That's if reports that Calum Chambers cost Arsenal £16m are to be believed. The English premium shows no signs of disappearing. Plus, worrying about poor Southampton...
Some supporters sound oh so confident on Louis Van Gaal's excellence. Plus thoughts on shirt sales, best signings, football sevens and a good deal more besides...
If you have anything to add on any subject, mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, putting 'Mailbox' in the subject field.
Picking up on a point in the mailbox about the German league becoming boring I couldn't help but think back to a while ago when I wrote in about how the Bundesliga would become the new SPL and Bayern would simply be a richer Celtic who would struggle going forward with the lost competition from Rangers.
I was widely criticised for these musings (a mistake on my part to use a proudly Scottish club as my example) however the point very much remains. The main disagreements at the time were that a Celtic were performing better in Europe than ever despite lost competition from Rangers Leedsesque collapse and that Dortmund would still be good without Goetze.
However as I countered in a cruelly unpublished email, this would be a short term effect and eventually it would become true.
Well, it seems to me as though the German league is now a one championship winner for at least the next 2-3 seasons which will only be aided by lewandowski and Celtic with no real challenge domestically have failed to maintain momentum in Europe.
It naturally follows that the more competitive your league is the higher you are pushed and thus better you are likely to be against better teams in Europe. It's no coincidence that Manchester United started doing better in Europe once Chelsea's millions came in and they had to improve domestically. Eventually the Bayern players will drop off / lose interest unless they have regular competition since you really need at least two strong competitive teams.
I imagine in a couple of years time we maybe in for either a spell of English dominance again given the English teams (except Manu) are improving or potentially a spell of dominance from Real Madrid again now they are being pushed on from years of playing second to Barcelona as well as a vastly improved local rival in Athletico.
So what I'm basically saying is further to my point a year ago Bayern are in course to become average in Europe... albeit not this year... or probably next.
...I was on a stag do in Berlin at the weekend and we took the opportunity to watch Hertha Berlin v Hannover. Now before the match the atmosphere was absolutely incredible, the commitment to songs and the sheer volume was something we'll all remember for ages - but it went downhill after that.
Neither team seemingly had any close control or passing accuracy and the general standard of play was pretty dreadful (backed up by a local fan on the train home who said the only teams who can actually play in the country are Bayern and Dortmund). So is it entertaining and unpredictable because almost everyone is equally average?
But the main issue is actually the thing that people love the most. Anyone who takes in a few highlights programmes or Champions League games featuring German teams is always won over by the crowd atmosphere (I was one of those) and assume it's incredible for 90 minutes. But actually the singing is the very problem - as they do it solid for the entire game, regardless of the match itself.
That may sound great, but in the end we were all missing the passionate reactionary atmosphere of England. Like fiercely cheering on a quick counter attack late in the game, or yelling at a bad tackle - hell, even a throw in being given against you sometimes when the pressure's on! But the songs just kept rolling and rolling and it just turned into more of a concert than a match.
Perhaps we just hit a bad week? But for all the drum banging, scarf twirling and song volume we all found ourselves missing the English ground atmosphere of responding to the game itself. I wonder if anyone else has had the same experience?
Social Coast Of Football
Excellent mail from Mike, Essex highlighting Qatar's abysmal record in basic worker safety. Only Fifa, the Olympic comittee and other organizers of major sporting events get away with inhumane sh*t like this. If a Nike factory or a Ford plant had a 100 deaths in a year they would be in serious damage limitation mode, with PR campaigns and promises of financial support for the families etc etc. But Fifa? no way.
A few years ago I watched a 5 hour documentary (!) called, Petition by Zhao Liang, which showed the dysfunctional legal process in China where any charges against a govt employee (policeman to postman) could not be filed in court, but rather would require a special petition to be taken to a govt building in Beijing. The result was a massive slum outside of the building, with people from all over the country waiting for years to get their grievances heard.
The filmmaker lived in this slum for 5 years, documenting stories of brutal beatings by police and powerful party members raping whomever they please while trying to dissuade or kill petitioners before they could log their complaints. However, the most shocking moment of this story came in the end, when this huge bustling slum of petitioners was simply flattened, literally flattened, to build a shiny new railway station of the Beijing Olympics. The petitioners were jailed, put into mental asylums or simply put on a train to the other end of the country.
It's time we started calculating the social cost of hosting these big events in places that are not ready for it. The only World Cup I've ever been to was Germany 2006. The stadiums didn't need to be built, the infrastructure was already there, there weren't people to displace or immigrant workers to hire and the event was the cheapest in the modern era. Giving major events to places like South Africa are somehow portrayed as an egalitarian move, bringing the World Cup out of the South America-Europe dichotomy, however the social and human cost of it is more damaging than keeping it within the football powerhouses.
It might not have come to all your readers' attention (I don't think it's on your site) but I think it is worth mentioning the legendary career choice recently made by one Luke Chadwick (yes, that one).
Now, to get you up to speed, after leaving Man United and playing for Norwich, Stoke, West Ham, he ended up at MK Dons in League 1. He has played 203 times for them up to the age of 33. He still had a year or so of a two year contract left and he seemed to be well thought of. I expect he could have happily played out his contract there. (I can't guarantee I won't get some angry MK Don responses saying that they hated him because I admit I have not fully researched this!)
However, instead of that, he has chosen to approach his boyhood heroes and join his home town club on loan. Further, that home town club is the (not so) mighty Cambridge United. Apparently, that is his dream as detailed by MK Dons' boss, Karl Robinson:
"He doesn't want to let the chairman, the fans or me down but he said that while he's still got the legs he wants to fulfil his dream, which is to play for Cambridge United."
This is a man who has played for Manchester United and England under 21's! He has won the Premier League. Despite all this, his dream is the same as mine - to play for the mighty U's at the Abbey. The only difference between us is that my approach to the club has been sadly ignored repeatedly for the last 15 years. He is my new hero. Chapeau, Luke!
In addition, MK Dons (who don't always get the best press) have helped out with his wages as detailed by Jez George (Cambridge Director of Football): "Because he has done such good service for them, they've helped to make it possible financially by agreeing to subsidise it". How nice is that! Chapeau, MK Dons!
In a football world which has become cynical and money driven - this is the story you have all been waiting for.
So, the Hollywood ending that we're building towards is that the U's lie second in the Conference with 10 games to go behind a seemingly insurmountable Luton side. We watch with baited breath (well, I do - some of your readers have probably dozed off by now).
There's also the sideline of a FA Trophy final on Sunday. Sadly, Luke is not eligible for that - but I reckon he'll be there wrapped in his flag with the rest of us.
Disabled Fans Being Forgotten
Yesterday, the BBC released a fascinating article on how Premier League clubs are failing disabled fans. I was disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that this seemed to pass entirely without comment. I can't really blame anyone for this, disablism in football, much like in society, is generally far more insidious and indirect than other forms of discrimination (homophobia, racism). This, however, means it's much more difficult to tackle.
Having a disability (especially one which affects mobility) is exclusionary in football. Fans and clubs may not mean it to be but, sadly, it is the case. Of the 20 PL clubs, only 3 had over the recommended number of wheelchair spaces (kudos to Swansea, Southampton and Cardiff). Meanwhile, 3 of the biggest clubs in the country (Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool) all had less than half. As a Liverpool fan with a disability, I find this highly disheartening and shameful. This does seem to be a case of art imitating life; the day-to-day experiences of disabled people tells of increasing isolation and social ostracism (the BBC again highlighting this). I hope, and genuinely believe, that most people will find this unacceptable.
Therefore, this is a perfect opportunity for football to genuinely make a difference to the wider social environment. Increasing inclusion by putting pressure on clubs to be as accessible as possible would be a reasonable expectation. Creating a welcoming environment for all would be great. However, sites such as F365 shining a light on these issues would raise awareness and make fans realise what is going on most. I hope this happens; sadly I'm unconvinced that anything will really change.
Chelsea And A Ruthless Edge
Delighted with last night's win, and to be through once again to the latter stages in Europe - as a Chelsea fan these are very happy times indeed. Despite this however I've been playing down our chances in both the league and Europe all season long for one very simple reason, that was highlighted again last night. We just don't score as many goals as we ought to, given the quality of our attacking players.
The excellent article on Eto'o and his enduring utility as a finisher actually touches on this briefly. Chelsea don't create as many clear-cut chances as our close rivals, and that is predominantly down to the way our midfield plays. I lost count watching last night (particularly in the second half) of the number of times a chance to break through was squandered by one of our attacking players taking a touch too many, or playing a conservative pass instead of looking for the killer ball while the opposing defence is off-balance, so that by the time someone does try to play the 'final' ball the defence is set and repels the attack - even our bamboozler-in-chief Hazard is guilty of this at times.
I think this is what Mourinho is touching on when he talks about the team being a work in progress. When Schürrle came off the bench he looked to be much more direct in his movement, but on at least 2 or 3 occasions was frustrated by his team mates not trying to pick him out on the counter. I wonder whether there's an element of fear of losing your place in the side by being more obviously wasteful in amongst a squad of very evenly-matched talents, but now is the time to step up. Otherwise, lacking that ruthless edge is what may ultimately cost us a trophy this season.
Blunders (Chelsea fan in an Arsenal parish), N4
Someone mentioned in the mailbox recently that they missed the regular League Two Winners and Losers from Mike, League 2, BRFC (and for the record, so do I). Earlier in the season I wrote in to say how close the competition was this year, and how a few good or bad results either way could make huge differences for a lot of teams. This remains true and as we approach the crunch end of the season here's my stab at how things could wrap up come May (spoiler alert - it's not looking good for my lot.)
At the top, there are 3 teams who all have a chance of winning the League - Rochdale, Chesterfield and Scunthorpe are separated by just 2 points and all have similar excellent goal difference. However, Scunthorpe are the form side in the league, unbeaten in their last 21 games, a run that stretches back to 16 November against Accrington Stanley (obligatory "who are they?") and have arguably the easiest run in of these sides, as such I'd tip them for the title - deservedly so having only lost 4 games so far this year. For the second automatic promotion spot, I'll pick current leaders Rochdale to cling on and take advantage of their slightly easier run-in and game in hand.
For the playoffs, Chesterfield will almost certainly be joined by Fleetwood and Burton, with Oxford and Plymouth pushing for the final spot. This is too close to call and will probably swing on the meeting between those two sides on 12th April - with Plymouth at home for that game I think that will give them the edge and they should sneak in for the final playoff place. These teams have all beaten each other so no single clear candidate stands out - the form points to Burton Albion who I fancy to learn from their narrow playoff semi-final defeat to Bradford and go one better this time around.
At the bottom, there are only 9 points separating 14th place from 24th, so realistically any one of these teams can go on a good run and get out of trouble, or vice versa - however the two sides with the worst recent form are current bottom side Torquay, and my lot Exeter who haven't won at home since October. At the moment I find it very hard to see past those two teams going down, especially since a resurgent Northampton have won 4 and only lost 3 of their 10 games since appointing Chris Wilder as manager at the end of January.
So there you have it - a three horse race for the title, a dramatic playoff tussle with 4 teams who can all beat each other on their day scrapping for the final promotion slot, and a royal-rumble style 10 club brawl to cling on to league football - it really could be quite an exciting finish to League Two this year.
Terry Hall, Switzerland
Have Patience With Champions League
Completely disagree with Nick C in the morning mailbox regarding the Champions League getting boring and no longer competitive because all the best teams are through to the quarter final without a problem.
I think this makes the competition much more interesting, just think about the games we are going to have in the quarter finals now, mouth watering stuff! The Champions league is one of the last competitions all the top teams still care about that's what makes it so competitive and exciting and surely we all want to see the best against the best.
For me the FA cup has lost its excitement for the neutrals, look at the semi finals for this year hardly the most exciting games to watch because there will not be the quality on show there could have been if the top 4 were all left. Every team in the last 8 of the Champions league will be strong and have a chance of winning it, they will give everything they have and the potential quality on show is surely more exciting than watching Hull v Sheffied Utd?
This year has the potential to be one of the best CL's in my opinion, all the best teams still in it which makes it extra competitive, there are no easy games now. So the early rounds have been easy for the big teams so what? That's what there're for, the groups aren't supposed to be competitive and that's why the big teams are generally kept apart, it's now that the competition really starts and bring it on! Couldn't have asked for a better last 8.
Henry ( uber excited for the draw) M
Stoke Looked Quite Pretty
Did anyone else watch Stoke-West Ham last weekend? Stoke actually looked like they might eventually get away from the lump-it-up-to-Peter Crouch approach. There were a few passages of excellent football, with Stephen Ireland, Marko Arnautovic, Peter Odemwingie, and even Glenn Whelan doing the business.
All season we've heard how Mark Hughes is changing Stoke's approach, and although the stats show he really hasn't much (Crouch has as many headed duels per game this year as last), it's just possible some of the behind-the-scenes work is paying off. Odemwingie looks like a very useful signing, too.
Any Stoke fans out there with a comment?
PeterG, Pennsylvania, USA