Fab Four rule the Roost in Europe

Juventus' forward Gonzalo Higuain (centre) fights for the ball with Napoli's midfielder Jorginho, Napoli's defenders Kalidou Koulibaly (left) and Raul Albiol (right) during the Italian Serie A football match between Napoli and Juventus at the San Pao
Juventus' forward Gonzalo Higuain (centre) fights for the ball with Napoli's midfielder Jorginho, Napoli's defenders Kalidou Koulibaly (left) and Raul Albiol (right) during the Italian Serie A football match between Napoli and Juventus at the San Paolo stadium in Naples, on Dec 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Cash-rich clubs buying the finest and raiding rivals for top stars are reasons for dominance

Check the fixture lists and they all end in an eight-day period in May.

But look at the league tables and they appear to be over now, more than four months early.

The title races in England, France, Germany and Spain seem to be done and dusted.

Their respective leaders boast advantages of 15, nine, 11 and nine points. None have dropped more than 10 points all season.

Between them, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Barcelona have lost three of 73 league games this season. Good luck catching them.

It leaves Serie A with a monopoly on excitement - after 18 games, Napoli are top on 45 points, one point ahead of Juventus.

Perhaps ironically, as Juventus have won the last six Scudetti, but they are nonetheless part of a tale that has spread across Europe's top-five leagues.

Bayern have won the last five titles in Germany, PSG four of France's last five.

They reflect the concentration of talent at the top, which has created the conditions for dominance.

Over the years, it has become more entrenched. The leaders have a greater immunity to shocks.

The finest players used to be scattered across several clubs.

Bayern made a policy of buying Borussia Dortmund's best, weakening their principal rivals.

Now they have moved on to stripping Hoffenheim, who finished fourth last season, of Sebastian Rudy and Sandro Wagner.

Juventus, partly funded by Champions League income, spent previous summers purchasing Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic of Roma.

PSG, who had a turnover three times bigger than any other French club in 2015-16, the last year when figures were available, reacted to a poor season by raiding champions Monaco for their prize asset, Kylian Mbappe.

Real Madrid and Barcelona benefit from two of the greatest players in history - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi respectively - and bring in almost €400 million (S$640 million) more than any other Spanish club.

That fashioned a duopoly, interrupted only when Atletico Madrid confounded financial logic in 2014, but when either club suddenly underachieve, like Real now, it creates a procession to the title for Barcelona.

It is an understatement that money has changed football and leagues. City and PSG are accused of being state sponsored with oil money.

"Financial doping," LaLiga president Javier Tebas called it last year while Arsene Wenger commented that City have "petrol and ideas".

Jose Mourinho complained on Boxing Day that City "buy full-backs for the price of strikers".

And yet England, with its more equitable distribution of television income, has been the exception to the rule. Others have a chance.

Former City manager Manuel Pellegrini kept arguing that six teams could win the league. He did not include Leicester, one of four champions in the last five seasons.

Manchester United have England's biggest turnover and a net spend similar to City's.

It is only in England where it is rare to see one club so far clear.

And that points to a manager who can create outliers.

Pep Guardiola won the Bundesliga by 19 points with Bayern. He topped 90 points in each of his four seasons at Barcelona.

At both clubs, too, he left a legacy of excellence, which his successors continued.

Money has created a climate to take the drama out of title races. Perfectionist management helps, too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'Fab Four rule the Roost in Europe'. Print Edition | Subscribe