Does the future of football lie away from Europe?
What is common between Oscar, Ross McCormack, Hulk, David Villa, Royston Drenthe, Sebastian Giovinco, Ramires, and Xavi? All of them ply their trade in leagues, not in Europe. No doubt some of them are in the twilight of their careers, the trend is surely changing.
‘Atomic Ant’ or better known as Sebastian Giovinco left Juventus when he was 28-years-old, in the prime of his career and plying his trade for the second best team in Europe or the strongest in Italy for the large part of the decade. The question on everyone’s mind back then was, “why would a player move to a retirement league so early?” Of course, there was the paycheck but why would the Italian forward want to move into oblivion? Except, that is not what he did. While his strong performances in the debut season did earn him a call-up for the national league, he narrowly missed out on being the first MLS player to represent the Azzurri to Andrea Pirlo. It was due to an injury. He may not have been called for the Euro 2016 and the subsequent qualifiers for World Cup 2018, however, it is ironic that Italy missed out on their World Cup due to a lacklustre form in front of the goal. On the other side of the continent, Giovinco just won the domestic treble with Toronto FC and has scored 65 goals in 104 appearances for his side in the past three seasons.
Similarly, David Villa has scored 65 goals in 98 appearances for New York City FC, earning Spain’s all-time top-scorer a recall to his national side after a three-year hiatus. This proves that the MLS has come a long way since the days of Beckham. Yesteryear stars can no longer walk their way through matches and pick up handsome salaries in the process. For all their talent, the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Kaka did not have the desired impact on their team’s performances. We are not saying it was due to lack of trying but their ageing legs certainly did not help.
In recent days, there have been talks of Polish livewire Robert Lewandowski making a switch to LA Galaxy. "We dream of Los Angeles. That's where we want to develop our brands. We hope Robert will end his career at a club in Los Angeles and we can say it would be our dream," his wife told Business Insider Poland. She must be warned that MLS is no walk in the park anymore. Apart from the expansion of teams, the league is getting competitive day by day and managers and fans alike don’t want potential retirees but stars who can contribute equally as others if not more.
Moving the Far East, the world stood up and took notice of the Chinese Super League. The astronomical sums paid for stars such as Ramires, Jackson Martinez, Hulk and Oscar, was a statement that China intended to be a world power in football as well. While current Selecao coach Tite does not consider the Brazilian contingent in China, the likes of Oscar and Ramires have contributed for their national side even after moving to China.
In the Middle East, the likes of Raul and Xavi graced the fields well past their best years. However, Sulley Ali Muntari, Royston Drenthe and Denilson are in the Arabian peninsula with enough fuel for seasons to come.
With the influx of digital and online platforms that allow streaming of leagues across the world easily and the TV rights being shared to allow more global audience, it is fair to say that the football is in its best phase. There is never a dearth of an audience now, the same way there is never a shortage of football content for viewers around the globe. As more players ply their trade in different leagues and the investment in footballing infrastructure in developing countries, the culture of football has indeed become global.
As local players get to rub shoulders with star players and learn their tricks from former players turned coaches, a lot of nations are getting competitive each day. As scouting for raw football talents became a global phenomenon, a move to the so-called ‘obscure’ leagues does not necessarily mean the end of the road for a footballer.
Although Asian, American and Australian leagues still have some way to go before matching the might of Europe, the viewing figures and sponsorship deals are remarkably on the rise. Who knows, we may well have a world champion outside of Europe and South America from any of these developing leagues!