a football operation?  If the team plays preseason exhibition games there does that make it a football operation?  Others agree with this sentiment,  “If a company says ‘We’re genuinely trying to build a global brand, this is a global club and we think this is what this deal is worth,’ it becomes quite difficult for UEFA,” said Daniel Hall, a partner at global law firm Eversheds. “It’s something that is very much open to subjective opinion and that is where there may be legal disputes.”[18]  Where is the clarity?

The last part of Article 58-4 states, “Relevant income and expenses must be adjusted to reflect the fair value of any such transactions.”[19]  Fair Value will have to be interpreted on a case by case basis but whose judgment will be used to make this decision and how will equality be maintained?  Building on this point, Article 11-1 states that UEFA, the licensor, will “ensure equal treatment.”[20]  Article 11 also states in subset 2 that, “The licensor guarantees the license applicants full confidentiality with regard to all information submitted during the licensing process.  Anyone involved in the licensing process or appointed by the licensor must sign a confidentiality agreement before assuming their tasks.”[21]  How can anyone outside of the license process judge if equality or fair value is being achieved  when the entire process is private? The FFP regulations stated that the goal is to protect the long-term viability of club football.   The fans are the heart and soul of club football.  But if they do not know their club’s financial position, how are they supposed to hold their club accountable?  How are they supposed to hold UEFA accountable?  UEFA states it will be equal but the ability to be absolutely equal and confidential with such vague regulations guarantees that problems will arise.

It gets even more interesting in Article 15 “Special Permission.”  UEFA reserves the right under the FFP regulations to grant special permission to lower division clubs if they earn UEFA qualification on sporting merit but are unable to go through the licensing process. [22]  This part of the regulations allows UEFA one of the many loopholes in the FFP regulations to make decisions as they please.  This article, however, only applies to lower division clubs.

Article 61 covers the amounts club equity owners can contribute to make up the club’s deficit.  This clause is perplexing for FFP was created to eliminate the ability for owners with deep pockets to bank roll their club.  Now UEFA is simply limiting the amount they can contribute but, nonetheless, still sanctioning it.

Finally UEFA throws another loophole into the regulations with 62-3-i “Going Concern.” The indicator will be breached if “the auditor’s report of the club included an emphasis of a matter or a qualified opinion/conclusion in respect of going concern.”  Without a numerical value “going concern” is open for interpretation and possibly inequality.  The regulation is meant to give UEFA the ability to govern new situations that cannot be imagined.  But it also gives UEFA and the CFCB the possibility to abuse their power.

Proposed Changes

Financial Fair Play in its current form is flawed.  Club football in Europe needs regulations to protect the institution.  It is the institution of club football that is in jeopardy of failing, not the game itself, as Michel Platini said in the previously mentioned Wall Street Journal article.  He said, “To me, it is a game — with many, many things attached.  It has to remain a game, or nobody will save it.”[23]  A few clubs that enter bankruptcy do not threaten the game of soccer but the institution of club football.  It is an institution that is exciting but must be tweaked.  Where FFP fails  is that it is too vague and bloated with red tape.  Its ultimate failure is that it attempts to fix club football by regulating the clubs in UEFA competitions instead of regulating the market within which UEFA clubs participate.

The largest expenditure clubs must burden is that spent on players.  For example, Manchester City spent 107 percent of revenue on wages last season (2011-12), and Inter Milan 104 percent.[24]  Stephen Dobson points out that players can attract such large salaries due to the capitalistic nature of the labor market and the marketability players have, as they are able to reach millions via technology.[25]   Unfortunately, this market is inefficient; there is not enough supply of elite level players to supply the many clubs that need their services.  This is true with players’ salaries but more evident in the transfer market where teams will pay millions of Euros for a player’s services.  This expensive outlay of capital does not guarantee the necessary dividend payments consistent championships would supply.

The authors of “Soccernomics,” Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanskisaid, said “We studied the spending of forty English clubs between 1978 and 1997, and found that their outlay on transfers explained only 16 percent of their total variation in league position. By contrast, their spending on salaries explained a massive 92 percent of that variation.”[26]  Clubs spend millions on a new signing in hopes that one man will lead the team to glory.  It is apparent clubs are being repaid for one of their two major expenditures, player salaries, but transfer fees are wasteful spending.

To protect European club soccer UEFA must regulate the transfer market instead of regulating the clubs.  When there is a transfer it is compared against the last player to get the largest transfer fee.  A number that is going to continue to rise as there is no shortage of demand for the “best player in the world.”  What UEFA must do is either cap the amount of money a club can spend in the transfer market in one year, or cap the amount of money a club can spend on one player.  In doing so UEFA will establish a numerical value that can be applied to the best player in the world at any time.  If a club feels it is prudent to borrow money to invest in players within the cap then they can go ahead and roll the dice.  To expand you have to take risks, but the current FFP regulations limit a club’s ability to take those necessary risks and, in turn, simply protect the status quo consisting of clubs that currently have large revenue streams.

European club football is in a time of crisis, and just like a sovereign nation might issue a commodity prices freeze, UEFA needs to issue a transfer market fee freeze.  Players’ salaries have shown that they are directly related to a team’s return on expenditures, so I would advise a free market to continue.  Transfer fees in contrast are an unregulated market and one that does not equate to a desirable return on capital.

An updated FFP must also eliminate confidentiality.  Club football exists because of the fans that support their team and buy the team’s merchandise.   The fans and supporters have a right to know what is going on with their favorite club.   Additionally, UEFA should follow the DFB model and require clubs that participate in UEFA events to have a portion of their club owned by fans.  It may not be 50 percent, but involve the fans and make them a part of decisions.

To truly level the playing field, supporters must be given a larger voice in their club.  Financial statements must be made public and the transfer market has to be capped even if just for a crisis period to curb the exponential rise of transfer fees.  Are these solutions clubs would welcome?  That is the true conundrum of FFP.  The top clubs collude together to stabilize the market of European club football that ensures their financial dominance.  These top clubs will not agree to provisions that knock them from their position of dominance.  That is why any “so-called” Financial Fair Play regulations are not fair but a guise of equality to portray to the media and fans.


UEFA’s FFP is an honest try to fix the crisis in European club soccer, but it is by no means the solution.  It does a good job of beginning the process and conversation of protecting club football.  It is simply red tape that the larger clubs will be able to find ways through, for they have the resources to do so.  This red tape was brought on by capitalist expansion.

With the first major television rights deal European football has been on an explosive global expansion.  Football clubs were once simple local institutions where the fans were the club and the club was the fans.  Clubs like Millwall where Ultras define ‘“Millwallism” as a state of living and breathing relationship for one’s club that defines what it means.’[27]  As technology infiltrated European clubs it grew their ability to touch lives globally but also distanced them from those that matter most, the ones that were there from the very beginning.  They are the local, hometown fans that defined the club and the club defines them.  Now clubs must worry about the viewership of fans in remote parts of the world when their club is located in London, England for example.  Technology has distanced European club football from those that first defined the institution and must now find a way to balance them in the global and local marketplace.

[1] Kuper, Simon, and Stefan Szymanski. Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey and Even Iraq Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport. New York: Nation, 2009. Page 80.

[2] Dennis, Phil Dawkes & Ian. “Adopt Arsenal Money Model – Uefa.” BBC News. BBC, 01 Nov. 2011. Web. 9 Oct. 2012. <>.

[3] Hughes, Rob. “THE SATURDAY PROFILE; Former Star on the Soccer Field, Now Trying to Level It.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Oct. 2009. Web. 9 Oct. 2012. <>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dobson, Stephen, and John A. Goddard. The Economics of Football. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 2001. P. 15.

[6] “Financial Fair Play.” UEFA, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. <>.

[7] Ibid.

[8] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 58-1.

[9] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 58-2.

[10] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 61.

[11]  UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 62.

[12] Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 4.

[13] Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 5.

[14] Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 21.

[15] “Football: Uefa Hands out First Financial Fair Play Penalties.” BBC News. BBC, 11 Sept. 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <>.

[16] Dunbar, Graham. “UEFA to Decide next Month on 23 Clubs in Financial Difficulty | Sports , Football | THE DAILY STAR.” The Daily Star Newspaper. The Daily Star, 5 Oct. 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <>.

[17] Jones, Matt Scuffham, Rhys, and Neil Maidment. “Special Report: Soccer’s New Goal: Kick the Spending Habit.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 12 Aug. 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2012. <>.

[18] Ibid

[19] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 58-4.

[20] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 11.

[21] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 11.

[22] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 15-1.

[23] Hughes, Rob. “THE SATURDAY PROFILE; Former Star on the Soccer Field, Now Trying to Level It.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Oct. 2009. Web. 9 Oct. 2012. <>.

[24] Jones, Matt Scuffham, Rhys, and Neil Maidment. “Special Report: Soccer’s New Goal: Kick the Spending Habit.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 12 Aug. 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2012. <>.

[25] Dobson, Stephen, and John A. Goddard. The Economics of Football. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 2001. P. 214.

[26] Kuper, Simon, and Stefan Szymanski. Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey and Even Iraq Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport. New York: Nation, 2009. Page 48.

[27] Robson, Garry. No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care: The Myth and Reality of Millwall Fandom. Oxford: Berg, 2000. P. 137.

All graphs were derived from The Swiss Ramble.

What is Soccer’s Business?

The business of a soccer club is to produce a winning team. At the end of the day sports are a form of entertainment. Too often, though, actions taken place in the board room or at the negotiating table take away from the entertainment displayed on the field. At times, the aggressiveness and sometimes greediness of clubs leads to failure on the field. Specifically, the mountains of debt some European clubs have amassed in recent years often do more harm than good for a club. Last year, players in La Liga — one of the world’s richest leagues — nearly went on strike when one club failed to pay wagesEarlier this year, Rangers FC entered administration after they could not pay some $77 million the club owed in taxes. I visited Rangers when I was younger on a European tour and since that time have considered it one of the oldest and most notorious club in Europe. The same has happened to F.C. Portsmouth for the second time in as many years. In both cases, the financial problems were the result of poor management decisions. When clubs with such great histories are suffering in this way, we have to ask ourselves whether there are fundamental problems with the way the business of soccer is being managed in many places.

In 2005, Malcom Glazer used the financial tool of a leveraged buyout (LBO) to purchase Manchester United for $1.5 billion and make the company private. In the end, I would argue, this action ultimately hampered the team’s ability to keep or purchase new star players. A leveraged buyout is where the takeover artist will borrow the majority of the cost to purchase the new company against the company’s future cash flows and current assets. More often than not in a LBO the new owners will have to sell key parts of the new business to pay down the debt. In the case of a soccer club their assets are their stadium and training grounds as well as their players. Manchester United, for instance, sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee of  $132 million. Even with the sale of Ronaldo, United has been unable to manage their mountainous debt payments and recently reissued shares of the club on the New York Stock Exchange for public purchase. Glazer raised $300 million dollars in the IPO, half will be used to pay down the $663 million in remaining debt. NYT blogger Graham Ruthven claims Sir Alex Ferguson may even benefit financially from the IPO. The IPO took place on Friday August 10th, with a $14 price. A price that was significantly supported by the underwriters of the IPO throughout the day.  But what if the $800 million spent on interest payments and banking fees could have instead been spent on increasing the player and fan experience at Manchester United? Even with the new issuance, control of the club will be retained by the Glazer family as they will retain 67% of B shares which have voting power, so little will likely change in the general approach taken to the finances of the club.

As you can see from the photograph below, the actions by Glazer have outraged many fans of Manchester United, who consider that he has in some ways taken the club from them. They have a point. After all, as a “brand” a club is not only made up of it’s players and managers, but also of the fans and the tradition they carry with them.

Another instance of over spending and debt damaging a club is Leeds United, formally of the Premier League. Rather than piling on debt through a LBO , the club borrowed to purchase players. Leeds were a big club in the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in a Champions League semi-final place in 2001. But the club was ultimately undone by their Chairman Peter Ridsdale’s idea to go for it. He proceeded to use shady financial products to purchase players with borrowed money using future ticket sales as collateral. Essentially the fans loyalty. Ultimately it failed and the club had to sell assets at a blistering pace as the club entered administration: the stadium Elland Road (pictured below), training ground at Thorp Arch, and any player that was worth a nickel, including some considered to be part of England’s golden generation. Great players were sold at a severe discount due to the team’s financial troubles. The club also suffered demotion to England’s third tier and have since had to claw themselves back from the brink of extinction.

The idea of corporate borrowing is nothing new. Most companies must borrow to fund future growth. But there is a line between intelligent borrowing and getting caught in a credit crunch. Just like the many U.S. home owners who over-extended themselves between 2003 and 2008, soccer clubs may soon find themselves unable to pay their debts. In Europe, several countries — Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Italy — are desperately trying to reorganize its debt in order to make payments. Fiorentino Perez, the Chairman of Real Madrid and creator of the “Galacticos” is in the midst of de-leveraging in his real business, A.C.S., or Actividades de Construcción y Servicios. The company is one of the largest building services companies in the world. As he has done with Real Madrid, Perez has orchestrated huge loans, creating $12 billion in debt that the company has since had to sell assets to cover. Real Madrid, meanwhile, is currently $500 million in debt because of the money it has spent creating the “Galacticos” (pictured below). Many in business have believed that  borrowing to fund instant success is the winning formula.But the formula only works as long as growth outpaces debt obligations.

The authors of the book “Soccernomics,” Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, make a compelling argument that the outlandish transfer costs that have become the norm in professional soccer are not the way to success. “We studied the spending of forty English clubs between 1978 and 1997, and found that their outlay on transfers explained only 16 percent of their total variation in league position. By contrast, their spending on salaries explained a massive 92 percent of the variation” (48). They conclude that the market for player wages is efficient while the transfer market is well not efficient. You can see this inefficiency at work in many cases. Tottenham Hotspurs, for instance, transferred Jermaine Defore to Portsmouth and Robbie Keane to Liverpool for a combined $52 million only to bring them back a year later under new manager Harry Redknapp. Soccernomics provides the ultimate example of transfer market inefficiency. “In 1983 AC Milan spotted a talented young black forward playing for Watford. The word is that the player Milan liked was John Barnes, and that it then confused him with his fellow black teammate Luther Blisett.” Milan bought Blisett. This type of almost comical folly may be why, down the road, Milan has had to sell two of their most valuable players this summer to pay down debt — Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva (below), both to now super-wealthy club Paris Saint-Germain. AC Milan has run a total deficit of  245.4 million euros in the last 5 years. The spending of some of the biggest football clubs in the world is out of control.

Many clubs feel that they must take on such debt to keep up with the “Jones’s” — clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea, whose  billionaire owners are not worried about the bottom line of the clubs they own. Sheik Mansour from Qatar bought Man City for a measly $330 million but then proceeded to spend close to double that on stocking his team with talented players. He was only following the lead of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (pictured below). UEFA reported that more than a quarter of the 650 soccer teams in Europe are spending $16.50 for every $13.50  of revenue. Running a deficit is fine for the super rich owners who care about nothing else than winning. Unfortunately not every team is owned by an owner with bottomless pockets. The massive television contracts in Europe are giving clubs increasing revenue. In June 2012 the English Premier League signed a record $4.7 billion/3 year television deal and the German Bundesliga signed a $3.2 billion/4 year deal. The deals were a 72% and 52% increase over the previous deals respectively. Compare those numbers with the $115 million Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. paid for the television rights to the Premier League in 1992. But even with the rising revenue teams are still forced to borrow to compete with the billionaire owners of the world. European teams currently run a collective $1.5 billion deficit.

Some are trying to stop the process. Michel Platini (pictured below) has launched the Financial Fair Play (FFP) plan, which is meant to force European clubs to balance their books by the 2013/14 season. If clubs fail to balance their books they will be excluded from UEFA competitions.But what if Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City refuse to follow the rule and are kicked out of the Champions League. Mr. Platini, what happens then? Riddle me that?

Perhaps clubs will have to start running teams like my namesake, Arsene Wenger. Are we related? I  guess we will never know. He is a fantastic manager though. It is said Wenger uses statistics to judge a players future output on the field compared rather than over-evaluating a player’s past performances. He has a degree in Economic Sciences from the University of Strasburg in France: from an economic perspective, this player evaluation model makes much more sense than the approach taken by other clubs. It is similar to judging a blue chip stock. You don’t make your decision to invest on the stock’s previous performance but attempt to judge its future performance by looking at the fundamentals of the company presented in their financial reports. As players, our statistics are our financial reports.

Perhaps the Financial Fair Play plan will alter a shift in professional soccer in Europe. Barbara Berlusconi has underlined the need for change: “Soccer teams will have to transform into proper companies. If you can only spend what you get, then you have to keep costs in check and increase revenue. It’s a challenge that can become an opportunity.” This change in soccer will be a positive one if it improves what is produced on the field, or simply forces owners to be smarter with how they spend their money. The thing is soccer clubs are not like regular companies. The authors of Soccernomics say it best: “The business of soccer is soccer,” they note, and clubs “are more like musems: public-spirited organizations that aim to serve the community while remaining reasonably solvent.” The irony of what is happening today in so many clubs is that running a soccer club with pressure to make money may ultimately contradict its stated goal of winning on the field!

Youth Soccer

A football club cannot be successful without cultivating new young talent to supplement older veterans. This changeover is essential to continue moving forward. Clubs all over the world pay particular attention to developing their future stars for many reasons. If a club nurtures its younger players with the correct support and coaching the result will likely be a successful record on the field along with a healthy balance sheet. The prime examples are FC Barcelona and AFC Ajax, where the core of each team has emerged from the depths of their youth programs at La Masia and De Toekomst respectively. The Ajax youth academy is also prized for having filled the Dutch National team for years, and instilling the approach of “Total Football” in players.

Each has different styles to rearing football prodigies, but the goal is the same, to produce players to play for the first team. Ajax looks at their young players as a business investment, giving them everything they need to succeed and pays particular attention to not wearing their young athletes out for fear of losing their capital.  And they certainly should for they routinely sell players they have trained in their academy for millions of euros. Their academy stresses that development and technique is the key to success. Rarely are wins and losses considered when determining which players will make it to the next level at such a young age.


Barcelona begins enrolling players in their academy (pictured above) at age 7, and they follow a rigorous schedule with little time for unsanctioned activities from dawn until dusk. While Spain and the Netherlands let the football tutelage specifically up to the clubs, France also employs a national training center in addition to club academies. These approaches are time proven to produce world class footballers that save their parent club’s millions in transfer fees. They have a structured plan to develop players and give them all the tools necessary to achieve. The question is, however, whether they give them the ability to live a normal childhood. People will argue that great players were never normal but what about the children who won’t earn World Footballer of the year? One of the costs of the academy system is that the single-minded focus on athletic training can leave players who ultimately don’t make it in the professional world without alternative skills or professional options.

For aspiring soccer players in the United States there is no real equivalent to these structured environments. Athletes are largely left to their own devices to figure out how to succeed. That is what I experienced growing up in Pennsyvlania.

I began my playing career like most young American children — in youth soccer. Seriously, is there a handbook somewhere that instructs all parents to enroll their children in youth soccer? It seems like almost everyone played on one soccer team or another during their childhood. But most won’t remember the team’s name — or the rules of the game for that matter. I, however, found a love for the game and progressed from one local youth select team to the next. First it was a county team, then a regional team, and then my local club team, Leeds United — which later became Pennsylvania Classics.

This is where Zarek and I began playing together at age 11. Although we played many games, it’s not clear to me now how many of them were truly worthwhile. We did a lot of traveling with Pennsylvania Classics and other select teams simply to get more practice and more exposure. I also competed for my high school team for three months of the year. That was a great social experience, but it disrupted my practice schedule with my club team. The other select teams were often apart of the  U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program. In trying to progress towards the highest levels of the game, we tried to balance playing for these different teams as well as Pennsylvania Classics, but it wasn’t always easy.

Among players, everyone’s goal was to be asked to join the U.S. U-17 Men’s national team residency program in Bradenton, Florida. That program was the only place were you could get a high level of training on a daily basis. The program was modeled after the French Football Federation’s National Institute of Football at Clairefontaine. You could be scouted for U.S. U-17 team with Pennsylvania Classics at any of the number of tournaments we played in or on any of the various Olympic Development Teams. There was no clear path to attain the ultimate goal so we tried to do it all.

U.S. Soccer finally figured out that players, myself included, were playing way to many games with little meaning. So, they created the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Program; a league that has  78 clubs in the U.S. and Canada and  culminates each year with a National Championship game. The “Development Academy” lays out a structured format for all elite players to compete against each other. It also has a set of guidelines for coaching instruction and puts an emphasis on development over winning games. Players are asked to forgo their other commitments, specifically high school soccer. This eliminates the need to play for multiple teams and allows them to concentrate on one avenue for success. At the same time, as Kyle Martino has noted, while high school soccer may disrupt club practices, it does provide an important avenue for social growth. The question is how to balance a pursuit of a professional dream and a normal childhood. Is it even possible?

My team later joined the development academy and saw a marked improvement in the competition. The Montreal Impact Academy is going to field two teams to join this very league in the coming year in the U-15/16 division and U-17/18.  Outside of the MLS clubs with youth teams in the “Development Academy,” there is no direct path for youth players to take to a professional team.

Many MLS clubs are giving their youth players the support and coaching they need but most importantly a clear path to the first team. Youth players can achieve their goal by being offered a Homegrown Contract which allows them to sign for the MLS team without entering the draft. Andrew Lewellmen argues that Homegrown Contracts are the future of MLS as the league looks to capitalize on its investment in youth systems. The Montreal Impact have a very defined youth academy and have already shown that they are willing to sign deserving players to homegrown contracts. Our first team often plays the academy team; this gives them an opportunity to see the level they must attain. The Impact have stated that they modeled their academy off of the famed youth systems in France, Spain and the Netherlands mentioned above  but curtailed it to specifically support the Quebec soccer community. It is set up with soccer schools, U-12 and U-14 teams that compete in the Quebec soccer league. U-16 and U-18 teams that will compete in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and the U-21 team that will compete in the Canadian Soccer League.  Karl Ouimette is a prime example of progressing through the academy as he is the first Montreal Impact player to be signed to a homegrown contract. Karl signed on June 5th 2012 and he commented that, “Being the first homegrown player is an honor and it is due to all the hard work I did with the academy. It also proves that the academy program trains players to be able to play with the first team.” He has certainly proven that the academy is a strong component of any successful club and specifically the Impact.

The club draws players from other Quebec clubs that have close to 85,000 players. The academy has a full time staff that is focused solely on coaching soccer players. Players in the Montreal Academy system have an advantage because they are seen on a regular basis by the coaches and administration of the first team. This would hopefully lead to a professional contract similar to Karl’s. Montreal is not the only MLS team with a youth system, every other club has an academy in some form or another. Most recently Toronto FC just unveiled their new academy structure that is looking to compete with the NCAA. In contrast I went to college at Duke University and eventually entered the MLS draft. Things may have been different had I had the opportunity to play for an MLS academy team before college. I certainly would have benefited from competing against better players. Though I do agree with Alexi Lalas, I feel that I was able to mature and grow as a person in college and learned to handle myself for the x number of hours that I was not on the field. I also grew considerably as a player. Could I have grown more if I had played in a less restrictive NCAA regulated environment where a prolonged season replicated a professional season? Possibly, but I will never know. I enjoyed my time in college and think it was a beneficial experience for me, not to mention I value my education. Is college for everyone, clearly not. Each player must figure out what is best for them.

There is no right way to accomplish your dreams but it is hard to argue that MLS academy systems and most European academies are giving players the tools necessary to succeed. What you will see is a movement to the MLS academy system and more and more players will be produced from the academies. The question is are all of these academies the correct balance of soccer and life at such a young age? At the end of the day there is no right answer for everyone, each individual is different and will take a different route to achieve their goals. Talent will always be recognized one way or another.

La Garde

Since my first game in Montréal — versus the Chicago Fire on March 17th 2012 — I have been struck and moved by the powerful support we get from our fans. It was my second game as a professional, so you might have thought I would have gotten over the nerves of playing in front of a large crowd. Only a week earlier, I had my debut as a second half sub versus the Vancouver Whitecaps. I’ll admit that at one point when play stopped for a throw in and substitution I took a few seconds to look up and marvel at the number of people in the crowd. Although we lost, after the game I realized how incredible it was to be playing in front of such a large group of spectators. When, a week later, I was substituted in against the Chicago Fire during the 2nd half, I ran out onto the field in front of 58,912 spectators, most of them our fans. As I pulled on my jersey I thought: “Try not to trip as you run onto the turf!” Though the game was a draw, it was truly magical to experience our fans and feel their support behind us the entire game.

It was incredible for close to 60,000 supporters to come out and show their support for the team and the organization. We felt their passion again during our recent game against Sporting Kansas City, when they clearly let their displeasure with the events on the field be known. It shows that they truly care about Impact de Montréal and the city.

One of the most moving shows of support came during the game against the Columbus Crew on July 8th. My roommate Zarek Valentin commented on  twitter that the fans were unbelievable. We had suffered a few tough losses at that point in the season, and went down a goal in the middle of the second half. But no one left for the exits early. I was watching from the stands and saw only two men leave — but they returned two minutes later with fresh beers knowing it was going to be an exciting finish. Without the fans’ support we couldn’t have clawed back from the one goal deficit and eventually won the game. It was a special feeling those last 20 minutes as you could see the team recover mentally from the deficit and begin to earn the win as the excitement in the stadium got stronger and stronger. It was our fans that produced the collective feeling of belief and unity that helped the players on the field succeed. The fans truly were the 12th man, “La Garde.” They exuded a passion for the game and for our team that is typical of the city. All the players on the team are very thankful for the support for you have helped us through some tough times this year!


As I saw clearly from the reactions to my first post both here on the blog and on twitter, residents of Quebec and specifically Montréal really throw themselves into a cause or event they believe in. I have already commented that I was struck this year by the passion and effort the students of Montréal showed as they opposed laws they found unjust. It was a new experience for me moving from the States and seeing the scale of these protests. Though I don’t know enough about the details of the issue and am not endorsing or opposing their stand, I feel one must respect the commitment they showed to their cause, something that seems ingrained in the culture of the city. In my reading of “A People’s History of Quebec” I learned about the politics surrounding Bill 101 on August 26, 1977 — which parents of current university students must remember — which stipulated the use of French in government and other official capacities. At that time, residents in Montreal also stood up, supporting the culture and Bill they believed in. In the same way, this generation of students marched and stood for their beliefs.

Standing for what one believes in is clearly not a new idea to residents of Montréal, and it is something Impact de  Montréal supporters group “les Ultras” do for 90 minutes — pun intended. Since I first saw their massive 60 foot banner and heard their support during my first home game in the Olympic stadium, I have been intrigued by our supporter groups les Ultras as well as 127 Montréal. I’m probably biased — and have yet to see the Sons of Ben, the Timbers Army, or the supporters of the Seattle Sounders in person, but the Impact ultras are one of the best supporters group in the MLS I have seen thus far in my short career.

I had a chance to chat with one of the members of the ultras, Eric Chenoix, about their organization which recently celebrated their ten year anniversary. I learned that the group began as an idea in 2001 when 60 Toronto Lynx fans invaded Claude-Robillard stadium unopposed. Group founders Daniel Nahmias Leonard and Patrice Vaillancourt made the idea a reality in 2002 when the small group encouraged the Impact to a 2-0 win over the Lynx. They set out to build a group whose sole mission is to support our team Impact de Montréal. Nick Sabetti recently covered the ultras’  anniversary with an article. He quoted Eric as describing the group as “apolitical” and saying, “We avoid mixing politics and football. We don’t even use the Québec flag, to avoid any association with separatism or anything like that, although we do use it on the road sometimes. We just want to support the Impact.” In my own conversation with Eric, I learned that the ultras took inspiration from the larger ultras movement in Europe, modeling themselves on groups in France, Belgium, and Germany but seeking to infuse the group with the traits of  Montréal and its devotion to a cause. The term ultras is used for extreme football fans, and is meant to characterize their extreme devotion for their club and fellow members. I have been told that Ultras Montreal members see their support of the team as a job.

I have recently been reading two excellent books about “ultras” that help me understand a bit more about those I have encountered in the city. The first, about the fans of Millwall in England, was written by scholar Garry Robson named after one of their amusing chants: “No One Likes Us We Don’t Care!. The other is a recent account by journal Robert Andrew Powell of the supporters of a team in Cuidad Juarez, where soccer provides hope and community in the midst of violence.

Fans of Millwall are known for their aggressive support of their club but this commitment takes on a deeper meaning for they have joined their  physical being and their love for Millwall F.C. into one. This kind of commitment to the club is typical of international ultras movement minus the aggressive posture. Garry Robson argues that “Millwallism” is not, in fact, mainly about language and symbols. It is, instead, defined by “experiential relationships” between individuals who find in the fan group a place express themselves collectively. (137) It is this state of a living and breathing relationship for one’s club that defines what it means to be an ultra. Once a fan defines their life by the club, they then become an extreme fan.

The Indios de Ciudad Juarez are also loved by residents in Juarez, Mexico for whom it is one of the few positive aspects of their lives as drug cartel warfare rages on their doorstep. Powell’s book, which focuses on a group of fans who call themselves — with a bit of irony — “El Kartel,” gives a riveting depiction of not just soccer but also humanity in a modern day war-zone. It illustrates how the power of a soccer team’s promotion can allow its fans a brief respite from the horrors of everyday life. The fans of the Indios may live in an inhospitable place but they still find the need to support their team.  

The Impact ultras, then, are part of a global cultural phenomenon that is a central part of what makes soccer such a powerful and meaningful sport for communities throughout the world.

Two hours before a game, the Ultras Montréal meet at Bar 99 on Hochelaga Street. From there, they walk as a group to the stadium where they take their positions in section 132. There they have some 20 different chants they use to invigorate the crowd in Stade Saputo in support of the players on the pitch. Since I have been injured recently, I often sit behind the ultras and I always enjoy the way the chant leader or capo directs to the group. There is one particular chant I love. I don’t know what it is called or what the words are, but everyone sits down for about 30 seconds and bangs their feet on the stands before finally jumping up and waving all their scarves and flags. I get a kick out of it every time.

Outside game days, the group meets regularly. They enjoy each others’ company, for they have a common bond in their support and passion for the Impact. They spend time making flags and tifos, watching away games or planning trips to those very games. Each member designs their own flags and tifos, which allows them to individually express their own form of support for the club and the greater city of Montreal. When I asked if the group drew on a specific demographic in the population, I was told that the only thing that united them all was a passion for the Impact. Otherwise it is quite a diverse group. To become a member of the ultras it is simple: fans just need to get involved in the group by coming to games and other group events, living their passion for club, and investing their time.

The ultras are not the only supporters’ group for our club. The fans in section 127 of Stade Saputo are known as 127 Montreal. Though their group’s inception was much more recent, their support is just as passionate. The group was reportedly founded — as most supporter’s groups all over the world probably are! — over several pints of beer in early 2011. Since then, it has flourished. Instead of a march to the match they can always be found in the parking lot before the game tailgating. I have often walked by on my way into the stadium and they are always having a good time getting themselves prepared for the match. All you have to do to join in is go up and introduce yourself and talk about the team.

From my brief experience in Quebec, it seems to me that here professional teams — whether the Habs or the Impact — in some ways take on the status of representing the province as a whole. Given the strong provincial pride, and the two relatively recent attempts at establishing Quebecois sovereignty, I’m curious about what the local relationship is to the Canadian national team. I know Patrice Bernier is a native of Montreal and has represented his country 46 times. But I wonder: do fans here have more admiration for, CNT of IMFC? Or do they support both equally, but in different ways? How deeply do political sentiments in favor sovereignty influence sports fandom? Like the Impact ultras, many fans prefer to see their relationship to a team as “apolitical,” and yet it seems that at times it’s difficult to untangle sport from regional or national political contexts.

I have profiled two of the Impact’s supporters groups here. But these groups do not make up the bulk of the fans of our club. Though what we might call “the common fan” does not align themselves with a certain group, their passion is just as strong. Perhaps we can start a conversation to find a way so that, once or twice during the game, all the fans can join together in one concerted effort to support the club and the city. This could take the form of a quick chant or simply raising your scarf above your ahead at the beginning of each half. It would be a great way to celebrate and enjoy the unity of all the fans in the stadium, who have a common affinity in supporting the team and loving Montreal.

As a player I am always working and searching for that one night when everything goes right. It rarely happens. But you keep searching for that mystical apex of perfection. The same goes for fans for you routinely come back to cheer on and support our team, thinking and hoping that tonight could be the special night when everything falls into place and works perfectly. Laurent Dubois comments in his book “Soccer Empire”: “Football games open up incredible spaces of mass mobilization, public fervor, and hope. They give spectators the rare feeling of being ‘exactly at the right place at the right time’ and ‘at the centre of the whole world’ writes Nick Hornby ‘” He also quotes the novelist B.S. Johnson, who writes about the felling that accompanies the beginning of any soccer game: “‘Always, at the start of each match, the excitement, often the only moment of excitement, that this might be the ONE match,’ . . . the one ‘where the extraordinary happens,’ the game ‘one remembers and talks about for years afterwards, the rest of one’s life.'”(21)

Let’s be honest — we may be searching for that night for a while. In the meantime, though, we can fill each night in the Stade Saputo with the collective belonging that celebrates Montreal and it’s culture. We can make each night one where everyone believes tonight is the tonight, doesn’t give up on our team even in the face of adversity and continues to stand and support us. Those are the nights when the hair rises on the back of your neck — for you know something special is happening and that this is a special place. Nights like that of July 8th 2012 against the Columbus Crew.

As always, I invite you to leave your thoughts, tell me where I am right or wrong, or simply suggest what I should look at next. Leave a comment here or tweet to @andrewwenger.

From Montréal with Love

2012 is a big year for Montréal sports and the Saputo Family. Following a 20 year existence the family-owned football club “Impact de Montréal” finally entered Major League Soccer. It is a year of firsts for our club, for it saw our first game, first goal, first win, and first game in the redeveloped Stade Saputo. I have had the pleasure of being apart of many of these firsts, actually scoring the winning goal and my first professional goal in our first MLS win versus our rivals Toronto FC on April 7th, 2012.

Being in Montréal I have begun to realize that the city has a culture that is unlike any other in North America. This culture plays a hand in the soccer and politics of this great city. Any newcomer to a Impact game will immediately realize that our supporters group, “les Ultras” sing and chant in French. This is just an introduction to the unique culture of our club and this great city.

The best place to start for an understanding of Quebec politics is to go through Quebec’s long history. Since arriving in Montréal, I’ve been reading A People’s History of Quebec in order to better understand the history of the city where I now play.(The quotes and page references below are from this book). I’ve learned that the roots of the territory’s current political issues are grounded in an event that happened centuries ago. On July 24, 1534, Jacques Cartier and his men erected a large cross with the three fleurs-de-lis on the Gaspe Peninsula and declared the territory for the King of France. Jacques Cartier then moved further up the St. Lawrence river and settled on Montréal Island for the winter effectively founding the city. Today Jacques Cartier is honored with a plaza donning his name in the Old Port of Montreal, which is a large tourist destination. Additionally the fleurs-de-lis is enshrined on the flag of Quebec and on our Montréal Impact jerseys. It is a national symbol of Quebec and one that is meant to invoke “the francophone character of the province.” Upon reflection I must admit that the book I used was too narrow in its history of Montreal and the province of Quebec for it rarely touched on the aboriginal people of the territory. Hence it must be noted that these groups played a role in the making of this province and its history.

This strong French culture intensified as Montréal was settled by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve in May 1642. Montreal soon became the main focus of France as it worked to colonize ‘New France.’ This decision laid the groundwork for a specific people with French culture in Quebec that was uniquely different from the rest of  British controled territory in what is present day Canada. It was during this time that settlers in the St. Lawrence Valley began to identify themselves as different than their French counterparts in France and rather as “Canadiens.” During the 1660’s the newly minted “Canadiens,” “preferred to be called ‘habitants’ instead of ‘paysans’ or peasants as they were in France.” (24) This term is still used today and identifies Montréal’s hockey team as the ‘Montréal Canadiens’ and their popular nickname being “Les Habitants.”

What unsettled “Les habitants” was their capitulation to the British during the “Seven Years War” or what as Canadiens refer to it the “War of Conquest.” The differences between the French Canadiens (what Quebecers began calling themselves as English speakers adopted ‘Canadians’) and British cultures are immense specifically being the language and religion: Protestants and Catholics. These issues were only worsened as the British rulers attempted to assimilate French Canadiens into British culture. In 1766, for instance, “the Attorney General of the Province, Francis Maseres, held that the only way to eliminate the growing conflict between the French and English speakers was to simply assimilate those who spoke French.” (72) This statement led to resentment from French speakers as they clung to their language and specifically their religion.

Today Montréal is officially a French speaking city, all of the traffic signs and government documents are in French, and I can add from personal experience my lack of French has left me in awkward positions more than once. I often  found it tough trying to figure out where I wanted to go (though my lack of a sense of direction may be the true cause of that.) Though many French Canadiens appreciate my poor attempts at “Bonjour, como ca va” it leaves me at a real disadvantage in truly understanding and assimilating into the culture. Learning the French language is an important way for me to endear myself to the fans, but I will be honest it is not an easy task.

French Canadiens have fought tooth and nail defending their unique culture and language in Montréal, which is distinct compared to the rest of Canada. The Act of Union officially made English the primary language of Quebec in the 1840s but Montréal and the rest of Quebec resisted and over time built up a harden and sometimes malicious defense. Following the Confederation of Canada in 1867 Montreal has worked to regain their sovereignty. They installed the Ministry of Culture during the Quiet Revolution, used physical force and intimidation at the hands of the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) before finally making French the official language in 1977. These efforts were followed by two unsuccessful attempts to affirm sovereignty referendums for Quebec. The latest one in 1995 lost by the slimmest of margins of 50.6% no to 49.4% yes. Residents of Montréal and the greater Quebec province take their allegiances and culture very seriously.

This immense passion for Quebec nationalism is also evident when fans support their favorite sports teams. The enthusiasm and love for the Montréal Canadiens is no joking matter in Montreal. The team’s performance directly affects the moods of thousands of Montréalers. Though fans of Impact de Montréal are a smaller group, they are equally ardent in their support of the club and the players. This type of passion is shown in times of glory and failure — let me tell you, our fans will let you know their feelings. That is fantastic, as it makes me yearn to please them and earn their admiration in return.

This post has been an introductory post to shed light on the back story of Montréal and its culture, a culture that is clearly apparent in its sports teams and their fans. It has been interesting for me to learn about the prominent names that helped shape this city’s rich history such as Rene Levesque, Papineau, Frontenac, Jean-Talon. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Maisonneuve and Jacques Cartier. Their names now don many places in the city. If you want to learn more about Montreal’s history or are considering visiting the “Paris of North America” you can visit this website for additional historical knowledge or read “A People’s History of Quebec.” This post is the first in a series of articles I am going to be writing in the next few months that look at the politics and soccer in Montréal. If you have suggestions for article topics or comments on what I’ve written here I more than welcome them in the comments section or on twitter at @andrewwenger.