Vialli: ‘I Look Out For Things That Are Going to Make Football a Better Game’

London- “We Italians need to feel like we’re under pressure, we need to see an enemy,” says Gianluca Vialli. “The pressure is a combination of expectation, scrutiny and consequences. That’s why we’re so good at managing, because we grew up experiencing pressure all the time. When Antonio came to England I think he almost felt it was easier but exciting at the same time.”

Vialli is well-placed to discuss the success of Antonio Conte (was he surprised when his old Juventus team-mate won the Premier League at the first time of asking? “No, no and no”). The former Chelsea manager, the first Italian to manage in the Premier League, had won everything in the club game by the time he moved to London in 1996. He became a star of the English game too, winning fans first with his pugnacious style of play, later with his urbane personality.

He remains equally distinctive today. When we meet in a lounge at Stamford Bridge, Vialli is dressed in a royal blue peaked cap, open-necked shirt and waistcoat, tan chinos rolled halfway up the calf and boat shoes with no socks. Half Guy Ritchie, half Marcello Mastroianni, it is thoroughly Anglo-Italian. So when Vialli speaks about the English game, he does so with a rare perspective. He knows what it means for an Italian to bring success to Chelsea. When he insists the Premier League is the most entertaining in the world because the fans make it that way, it is not necessarily the flattery of a guest.

“They say the Premier League is best league in the world. Or Roy Keane says we are brainwashed into believing it. He might be right. But I can definitely say it’s the most entertaining league. I’ve played here and managed here, and when you walk on the pitch the atmosphere brings the best out of you. So that’s already a plus. But the style of football in England is also affected by the atmosphere the fans create. It’s breathtaking, it’s 120mph. Yes, there’s a lot of errors, yes from a tactical point of view maybe it’s not the best, but in terms of entertainment … This is why the product is so amazing and why it is sold for so much money. I think the fans should get some credit for that.”

There is no doubting Vialli means what he says. It is why my eyebrow did not rise to its full height when he went on to describe it as the motivation behind a new business venture. Alongside another London-based European, Fausto Zanetton, Vialli has founded a company that looks to bring crowdfunding to professional sports.

“When I say what I do now, I say I work for Sky Italia but also, because of what I owe to football, I look out for things that are eventually going to make it a better game,” Vialli says. “Our business is about giving football clubs the necessary finance to build something that is not just 11 players on the pitch but everything that goes with that. Our business is about making clubs more sustainable.”

The company is called Tifosy and it claims to have raised more than £1m for football clubs. Crowdfunding seems a model suited to sport – “The great thing about crowdfunding in sports is there are already crowds,” says Zanetton. Tifosy has raised money for a new stand at Stevenage and the pioneering safe-standing enclosure at Shrewsbury Town. In turn, clubs can offer investors rewards (ie you give me money, I’ll give you a signed T-shirt) but on Tifosy they can also sell debt, in the form of micro-bonds, or even equity. Tifosy in turn takes between 6-8% in commission from the clubs.

For Vialli crowdfunding provides a chance for fans to take a stake in their clubs. “We’re not talking about fans owning the club, we’re talking about fans owning a share of the club,” he says. “A share that would give them a seat at the table. Clubs have sponsors. They are just there for commercial reasons but the club calls them partners. Then you have the fans. The fans are emotionally involved, they are loyal, and the clubs call them customers. I think fans owning a share of the club would mean the owners know what ‘customers’ really think and feel.”

There is a difference between getting to say your piece and having an influence, of course. Numerous small stakeholders make for unwieldy organisation. The owners of clubs, meanwhile, are not always to be trusted by their fans. Vialli and Zanetton say they have refused to work with clubs whose ambitions do not meet Tifosy’s principles.

In the end crowdfunding may be less about creating a new model of ownership than providing a new way for fans to show they care. For example, Community Shares, the crowdfunding company that works with grassroots clubs (and has raised more than £7m), has observed fans are far more likely to stump up to save a club from going out of business than they are to invest in something less urgent such as, say, new training facilities.

This, intriguingly, may also apply to those fans who never go to the stadium. The explosion of international interest in English football is really what makes businesses such as Tifosy viable. As Vialli puts it: “You’ve got 40,000 supporters going to the stadium but 1,000 times more available through the internet. I think in a way there’s more of a desire to get involved [from] the fans that are not regularly coming to the stadium. They think: ‘I can’t get to the stadium because I live 6,000 miles away but I really want to feel like I’m part of the club.’”

A Tifosy campaign for Bradford City raised donations from 20 countries. A recent scheme on behalf of Parma, a club in Serie B, managed 40.

“Italian football has a lot of appeal, even though it must improve,” Vialli says. “We are always moaning about English football but Italy should be the same. We complain ‘they’ve got more money’. Yes, that’s true. But why? Because they’ve got a better product that they sell abroad. If our stadiums were better, if there was less violence, if it were perceived as a clean game, less tactical perhaps …” Doing down tactics? Gianluca Vialli really has gone native.

The Guardian Sport

Ederson Arrives at Manchester City with Reputation for Big Boot, Sharp Stopping

sport

London – Ederson made sure he left Benfica for Manchester City with a bang. In the goalkeeper’s penultimate league match for the Portuguese champions, not only did he keep his 17th clean sheet of the season, he also got an assist.

A goal-kick from the 23-year-old led to Benfica’s second goal in a 5-0 defeat of Vitória Guimarães. It was a kick that found the forward Raúl Jiménez on the edge of the Vitória penalty area, the Mexican controlling it with his feet before turning it into the goal with his head. But not only was Ederson’s kick enormous, it was clever. It took advantage of the fact that his forward, dallying so far upfield, could not be found offside from a keeper’s dead ball. It is a little-known rule but understandable; after all, who is going to kick it that far anyway?

Prowess with the ball at his feet is thought to be a central reason why Pep Guardiola has made Ederson, depending on how you interpret historical exchange rates, either the most or the second most expensive goalkeeper in history. It is an incredible accolade either way, given that the record is held by Gianluigi Buffon, perhaps the greatest goalkeeper of all time. It is even more impressive when you consider Ederson has played only a season and a half as a regular at a major club.

The Brazilian played as a youth for his hometown club of São Paulo, before Benfica took him to Portugal at the age of 16. Not uncommonly, the move did not work out and the teenager moved on, first joining the second-division side Ribeirão then Rio Ave. His performances with the Primeira Liga minnows persuaded Benfica they had made a mistake. The club brought Ederson back in a deal that cost them only €500,000 up front but granted Rio 50% of any future transfer fee (20% of which, in a not entirely surprising development, then goes to Ederson’s agent, Jorge Mendes).

Ederson arrived as understudy to his fellow countryman Júlio César, but when César was injured in March 2016 the younger man seized the gloves and never gave them back. His performances in domestic competition have been consistently assured but it was his display against Borussia Dortmund that got Europe’s elite talking.

Eventually humbled 4-0 in the return leg at the Westfalenstadion, Benfica won the first leg 1-0, but they would have lost that too were it not for the Brazilian. The standout moment was a penalty save from Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang. Ederson not only out-thought the striker by staying on his feet as the ball flew down the centre of the goal, but he completed the save with a club of a punch that drove the ball clear of goal.

This was the second penalty that Ederson had saved in the competition but it was far from his only moment in the match. His speed of movement denied Ousmane Dembélé a goal from six yards out and the length of his reach allowed him to turn a Marco Reus 25-yard effort round a post. Best of all was a save from Christian Pulisic. The American’s fierce volley from outside the penalty area took two deflections but still Ederson found a strong hand to turn it wide. Within a month, the Portuguese press reported that Guardiola had made a personal call to Ederson to persuade him to come to City.

“Ederson has all the talent to become a top-class goalkeeper,” says Vitor Alvarenga, editor of the Portuguese magazine Maisfutebol. “The special ability that made Guardiola pay attention is that he is very strong with his feet, but Ederson also has not only the agility of a great keeper but the security too. I believe he will soon be the No1 keeper with Brazil.”

All the noises are that Ederson will soon graduate to the Brazil team. This, combined with his age, his footballing ability and the fact he recently renewed his Benfica contract, has meant his price is high.

Paradoxically, given the travails of City’s last big-money goalkeeping recruit, Claudio Bravo, it is Ederson’s confidence on the ball that could be his weak spot, says Alvarenga. “The risk is that he has to show he can cope with the pressure of a top league. In the Primeira Liga, he is facing minor teams 80% of the time. Ederson has a great game with his feet but in some matches he has shown overconfidence. He will have to learn how to be able to control that.”

The Guardian Sport

Premier League and Championship Clubs Raise Stakes with Unprecedented Spend

Moussa Sissoko is one of four Newcastle players whose sales have contributed heavily to the Premier League’s huge summer outlay.

Maybe it is an unintended consequence of Brexit. Maybe it was just the weather. But the fact is that in this summer’s transfer window not only was more money spent by Premier League clubs but more money was spent in England than ever before. The question many fans will now be asking is where that money goes next.

According to research by the consultants Deloitte, Premier League clubs spent £1,165,000,000 in the transfer window that closed on Wednesday night, with fees ranging from the £89m Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba to the £1m Sunderland paid paid it for Donald Love. £445m of that total was spent on players from English clubs, roughly a 50% rise on last season. Further to that, spending on players in the Football League practically doubled, to a record £140m.

The reasons for the rise in spending are not difficult to ascertain, with the advent of the new £5bn TV deal the primary culprit. “As has been the case for a number of years now, the increase in broadcast revenue is the principal driver of this spending power,” said Dan Jones, partner in the sports business group at Deloitte.

“The increase in the value of these deals and the comparatively equal revenue distribution of these by the Premier League have again allowed clubs throughout the division to invest significantly in this summer’s market.”

For those concerned about the health of the domestic game the key question is what will happen to any newfound riches. According to Deloitte, the answer is simple: more players. “Membership of the Premier League has never been as lucrative as it is today and as such we have seen this have knock-on effects in terms of the spending in the Championship,” says Jones. “This summer saw a record £215m gross spend by Championship clubs, more than twice the previous record, driven by the investment of recently relegated clubs seeking an immediate return to the Premier League as well as by that of ambitious Championship clubs seeking entry to the world’s richest football league.”

These are unprecedented sums for the English football pyramid, although much of the spending is condensed at the top of the Championship. Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Norwich between them, the three clubs relegated from the Premier League in May, spent roughly £117m on new players, more than half the gross total in the Championship. Further to that the sale of four Newcastle players – Giorginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko, Andros Townsend and Daryl Janmaat – accounted almost entirely for the growth in transfer fees received by Football League clubs from their Premier League counterparts.

“There are vast sums coming into the game and we want to see that shared more equitably throughout the footballing pyramid, right down to grassroots level,” Liam Thompson, a spokesperson for the Football Supporters’ Federation, said.

“Concerted efforts from fans over the last few years have shown that clubs can do more with the money coming into the game. For example, Stoke City have continued to keep season ticket prices low as well as providing free coach travel to away games. A number of other clubs in the Premier League and Football League have frozen or reduced prices. This helps ensure live football is not out of reach of fans. The £30 [Premier] league-wide cap on away ticket prices is a significant victory for football supporters but we urge football fans to remain vigilant and continue to ask their clubs what they’re doing for their supporters.”

The £30 rule does not apply in the Championship and fans of relegated sides are finding they can pay more for away travel in the second tier than in the Premier League. John Williams is an academic at Leicester University who specialises in the social impact of the national game. He suggests clubs could focus on this issue to bring in more support.

“The fear, with Championship clubs in particular, is that they will spend whatever money they get to try and get into the Premier League, that’s the danger,” he said. “The riches are so great, they’ll spend the money on players, wages and whatever else they believe necessary to produce that dividend.

“But there are a few other places the money could go though. Firstly, clubs could spend it on the women’s game. This would firstly stimulate local support locally, but it would also show that clubs are working for the public good and for inclusion. It would also be a good investment as the women’s game is growing and is no longer sniffed at by big clubs.

“It would also make sense to work hard on young supporters,” he says. “We know that the temptation is for young supporters to identify with much larger clubs, to wear their stuff locally. Anything a smaller club can do to reduce the price of their own goods is a good thing. Reduce the price of kits, reduce the price of tickets, see how far you can push it down, make it real.”

One final tweak that could be made, Williams says, is one adopted by the Premier League champions. “Maybe do the thing that seems to have proven surprisingly popular here in Leicester. The owners chose a couple of games and gave any supporter who came to the match a free donut or soft drink. When my students have interviewed fans since, they don’t see it as a crass stunt but as a sign that the owners care. Why not choose a couple of matches and show that we care and you’ll get something that you like too? Why not spread the love?”

(The Guardian)