The European Champions League is becoming "predictable and boring" because of the increasing wealth of the top clubs and the demise of the "smaller" ones, according to a leading Dutch football official.
Chief fears for Dutch football
DUBAI // The European Champions League is becoming "predictable and boring" because of the increasing wealth of the top clubs and the demise of the "smaller" ones, according to a leading Dutch football official. During a passionate address at the Dubai International Sports Conference, organised by the Dubai Sports Council, Michael van Praag, the president of the Dutch football association (KNVB), lamented the fact that Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven are now "feeder" clubs for those in the super rich leagues of England, Italy and Spain.
Once seen as a football superpower, teams from the Netherlands rarely make it to the later stages of the major European competitions because, according to van Praag, of the greed of players and agents. "Having the same clubs in finals all the time will kill football," he said. "Everyone would like to see other clubs being strong enough to have a chance. "We must remember that customers pay players' salaries, not clubs. Fans, broadcasters, sponsors: these people pay wages. For me, private investors are wrong in football and I welcome what is happening across Europe because football is getting predictable and boring."
Blaming the introduction of the Bosman Ruling (in 1995 the European Court of Justice allowed footballers in the EU to move freely to another club at the end of their contract) as the catalyst of an ever-deepening financial depression in the Netherlands, van Praag said: "Dutch sides have become feeder clubs, that is the only way to put it. Everything changed after the Bosman Ruling. Back when I was chairman of Ajax we lost Patrick Kluivert on a free transfer to AC Milan.
"But he wasn't successful so they sold him [to Barcelona] a year later for US$10million (Dh36.7m). We had educated Patrick for 12 to 13 years and received nothing." Aside from the landmark Bosman case, van Praag pointed to the changing attitude of players and agents as a fundamental factor in the gradual decline of Dutch clubs. "Players' and agents' demands grow every year and, while this is their right, they must accept some responsibility," he said. "Dutch clubs are not benefiting when players leave at 21 when a few years ago they would have left at 24 or 25."
The lure of greater rewards abroad can, however, be a double-edged sword, insisted van Praag. "It is not always good for the players. Look at Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. He went to Madrid and it didn't work, so he moved to Milan and is not playing there either. "I pity players like that who leave at such a young age, but I understand it. "Holland is a country of 16 million people, while England, for example, is a country of 60 million. The difference in TV rights money the two leagues generate is huge and we can't cope with the salaries our players are offered elsewhere."
Ajax, in 1995, were the last Dutch side to win the Champions League and unless Uefa introduce new criteria regarding squad size and finances, it is not a statistic that will change any time soon, argued van Praag. "Dutch clubs might be successful occasionally in Europe but it will not be as regularly," said the Uefa executive committee member. "We want fair competitions. We do not want to risk a billionaire entering a club, not liking it, pulling out and forcing the club into so much debt it can longer exist. Decent business plans should be required for all European clubs."