Monday 25 March 2019

Mind the gap: As the rich get even richer, the rest are just battening down hatches

Rafael Benitez was unapologetic for Newcastle’s approach against Manchester City Photo: PA
Rafael Benitez was unapologetic for Newcastle’s approach against Manchester City Photo: PA

Martin Hardy

Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez have won seven European trophies and 10 domestic league titles between them.

In the space of four days, both decorated managers have been assumed to have waved the footballing white flag at Manchester City.

On Saturday Mourinho warned that Manchester United, armed with £300 million (€337m) since he arrived at Old Trafford, could not compete with the financial might of City.

On Wednesday night, footballing pundits could not hide their fury as Benitez took defending deep to perhaps a new extreme. Certainly the opening 45 minutes were a cultural shock, not just for those at St James' Park, but for those commenting on the game.

Jamie Carragher gave a half-time verdict that was absolutely damning.

"It's becoming embarrassing," he said.

"It's not just Newcastle but the Premier League in general, when they come up against the top six, certainly at home, and it's becoming where the Premier League is a bit of a joke league.

"The teams at the top six are so far ahead that the teams at the bottom, it's like they're accepting they're going to lose the game, as long as it's only one or two-nil, and not going to have a go.

"The Premier League over the years has been built on every team having a go. That's why everyone around the world wants to watch it. Will they continue watching it if we keep seeing football like that?"

By the game's close, Newcastle had rallied and came close to an equaliser. In narrow defeat Benitez was unashamed.

"You just have to look at what happened when they played against Tottenham, Bournemouth or Swansea," he said.

"We were in the game right until the end, it was very close. We needed to do things this way. We knew we had to stick together to have a chance at the end."

Wednesday night's game was only the second time in the run of 18 successive Premier League victories that Manchester City have failed to score more than one goal. The other was also a one-nil win, at Chelsea in September.

The record Guardiola and City sit 90 minutes away from equalling - the most consecutive victories in one of Europe's top five divisions - was set on March 25 in 2014 when Bayern Munich - then managed by Guardiola - won three-one at Hertha BSC.

Bayern scored at least two goals in every game on that run, and conceded just 10 times on the way. Victory at Hertha gave them the Bundesliga title, with two months still to play.

The possession of Hertha was just 18pc (to Newcastle's final total of 22pc). Hertha had four shots to Newcastle's six and just one on target to Newcastle's two. Guardiola at least has faced teams with less ability or desire to go toe-to-toe with his all-stars.

That season Bayern Munich's turnover reached £487.5m. Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04, who finished second and third respectively in the 2013/14 Bundesliga table, had a combined turnover of £476m.

Manchester City's accounts for 2016/17 give at least a reason as to Mourinho's apprehension, with City's wage bill jumping 37pc in the first year under Guardiola.

It moved it to Man United's level, but the growth rate was eye-catching. City are gaining the upper hand quickly.

Their accounts showed a spend of around £221m on incoming players whilst they received around £90m from sales.

The Premier League currently receives £1.07bn per year from all overseas deals combined.

Two months ago the so-called big six were blocked in their attempts to gain a bigger share of that market, which is expected to increase dramatically.

The Premier League had suggested changing the 25-year model of equal distribution so that 35pc of this money would be distributed according to league position.

This needed 14 clubs to agree and that did not happen. It has not dampened the desire of those at the league's summit to make more from this growing revenue stream. They are expected to try again. The gap is likely to get bigger.

It was interesting in the embers of Newcastle's defeat to note that their supporters were perhaps the least offended by their side's tactics. Newcastle are newly-promoted.

Their wage bill will probably flirt around £90m for the 2017/18 season.

They spent around £40m on transfers in the summer and the starting 11 that lost to City cost less than £50m. The outrage was not on Tyneside.

The wider concern seemed to be in football, and specifically those watching on television, ironically the source of the widening financial chasm. (© Independent News Service)

Independent News Service

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