james debate
james debate

Monday 25 April 2011

Developed by Valve Corporation
Published by Valve Corporation
Genre First Person Puzzle-Platform
Platform Mac OSX, PC, Xbox 360, PS3

The original Portal was such a singular achievement, a perfect and unique distillation of gaming to the point of achieving "art" status, that many including yours truly felt that attempting to craft a worthy sequel was a pointless, and indeed foolhardy way to tamper with a classic. But still, this is Valve we're talking about, so let he who can name a single bad Valve game cast the first stone. Yeah that's what I thought.

portal 2

That moment when a new Valve game finally reaches completion is very special indeed, as it should be considering the extended development times for which the company are infamous. This time, however, it was more a moment of frustration, starting with the bogus "get the game released early" ARG which turned out to be pretty much a scam to get players to buy more games from Steam, their online download service.

After this false start things didn't get any easier either thanks in part to the really quite perplexing system requirements of the game. First I attempted to get things running on my powerful desktop under Mac OS X, only to find that I had to upgrade my OS, twice, and only after this did Steam have the decency to tell me that the game was not compatible with my video card (though it was with some less powerful cards), and yet bizarrely the Windows version was had no problem. So naturally I decided to boot up in Windows and give this a shot there, only to find that the game crashes at the first loading screen, a common bug that one glance at the Steam online forums informed me had yet to be fixed by technical support. Finally I resorted to downloading the game onto my newer Mac laptop, where the game worked perfectly, albeit not on the top graphics settings of which my desktop was capable.

The temperamental system requirements are all the more bewildering considering the game is running on the nearly ten year old Source engine, which had previously been known for its flexibility and scalability on even low-end computers. By the time I finally sat down to play Portal 2 I was pretty much thinking "well this had better be the best god damn game ever, or I'm giving it a crappy review". Well Valve might just have gotten lucky.

Many people know the notorious story that Portal was only really a half developed game, bought and reworked from an indie creation by Valve in a very short space of time, basically as a proof of concept more than an actual fully fledged product. This is why it was initially released as part of the Orange bundle as opposed to as a stand alone product; no one had particularly high hopes for it. The rampant success which then followed caught everyone by surprise, most of all Valve.

For the sequel, the core concepts have been retained; the portal gun returns, along with its unique brand of clever physics-based puzzles; the brilliant and humorous script returns, along with the cryptic and mostly implicit backstory, and of course the central characters, notably GLaDOS, who is widely recognised as one of the best videogame villains of all time. For those of you who played the original and are wondering, I don't think I'd be giving too much away if I revealed that yes, we get another brilliant song at the end.

I suppose if I had to have one criticism of the game, it would be that surprise factor played such a big part in the success of the original game that any sequel was never going to have the same kind of mind blowing impact. This is especially the case with the distinctive humor and ending song, which came as such a delightful surprise before, and now is simply an expected part of the game.

That being said, the game has been improved in many ways. The puzzles are just as addictive and rewarding as before, and now we have the addition of jump-pads and various types of bouncy, slippery and portal-permitting goo which adds a whole new element to the fun. Gameplay-wise Portal 2 simply can not be faulted, the puzzles are even smarter than before and an absolute joy to play.

Music plays a big part in the game, from the aforementioned ending song to a special promotional track recorded by indie darlings the National, which bizarrely can only be heard in-game in a secret room. In addition, the player's actions are accentuated by some really quite fantastic dynamic music, playing different ditties depending on what gameplay mechanic is being used. Even the dialogue in the game has a musical element to it, particularly the auto-tuned talking turrets.

Everything about Portal 2 is bigger and more ambitious than the original in concept, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the considerably further fleshed out narrative. Portal 2 also has real character development, and a much fuller cast including the likes of GLaDOS, Wheatley (superbly voiced by the hilarious Stephen Merchant - The Office, Extras, Ricky Gervais show), and Cave Johnson (voiced by the always excellent J K Simmons). Without giving too much away, series heroin Chell is awoken by a bumbling robot sphere named Wheatley and the two attempt to escape, but shockingly not all goes according to plan when they come face to face with the brilliantly sarcastic, abuse hurling GLaDOS. As the game progresses, more and more of the backstory for the testing facility and its characters comes into view, and finally we begin to learn (mostly through cleverly implicit story telling) who the various characters really are, and what Aperture Science is all about as the game takes us on a tour of local history, and indeed there is even tacit acknowledgement of the series' connection to Valve's other popular IP Half Life.

Valve have always had a unique flair for story telling and world-building, and in this regard Portal 2 is their finest work to date. Everything from the visual art to the dynamic music, the story and the dialogue serves to absorb the player into their world, and it is a truly special and magical world that they have put together here. There is something really quite unforgettable about the way everything comes together, the Valve magic is well and truly alive. The stronger character work is also a big improvement, and the background plot is disseminated in such a clever bite size fashion that, a bit like the TV show LOST and its ilk, it inspires discussion and theories among its many fans. It's difficult not to really become attached to these characters and even slow down your gameplay just so you can hear all the dialogue. Even though Valve have resisted the urge to play up the quotes and memes set by the original, there is plenty of new material here to live long in the memory after the game is over.

That being said, some might argue that there was something special in the simplicity and brevity of the original game. Portal focused on the gameplay, with only a rudimentary plot tied together by fantastic humor and characters, and at only a few hours long it didn't overstay its welcome. At closer to 10 hours long, the sequel takes a risk in losing this aspect, and indeed the typically flawless pacing of the game does drag a bit toward the middle when much of the exposition takes place, something which is not at all like Valve.

Amazingly, this is just the single-player I've discussed so far. Portal 2 also comes with a fully realised co-op mode, featuring two all new, loveable and fully customisable robot characters, complete with their own unique plot line which runs parallel to the single-player game. The core gameplay is the same, but now with greater emphasis on teamwork, bringing a welcome new perspective to the gameplay. In effect, once you've completed the meaty single-player game, you'll find a whole other story to play through, as long as you can find a friend to join you.

So is Portal 2 one of the best games ever? The actual game is every bit as good as the original, in many ways better, and now comes with a full multiplayer co-op mode. Much depends on whether you appreciate the more detailed and ambitious narrative, or prefer the shorter original. In addition, I suspect that the element of surprise played a big part in the original's success, something which is mostly lost this time around.

Nevertheless, Portal 2 stands as one of the most finely honed examples of videogame around, and has set a tough precedent for 2011's other titles to follow. I meanwhile may have come down with a case of PPD.

Clever puzzles
Engrossing and flawlessly presented game world
Brilliant humor

Lacks the shock and wow factor of the original
Deeper narrative ambitions may turn off some people

Saturday 23 April 2011

song of the week: "Stuck on the Puzzle" by "Alex Turner"

thing that makes me smile today: Finally taking a trip out to the English vineyards. Thanks to global warming they're slowly getting better and better.

pic of the day
bill o'reilly can't explainIN:
Portal 2

Crysis 2

Monday 18 April 2011

Since time immemorial Nintendo has utterly dominated the handheld gaming market. With 150 million units shipped, Nintendo's most recent handheld, the DS, dwarfs the sales of every other portable electronic device. Now with increased competition from the likes of Apple and the indefatigable Sony, how can Nintendo stay maintain their position in the market? The answer, Nintendo execs hope, is the 3DS.

nintendo 3ds review

Ninendo boffins have resisted the urge to turn their signature handheld into a multi-purpose phone, mp3/video playing, all singing all dancing device. At launch the 3DS comes with a camera, some social features and, of course, the games. Internet features, an app store akin to DSiWare and potentially 3D film playback are on the way, but clearly I have been unable to review them.

Of course, the headline feature is the 3D display, and for those of you wondering whether or not it actually works, I am pleased to be able to tell you, yes it does.The 3DS screen uses some pretty clever technology which allows each eye to detect different pixels, allowing a 3D image to form. It's used in pretty much everything on the 3DS, from the games to the nifty main menu, to the camera.

The first thing users will see is this menu, which draws a great deal of inspiration from the Wii and its "channels", it is from here that one can change the main settings, calibrate the 3D and use any of the various "apps" available. Of course, I went straight for the 3D camera just to really put it through its paces.

There are actually two cameras on the 3DS, a front facing 2D camera, and a back facing 3D one, so make sure not to get the two confused like I did. The cameras themselves are not particularly high quality, but it doesn't especially matter since at the moment there is no way to get photos off the 3DS onto other devices, not that there's any reason you would want to unless you're blessed with various 3D displays. Nevertheless, the pictures one gets are actually in 3D, which is exceptionally cool for the first half hour or so.

A far more interesting use for the camera is the "augmented reality" game, which uses special cards that come with the system to add various 3D objects to the real world, as seen on screen via the 3D camera. This can be used simply for photos (one can pose with Mario, Link and various posable Nintendo characters or your custom Mii) or for games, which so far includes a target shooting game.

The 3DS also comes equipped with various games oriented around your Mii, which for the uninitiated is a custom avatar you can design to look like yourself or whoever you want. The twist is that the 3DS uses its wireless technology to interact with any nearby 3DSes, which allows Miis from different systems to visit one another, and otherwise expand the Mii adventure game. Naturally the 3DS also comes with a fully fledged messaging system.

These social features are pretty pointless at the moment however, unless you happen to be living next door to someone who has a 3DS. The chances of you coming within wireless range of someone on the street or public transport, while you happen to be playing your 3DS, for a long enough period of time for this to actually work, are very low at the moment. Of course it's early days, and with the 3DS currently flying off the shelves this may not always be the case. A greater concern is the battery life, which is pretty bad at only 3-5 hours, meaning you're not really going to carry it around with you all day anyway.

But of course this is a Nintendo system, which means the focus is always going to be on the games. It is a shame then that the console has launched with such a lacklustre lineup. You have Street Fighter IV, Pro Evolution Soccer for football fans, and Pilot Wings if you want to show off the 3D... but other than that it's slim pickings at the moment. The 3D is great on all accounts, particularly Pilot Wings, which essentially does for the 3DS what Wii Sports did for the Wii, but it's premature to pass judgement before the summer when the likes of Zelda, Star Fox and Mario Kart are all scheduled to release. As with any Nintendo console, success will ultimately lie with the in-house produced games.

For those of you who are interested in horsepower, the 3DS ranks on a par with the Wii; so more powerful than the PSP, iPhone and about on a par with the new iPad, but clearly not as hefty as the likes of Xbox 360 or PS3. That being said, Nintendo has never been a company that worries too much about such things.

So is it a risky strategy for Nintendo, paying only lip service to the increasing cry for multi-functional devices while concentrating predominantly on the games? Yes, but then the same can be said for the Wii, and that product went on to completely decimate the more versatile competition. Is the 3D a gimmick? A bit, especially with the cheap and cheerful games that are out now, essentially just for testing purposes. The real test will come when the AAA titles come out later this year.

So the conclusion for now: impressive hardware, bags of potential. But at the moment there are still a lot of features left incomplete, and a lack of killer games. If you've resisted the call of 3D games thus far, you can afford to wait until the summer by which point we will have a better idea of how it stacks up as a gaming device.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Genre Folk, Baroque Pop
Label Sub Pop
Producer Phil Ek
Release Date May 3rd

fleet foxes helplessness blues album review

There will always be talk of the perilous sophomore album. Many formidable bands have struggled under the weight of expectation that a massively successful debut can engender; do you attempt to recapture the magic of the first album and risk being branded a one-note wonder, or try to evolve the sound and risk alienating the fans? It's a delicate position to be in.

With their followup album Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes have attempted to harness the best of both worlds, striking a note that will be familiar to existing fans, while also treading new ground. Indeed, considering the number of musicians who have tried to copy the Fleet Foxes style since they first broke onto the scene in 2008, it is a tribute to the band's creativity that this album still sounds completely unique and distinct. Pretenders take note, the masters of the folk-rock revival have returned.

The opening track Montezuma establishes the thematic context that pervades the entire album; feelings of existential uncertainty and regret, of lapsed potential and that crunch moment where the young man must become an adult, and turn childhood ambition into reality.

Bedouin Dress laments the debt of youth at a moment when one seeks the enamor of a settled life, while struggling with wistful longing for the safety of childhood fantasy. Musically the track draws heavily on the nostalgic instrumentalisation of Simon & Garfunkel, nagging strings driving home the frustration of a narrator on the precipice.

We are given a dose of vintage Fleet Foxes in Battery Kinzie, a track full of pomp and newfound energy which changes the dynamic from despair and anxiety in the first third of the album to a sound more of confidence and determination. Lyrically the song focuses more specifically on the regret of past failed romances, to which the narrator responds with resolve to atone and make amends.

Next we have the title track, Helplessness Blues which appropriately epitomises the narrative thread of searching for identity and societal placement which weaves throughout the album, now with the redoubtable spirit and determination to address these challenges. The music harkens back to the rhythm and harmony laden grooves of White Winter hymnal from the band's debut album, with an additional coda serving as a dreamy reminder of deeper desires for peace and stability buried beneath this fa├žade. This is certainly one of the finest moments the band has yet produced, and one of the best amalgamations of the best elements of folk and rock that I've heard.

The album relents somewhat in the final third, beginning with Someone You'd Admire, a melancholy track in which the narrator seems to admit defeat in his desire to become that which is described in the song title. Despite his best efforts, he is a slave to his true nature. Serene harmonies and the dulcet acoustic melody present a bittersweet note of futile acceptance through what some might expect to be a moment of despair.

What follows is one of the stronger moments on the album. The Shrine/An Argument is an 8 minute epic in which we follow our narrator as he sinks deeper and more openly into despair. The song is easily the most raw and dirty that we've heard from Fleet Foxes, with arguably the best vocal performance we've seen yet from vocalist Robin Pecknold.

The bleak Blue Spotted Tail is the most low-fi track on the album, featuring only the faintest of acoustic picks and soft vocals. Here a more at ease voice opines a brief tone of peace through acceptance.

We finish on a somewhat more optimistic and sweet note with closing song Grown Ocean. A suddenly more upbeat pace is offset by Beach Boys style backing vocals and hopeful musings of the future. Constantly we hear reference to the "dream", one which despite setback and bleak outlook, our narrator still believes he will one day achieve.

When Fleet Foxes' debut was released three years ago praise was near universal, with some even hailing them as the new Simon & Garfunkel. Well with this release those claims are only likely to increase in clamour.

Helplessness Blues shows exactly how a second album should be done, with the musical sensibilities and creative nuance retained from the debut, and imbued with a far more ambitious thematic and narrative context. The follow up improves upon the original in pretty much every way, and confirms that Fleet Foxes are here to stay.

Must Listen
Helplessness Blues

Someone You'd Admire

The Shrine/An Argument

Grown Ocean

Saturday 9 April 2011

song of the week: "You Know What I mean" by "Cults"

thing that makes me smile today: Jon Stewart's tribute to Glenn Beck upon the cancellation of his TV show..

pic of the week
angry birds hitchcockIN:
Glenda Jackson
Sims Medieval

Sarah Teather
Sims 3

Friday 8 April 2011

Genre Alternative
Label Warner Bros.
Producer Brian Deck
Release Date Out Now

iron and wine kiss each other clean

Kiss Each Other Clean is the most recent addition to Iron and Wine's increasingly adventurous catalogue of albums. Sam Beam continues the band's reinvention from placid acoustic folk to creative, ambitious soundscape, and the end product is the broadest and most accomplished work he's yet produced.

Despite the evolution, this is still the same Iron and Wine; the album flows with typically warm and delicate hues and the lingering vocals strike a sweet note. But the lush full band backing adds unexpected layers and offbeat filters to their characteristic sound, achieving a fresh tone that rightly straddles the boundary of their established range.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the first track with the simmering and soulful Walking Far From Home. This is probably the best example on the album of filter effects being applied, crafting what is a dreamy and serene tune.

One of the better songs on the album is Tree By the River, one of the poppier numbers the band has produced and undeniably catchy. A perfect summer song elicits a tangible glow and evokes notions of sleepy, youthful days in the park.

Softly spoken repose proceeds in Half Moon with the addition of doo-wop ladies and typically low-fi pep.

Godless Brother in Love, meanwhile, takes the album in a more fragile and pensive direction, returning to the milieu of sensitive folk that Iron and Wine is better known for, with a hint of Don McLean, pulling off one of Beam's finer vocal performances.

For all the quirky and interesting sounds the album often feels like an unfocused affair, mingling with shared thematics and experimenting with genres, but with little overall sense of unity. With the exception of the bookending first and last tracks, the entire core of the album could easily be shuffled at whim and no one would ever notice.

A fine album indeed, and with the summer months approaching, this will make a fine soundtrack for lounging in the sun.

Must Listen
Tree By the River

Walking Far From Home

Half Moon

Godless Brother In Love

Tuesday 5 April 2011

European football is facing the very real prospect of financial crisis. In recent years the transfer market has been riddled with inflation and an explosion of unregulated deficit spending as the top football clubs compete with one another for dominance with little incentive for fiscal responsibility.

Clearly this system is unsustainable, and on the surface FIFA's decision to implement the so called "Financial Fair Play Rules" seems necessary and has garnered a great deal of support. But through presumably unintended bias, loopholes and a simple lack of foresight, this policy looks set to drastically change the landscape of European football, and further weaken the competitiveness of the domestic leagues.

platini fifa financial fair play


The new set of rules are based around three main objectives, all with the goal of protecting the long-term viability of European club football:

  • To introduce more discipline and rationality in club football finances, combatting inflation
  • To limit the influence of private owners' wealth on club competitiveness, narrowing the artificial and "unfair" divide between top and bottom
  • To encourage long-term investments in the youth sector and infrastructure, as opposed to transfer fees

In short, the idea is that over a rolling three year period, clubs must keep their operating losses below a certain limit, or face penalties which potentially include expulsion from European competition like the Champions League. Even though these rules take effect next year, it won't be until 2014/15 that FIFA is able to start punishing those who don't keep within the rules, and FIFA is still not expected to take serious action until 2018 so long as clubs are able to show that their finances are moving in the right direction before then.

In addition, spending on stadium construction and youth development will be waived from the final "expenses" total as defined under the ruling, the intention being to incentivise football clubs to pursue youth and infrastructure development as a means to progression as opposed to transfer spending and wages. Ultimately it is considered that such investments would increase revenue at the club and promote self sufficiency in the long term.

The push to draw up these rules had come about as a result of the influx of private owners into club football in recent years, which has seen clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and others flourish an increasingly large amount of personal wealth on transfer fees, wages and other club expenditure. The effects of this were twofold: other big clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter Milan had to step up their own expenditure in order to keep pace, and other less wealthy clubs simply have not been able to match up. After all, how could a small club dependent on basic sponsorship and TV money possibly hope to catch bigger teams like Chelsea, whose owner can simply afford to throw another hundred million on squad building at the end of the year?

FIFA deemed this new financial advantage to be an "unfair" abuse of the system, allowing the super-rich to buy their way to glory rather than earning it. Of course this has always been a problem with football going back a hundred years, but it seems as though the authorities have finally decided the scale of the matter is urgent enough to merit action.

The situation now sees players being transferred for fees approaching £100 million, wages exceeding £200,000 per week, and the majority of "elite" football clubs, if not all of them, operating deeply in debt. There is no doubt that action was necessary, but the reality is that such issues are inherent in any free-market system, and slippery enough that these new rules are unlikely to have any tangible effect in the long run, and in fact will probably only make matters worse. Here is why.

TV Money:

English club football has seen something of a renaissance over the past decade. Following heavy investment from the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, other clubs have been forced to step up their own efforts and the overall quality of the league reached a higher level. Success in European competition has followed with no fewer than three English clubs (Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United) reaching the top spot in the European club rankings, two teams have won the Champions League, we've had an all English final, and perhaps most impressively of all, the 2008 competition featured three English clubs in the semi finals.

Champions League success is the holy grail of the football industry. It provides a windfall of cash from the big three of TV, gambling and sponsorship, both to the individual clubs and more pertinently to the domestic league as a whole. As a result, the English Premier League now enjoys roughly £800 million in TV money, more than any other league.

Recognising that the healthiest plan for longterm growth of the league is strong competition, the Premier League distributes all this TV money relatively evenly from top to bottom. At the top, a team like Manchester United will receive around £50 million, whereas a newly promoted club at the foot of the table will receive a healthy £30 million.

This gives the small clubs in the league a significant boost in their push for significance and is just one in a number of factors that has contributed to the overall strength of the Premier League today; now a far less predictable league than any other in Europe, in which quality is more evenly distributed. Indeed it is probably these massive strides that the English clubs have taken in the past decade that first prompted FIFA to map out these new rules in order to limit the influence of these wealthy private owners on European competition and prevent the dominance of any one nation's clubs.

The likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, for their part, responded by stepping up their own spending to even greater levels than we have seen in England, including one world record breaking £80 million signing and a propensity for splashing upwards of £50 million on a single player with alarming regularity. Thus started a transfer market arms race which has directly led to the current unsustainable situation. The problem, as is becoming apparent, is that these Spanish giants have no intention of curbing their spending in spite of the new rules.

You see, the Spanish league has opted for a very different model of distributing TV money, one which allows clubs to negotiate their own deals. Naturally, the outcome is that the big clubs receive considerably more broadcasting revenue than those at the foot of the table. Barcelona and Real Madrid each receive £150 million, together more than half of the league's total TV fund, more than ten times what the team at the bottom of the table receives, and three times what the top clubs in England get.

Think about this for a moment. Under these new Fair Play restrictions, a club will have one of two options: reduce spending, or increase revenue. FIFA's intention is that spending should be cut, but Spain's decision to pour more than half of its TV money into the top two clubs means that they simply don't have to. This £150 million is more than enough to cover even the most exorbitant of transfer spending, and confers a quite ridiculous advantage on those two clubs.

Consider the massive advantage the top Spanish teams would have over their European rivals under this system. Barcelona will receive three times as much TV money as Manchester United, an extra £100 million which can be spent on signing players while United are forced to tighten their belts. Consider that Chelsea FC suffered £50 million (by the definition of "expenses" in this ruling) in operating losses this season, an amount which would disqualify them from the Champions League in seven years time; that extra £100 million would mean the difference between European contention and exclusion from the world's biggest club football competition. Again, the advantage that this system would give the Spanish teams simply can not be overstated. As the rules stand, Spain will be in prime position to dominate club football for years to come.

The English Premier League would then be faced with a choice: lose all that juicy European money, or modify their own TV money distribution to favour the big teams. Sadly I fear it won't be a very hard decision for them to make, and one that will bring competitive imbalance on the pitch and financial tension off the pitch.

And here we have the ultimate failure of the Financial Fair Play rules. They won't curb wreckless spending by the elite clubs, they will simply provide incentives for the football leagues to compensate by distributing funds away from elsewhere and into the coffers of the bigger clubs, so that they can continue to compete on the lucrative world stage. The real losers of this debacle are the teams at the foot of the Premier League, who in a few years time may be earning less through TV money than teams in the Championship.

Deficit Cap:

Possibly the most bewildering of all the loop-holes in this new set of rules regards the deficit limit. The rule states that clubs may not exceed a deficit of £5 million over three years (exempting, as stated before, investment in infrastructure and youth), but the same rule also states that clubs are allowed to extend the deficit to a substantial £45 million in operating losses, so long as those additional losses can be paid for as equity by the club's shareholders. Yes, you read that correctly, clubs can exceed the deficit cap by an additional £40 million, so long as their owners are rich enough to pay for it out of their own pocket.

This after all is policy which ostensibly is based around the idea of reducing the "unfair" advantage that having a billionaire owner brings to a football club, and yet such clubs are allowed an additional £40 million in transfer spending over their less wealthy rivals. That's two Didier Drogbas worth.

There is no way to consider this anything other than an utter absurdity; rather than limiting the advantage that a wealthy club has over a smaller one, this rule formalises the dynamic, mandates it even! Far from discouraging clubs from selling out to rich, big spending private investors, this would seem to give them an even bigger incentive to do just that.


So what effect is this new set of rules likely to have on European football going forward? Let's make a few predictions. To begin with, focusing such tight regulation on one single financial aspect is clearly going to throw the football economy out of balance for a while.

There are three main sources for a club's income: broadcasting revenue, commercial revenue and matchday revenue. This new rule conspicuously focuses almost entirely on reducing transfer and wage expenditure, key avenues by which a club can make investments under the intention of increasing commercial revenue. Invariably the result of this is that clubs will need to turn to the other two areas in order to increase revenues.

As I've already discussed, the increasing dependence on TV revenue is the biggest issue. Either FIFA is going to have to come back and issue new rules addressing the disparity in TV revenue, or the Premier League is going to have little choice but to redistribute the bulk of its money to the big clubs in order to maintain competitiveness in Europe.

The effect this might have on European football is minimal, maintaining the status quo and making it even harder for smaller clubs to break into the elite. The ultimate outcome can only be a widening of the already detrimental gulf between top and bottom in the domestic leagues. A big victory for the most powerful football clubs, a big defeat for football in general.

In addition this result would confer a big advantage on clubs which already have a successful commercial operation, especially since investment in infrastructure and stadium building (the main contributors to matchday income) are exempt from the new restrictions.

This is great news for a team like Chelsea which from a financial perspective doesn't really need to invest anymore in players judging by their already reasonable commercial revenue, so long as their rivals are not able to either, while allowing them to invest in matchday revenue sources (currently their weakest area) without restraint. Conversely it's a massive blow to a team like Arsenal which is already earning as much as it possibly can be on matchday courtesy of their new stadium (indeed they are completely dependent on this income at the moment), while their commercial revenue frankly pales in comparison to the other big clubs, barely ranking in the top 20 in Europe. These new rules would leave them at a distinct disadvantage, with few options for increasing revenue in the short term.

More interesting though is the example of the German league. While not typically considered at the same level as the domestic leagues in Spain and England, the Germans are definitely on the rise in a big way, particularly recently following the continental success of Bayern Munich.

It will no doubt surprise most people to learn that Bayern Munich generate the most commercial revenue of any club in Europe, more than Real Madrid and Barcelona, more than Manchester United and Chelsea. This is a common theme in the German league in general, where teams on average have a considerably stronger stream of commercial revenue than their counterparts in England and Spain. The fact, then, that German clubs are not the richest in the world owes itself to weak matchday income. Clearly there is a lot of room for growth there, and now with these new rules, German clubs have effectively been given carte blanche to invest accordingly in this area. Don't be surprised if you see a new era of German club football over the next decade.

Ultimately, restricting the abuse of personal wealth is a difficult issue, one which far more competent governing bodies than FIFA have tried and failed to implement. Meddling of this nature was always going to have unexpected consequences, and unfortunately the Financial Fair Play Rules, as they currently stand, seem only to succeed in exacerbating the issue, shifting the burden onto the smaller clubs who can least afford it.

Saturday 2 April 2011

song of the week: "Tree By the River" by "Iron and Wine"

thing that makes me smile today: April fools day. The Guardian's live blog was awesome, but Virgin just about wins the day.

pic of the day
charlie sheen winningIN:
House of Commons
Andy Carroll

House of Lords
Jermain Defoe

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