Dreaming of competitive football

Imagine a world where football teams are truly competitive, where teams can’t buy their way out of trouble, and where it’s not the usual suspects competing for trophies year after year…


This article envisions such a world. With most major competitions having come to an end, and the World Cup still a month away, this is my moment to dream about my ideal football world.

top_dreaming_of_soccer_tile_coasterI don’t expect this dream to become reality at all. In fact, I don’t think any single aspect of it is even on the brink of making it to FIFA’s regulatory committees. But don’t let that shy me away from inviting you to my dream world.

Here we go…

The goal in this dream world is to have as exciting football matches as possible. Excitement is hereby enhanced by competitiveness and transparency, so our world should distribute players as evenly as possible across teams and make clear how it does so, rather than have rich teams plucking talents from poor team, virtually at will, with finances largely obscured.


Salary cap

nba-salary-capFirst and foremost, in our world, football really needs a salary cap. Limit the amount of money teams can spend on player salaries to a certain fixed amount and teams will need to tinker with the balance of their first team squad. Everyone who has ever laid his hands on fantasy football management knows how challenging it can be to try and outsmart your rivals in trying to cramp as much talent as possible in a tight budget.

As a consequence, Messi and Ronaldo won’t see out their football lives surrounded by the best of the best. On the contrary, you can see superstars being picked up by teams of a lower standard, because those teams are the only ones able to fit their massive salaries in. Imagine a Messi-fueled Valladolid taking on Real Madrid minus a handful of their super stars…

As a consequence, Chelsea won’t load up on all offensive midfield talent of the entire world, only to farm them out and decide the fate of many more players than their first squad can potentially harbour. Choices will need to be made, which makes for interesting debate.

In our world, salaries are open, so that fans are free to discuss the merits of squad composition. How fun would it be to speculate how best to deal with the amount of money coming free next summer with players X and Y leaving, knowing which players could roughly be attracted for which sums of money.



Another aspect where our world differs from reality concerns youth talent. No longer do clubs train their own future players. In fact, in reality clubs hardly train their own future first teamers anyway, with most players dropping out, or ending up with other clubs.

In our world, players play for youth teams until the season they will turn 19, rather than moving across the planet as teenagers. These youth teams are completely independent institutions, unconnected to professional football clubs, but rather focussing completely on making the best of the potential talent in their ranks. Youth teams compete in a competition of their own so that fans will be aware of the next generation soon available for their clubs to recruit. Youth teams are financed with collective support by all professional teams of the nation.



office-stamp-draft-vector-5484Recruitment follows a draft, which ensures that poor teams get the best young talent on the market, to balance the teams as much as possible going into the next season. As an added benefit, this ensures that young talent will get maximum exposure and playing time, as poor teams will generally slot these talents right in, rather than wasting them in loans and on benches as is so common nowadays.

To get higher in the drafts, youngsters will need to showcase their talent in the youth league, which will trigger great debates among fans, scouts and other people trying to rank football players.

Oh, and the first two years these talents will stay with their draft team on a fixed and moderate income, before being open to move in the market and negotiate their own salary.

Imagine RKC battling for survival with Memphis Depay flying on the left wing, or Norwich injected with the virtues of Adnan Januzaj. I see nothing but advantages!



Financial resources will always be different among teams, and now that this does not translate in a bigger wage budget, rich teams will need to be smarter than poor teams. Hire smart scouts, develop the best scouting techniques, hey maybe even make use of the best analytical tools out there! Creativity all around, only not in avoiding financial fair play this time…


In the end

Yes, I’ve been watching quite some basketball lately. Well spotted!

Most, if not all of these dreams are reality in basketball, which goes to show that (A) somewhere on this planet it’s possible to regulate stuff like this, and (B) it works in enhancing competitiveness!

If-I-had-asked-people-whatAnd yes, I know FIFA won’t implement any of this, but don’t let that stop us from thinking how we could improve our beautiful game. In the words of Henry Ford… If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said: “Faster horses”.

Sometimes we just have to think out of the box, and dream of our ideal football world.

This is mine, what is yours?

4 thoughts on “Dreaming of competitive football

  1. Nils

    Nice piece! I agree with you on the fact that something needs to happen to make football more competitive and exciting. However the world you are describing would definitely not be my ideal football world.

    The disadvantage of introducing a salary cap for the club as a whole, is that the quality of football you’re seeing is going to drop dramatically. Since good players can’t play together anymore, or are less likely to, you’ll probably see less amazing goals etc, since the world class striker won’t receive any brilliant passes anymore. Additionally when a player like Messi dribbles past 5 defenders whilst playing against RKC, it’ll be way less impressive than it is right now (or at least for the past years) when he manages to do so against world class defenses.

    I would suggest a salary cup for individual players. Let’s say somewhere around 1 million. This way star players at small clubs are more likely to stay, since they can’t make anymore money elsewhere. This will mean that eventually clubs with great youth academy’s will become top clubs, which is a more fair way of winning than by buying every player you see with money from someone else.

    This will urge all clubs to invest in their youth academy, which will improve the overall quality of players all over the world.

  2. Skurnie

    I find it ironic that American sports are socialist in nature (collective bargaining, salary caps, drafts, revenue sharing) and football, though the world’s game, essentially headquartered in Europe, is the opposite.

    I have seen the benefits of salary caps and revenue sharing in American sports and agree that it would help most European clubs become more competitive and be beneficial for the sport as a whole.

    The biggest thing that would need to happen between Youth Academies and Salary Caps would be the advantage of using “homegrown” players (as they are known in MLS in the US) whereby you can pay them more potentially and are rewarded by using players who have grown up in the Youth Academy rather than selling them at 19 to Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, etc. This would create an incentive for clubs to spend money developing their own youth systems by keeping their players in-house and promoting them through the system. It would be something like an Adjusted Salary Cap wherein Youth Players would count less against the established Cap.

    Realistically, can we ever expect FIFA to enact these changes? I have no faith in FIFA to do anything worthwhile or trustworthy.

  3. ASG9000

    Football is pretty competitive. Basketball is a higher scoring game and therefore is much less prone to upsets and surprising results.

    Re: salary caps. I tend to think the most deserving people to have the money in football is the workers, who have the talent, rather than the owners who clearly do not. Who deserves the money at Manchester United? Rooney who entertains the world with his skill or the Glazers, who provide barely any entertainment at all?

    Salary cap or not, everyone in football is trying to outsmart their opponents with their limited budgets. My club certainly is, indeed, it spends much of its time being outwitted by clubs with smaller resources.

    The wish to see Messi paid the same as an journeyman player, or indeed, spending his days trying to get hold of the ball in a poor team is not one I share.

  4. Geert

    I agree with most of this, and yes, sadly the FIFA won’t implement any of these things to make football more competitive.

    There are some problems though. You’ve watched basketball a lot, so you must have witnessed the downside of the draft. It’s better to completely suck than to be mediocre. If there’s a good draft-year coming up, teams that have no real shot at competing for the prizes, will start tanking like the 76’ers. There must be some kind of solution to this problem, but so far, even the ‘progressive’ NBA hasn’t found it.

    Then there’s the salary cap. Just like Nils said before, you need more than 1 star on a team to see good football. In basketball, one superstar can lead his team at least to the finals (see Lebron in Cleveland). One player can never have an impact this big in football.

    As long as Blatter is in charge, we’ll just have to keep dreaming.


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