Sheffield United
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European football's progress towards a break-even point could be seismic

Don't look now, but European football is edging towards a break-even point. And we're talking the European game as a whole, more than 700 clubs across UEFA's 55 member nations and not just the top echelon we keep hearing about.

According to UEFA's eighth annual benchmarking report -- basically, a fine-tooth study of the club game -- losses in 2015 amounted to around $360 million. In 2011, they stood at $2,314 million -- or $2.3 billion with a "B." In other words, the past four years have seen an annual drop in losses and a cumulative decline of 84 percent.

That's pretty staggering by any measure. And it doesn't end there, either, because those figures are based on last season. From this season, under the new TV deal, Premier League clubs have seen their cumulative broadcast rise from around $2.4bn to around $3.75bn. Throw in bumps in revenue across other European leagues and increases in commercial income, and we could be looking at close to another $2bn splashing around the continent. We might even see the game as a whole become profitable.

Seems nuts, doesn't it? In historical terms, this is a game-changer.

The $2.3bn plus in losses in 2011 was a low point, but in the past, most clubs tended to lose money or break even. You may wonder why folks invested in football if they were just going to lose their millions.

The answer is three-fold. Some were bored, wealthy fans who simply did it for the thrill, a bit like some of those guys who buy shares in racehorses or, a few magnitudes up, software billionaires who bankroll yachts in the America's Cup.

Others were genuine supporters who were willing to make personal sacrifices to help their club survive and sometimes thrive. Many were folks who no doubt cared about their clubs to some degree but weren't about to squander personal fortunes.

Some got their returns in other ways in terms of image, popularity or local political influence. Some ensured money trickled back to them, sometimes through outright corruption or, more subtly, steering business to the "right" people. And some simply asset-stripped their clubs, loaning them money, making sure they got paid back and simply letting it go bust when everything fell apart.

No more. If football can become a real, transparent and profitable business -- in many leagues it is already because that $360m of losses is an aggregate number, concentrated in certain countries -- it will attract real investors who will treat like a real investment, aka a profit-seeking one.

We're not quite there yet, but we're getting there. And, when we do, the shift will be seismic.

Richard Scudamore and the Premier League are pulling away from their peers in terms of spending power.

Premier League's spending gap never been bigger

You may have seen that headline figure -- £1.2bn ($1.6bn) spent by Premier League clubs in the transfer window! -- but in fact, as an aggregate measure of the league's spending power, it's almost totally meaningless.

A far more significant number is £700m ($930m): the Premier League's cumulative net spend, according to the Transfermarkt website. And it's still a mind-blowing number, up from £427m ($570m).

The reason why it's silly to use total spend when assessing a league is that if two Premier League clubs trade with each other, that money stays within the league. It simply recirculates. Sunderland could have sold Lee Cattermole to Hull City for £10m and then bought Tom Huddlestone from Hull for &oound;10m. Does that mean £20m has been spent? Not really, it's just money going back and forth within the same, closed group of people.

But the Premier League's net spend measures the balance of spending with foreign leagues as well as lower divisions in the English pyramid. And what emerges is a situation where England is cross-subsidizing big chunks of the rest of Europe.

The top divisions of Germany, Spain and Italy combined for a net spend of £128m ($170.5m), which is less than a fifth of the Premier League alone. In terms of top-to-bottom spending power, the gap has never been this big. And that's far more significant than that $1.2bn number.

England huff and puff to victory

For nearly an hour, Sam Allardyce's new-look England looked a lot like Roy Hodgson's old-look England and not just because eight of the starting XI were holdovers from the Iceland humiliation. Heck, even Wayne Rooney was playing in that very same hard-to-work-out position.

Then Martin Skrtel got sent off and Allardyce's men came to life. Adam Lallana's goal may have come very late, but England deserved it. The problem is, of course, that most of the time they won't be playing with a man advantage.

Messi won't be rushed back from injury

Normal service has resumed. Lionel Messi returned to the Argentina national team, thereby unretiring, and scored the winner against Uruguay. The Albiceleste is back atop South American qualifying.

The down side is that Messi had to come off with a groin issue. He'll miss Tuesday's clash against cellar-dwelling Venezuela and you wouldn't expect him to line up against Alaves at the weekend, either.

His camp say it's a purely precautionary measure. It makes total sense. Messi is not getting younger and groin injuries are not something to be messed with. Expect Barcelona to give him all the time he needs.

Germany win shows extent of Bayern's riches

Germany rolled to a fun and easy 3-0 win away to Norway, with Thomas Muller bagging two goals to bring his career total to 36. The other goal came from Josh Kimmich, who was deployed at full-back by Jogi Low.

The interesting thing is that as far as we know, Carlo Ancelotti sees Kimmich's future in central midfield, preferring Phillip Lahm in the right-back role. And yet Lahm himself was often deployed in the middle of the park during the Pep Guardiola Era.

It's a nice dilemma to have and rather shows the riches available to Low. Imagine being 21 and easily flitting from right-back to central midfield for both one of the biggest clubs in the world and the reigning world champions. Now consider the fact that your predecessor was exactly the same.

Not many countries are in that position.

Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.


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