How NFL 'Socialism' Can Help Save European Soccer

Salary caps, financial compensation, and transfer preferential rights for weak teams level the playing field in the NFL and MLB. While Europe's top soccer salaries spiral out of control, and the same teams always win.

NFL Showtime! NY Giants vs. Cleveland Browns
NFL Showtime! NY Giants vs. Cleveland Browns
Florian Haupt

BERLIN — Not everything about big-time professional soccer is bad. Among the players, there are still good guys doing decent things. This summer, French left-back Lucas Digne jumped into action to help the injured after the terrorist attack in Barcelona. And Juan Mata of Manchester United decided to permanently give 1% of his salary to an NGO. Mats Hummels, a defensive midfielder for Bayern München, joined the initiative too.

And yet, the past few months have put many fans and bigwigs of European soccer ill-at-ease, with the word "madness' running in an endless loop. The problems aren't new: Some of the transfer fees were already monstrous; the financial backers dubious; the players egotistical. But just as the world seems to turn on its head at times in this era of globalization and technological revolution, so too has soccer seemed to gone berserk.

For starters, the latest round of over-the-top transfer price-tags. Before this year, there had only been one transfer for more than 100 million euros: Pogba, in 2016, for 105 million plus 5 million in possible bonuses from Juventus to Manchester United. Then came Brazilian superstar Neymar's move this summer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at a price-tag of 222 million euros — double the previous record! But there are others: Kylian Mbappe, whom PSG is only borrowing for the season in accordance with Financial Fair Play Regulations, the Paris club will be wiring 180 million euros to Monaco next summer. Ousmane Dembele is switching from Dortmund to Barcelona for 105 million plus 43 million in bonuses. And finally, Barca offered to pay Liverpool 150 million for Philippe Coutinho.

All this reshuffling was triggered by money from Qatar. And it was supported by players who openly (Dembele), covertly (Coutinho), or on instruction (Mbappe) left their previous slots. "A player should always be able to leave a club if he thinks it's the right time," Neymar said at his introduction in Paris.

The big stars, it seems, no longer bother giving what even fair weather fans appreciate: a modicum of loyalty and predictability, something viewers can identify with. Club soccer, in brief, is making a killing, but at the cost of its moral wellbeing. The result is a crisis. This kind of crises always comes with two answers: To look ahead or peer into the past.

Option No. 1 is to bemoan everything, to get out that vintage jersey you bought online (for way too much money) and long for a lost paradise that never existed and, quite frankly, will never return. The other choice — and the only truly reasonable one —is to seek contemporary solutions, because the world, like soccer, has changed, and nostalgia is a remedy that simply won't work.

The food chain today is as clear as it was in high school biology class. PSG is helping itself to Barcelona; Barcelona feeds on Dortmund; Dortmund takes what it wants from Gladbach; Gladbach draws from Switzerland, and then Austria, and so on, until only the plankton remain. And that's jut thew way it is. Cosi fan tutte —everyone does it. The problem is, in a word, systemic.

In U.S. sports, winning isn't just a matter of buying up the best players.

For a solution, professional soccer needs more than just individual rules. It needs a vision. And for that, it's worth looking across the ocean to... the United States. The country may be a mess politically, but when it comes to pro sports, it definitely has a thing or two to teach the Old World. Take the National Football League, NFL, for example. With just 16 game days, plus a couple of playoff games per team — compared to between 34 and 38 game days for European soccer teams — the NFL nevertheless manages to make about as much money as Europe's four top leagues (England, Germany, Spain and Italy) combined.

Even more interesting is why the NFL has succeeded so spectacularly: socialism. That's right, professional sports in capitalist America, of all places, thrives on real socialism. Salary caps, financial compensation, and transfer preferential rights for weak teams level the playing field. These are handicaps one could only dream about in Europe's top soccer league. As a result, the NFL has had eight different championship teams in the past 10 years. Editor's note: Polemics over the anti-racism protest of African-American players is more about politics than economics, or on-the-field performance

In similarly structured Major League Baseball, there were seven different champions in the same period. In the major U.S. sports, winning isn't just a matter of buying up the best players. It requires strategy, executive planning, training and talent development.

Salary caps should also be considered in soccer. But due to the reservations of the European Union, and different tax rates and legal practices, this appears to be realistic only if taken one step further: Subjecting all the clubs to the regulations of a common league. Hence, a Euro League, the biggest bogeyman of all.

Hardcore soccer fans are outraged by the very mention of such an idea. They feel about a Europe-wide league the way they do about child abuse and illegal arms deals. But what exactly makes it so bad? Because in reality, the scenario is actually quite fascinating: The best soccer players up against each other week after week, and not just five times a year, when the Champions League quarterfinals finals kick off.

The obvious and reasonable question people ask is what would happen to the national leagues. But here's a counter question: What about them? They are monopolies, a procession of unilateral parties in which everyone already knows the winners beforehand. In Germany, Bayern has won half of the past 10 championships. In Italy, Juventus snatched the last seven. In France, PSG has clinched the top trophy in four of the last five years. And in Spain, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have claimed nine of the last 10 titles.

There's also the fact that these teams, when playing in their respective countries, put in half the effort they do when vying for the Champions League. And they don't have to, because their benches are filled with players who are better than the guys their opponents put on the field. So why doesn't Bayern, for example, send some of that excess talent to Mainz? Because then it wouldn't be as competitive internationally. It's a vicious circle.

The Euro league idea is a bitter pill for fans of tradition and custom. Understandably. But it's also an opportunity to return to exhilarating competition. Again, it's worth taking a look at the NFL. The bulk of NFL games are played on Sundays, freeing Saturdays up for competition between university teams, which are also wildly popular, even without the superstars. People love the amateur league. Some fans even prefer it.

More money could be generated with fewer games.

A European league, following a similar model, could actually have positive side effects. More money could be generated with fewer games, and the top teams wouldn't be so overloaded with star players. That, in turn, would benefit all those talented but embittered players riding the bench. A Europe-wide league with a fair distribution model could also bring respected but — because of their small domestic markets — globally unimportant clubs bring back into play. Think Celtic, Benfica, Ajax, etc.

Lastly, a united European soccer league would create possibilities for stricter (and universal) transfer controls. All teams would have to follow the same calendar, meaning the "window of opportunity" for buying up talent would close before the start of the season. The irksome uncertainty of the preseason would cease to exist. Other rules, like the prohibition on speaking to players without the knowledge of the club, could be enforced. What's so hard about all that? The U.S. leagues make it seem easy.

A Euro league, in other words, wouldn't be the end of soccer. It would be a chance for a fresh start, and one that would actually protect many traditions. Everything should be up for discussion. It's easy to demonize modern soccer. But unless we actually do something about it, nothing will change — and the obscene signings and other unsavory aspects of the current crisis will only multiply in the future.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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