World soccer: ballin' vs. budget
Alex Rodriguez; Mark Teixeira; C.C. Sabathia; These players are superstars, yet none of them are the first to come to mind when the New York Yankees are mentioned. The faces of the Yankees for the last 10 years have undoubtedly been Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. The reason being that they were both brought up through the farm system, and the fans saw them go from rookies to future hall-of-famers in the Yankees’ pinstripes.
In today’s sporting world, money is starting to become synonymous with victory, regardless of the sport. The Yankees are the defending world champions with the highest payroll in baseball. The NBA’s Miami Heat just became favorites by purchasing two superstars in LeBron James and Chris Bosh. European soccer teams like Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid have significantly increased their productivity over the last few years with big purchases.
However, over the last three weeks, an event not even mentioned on Sportsillustrated.com provided a victory for the small guy. Le Stade Rennais, a French Ligue 1 soccer team, defeated Toulouse 3-1 and tied Lens 0-0 to become the last undefeated team in the league and take the lead in the standings for the first time in 40 years. In the meantime, the big spenders of the league, Marseille and Lyon, remained fourth and 14th, respectively. During the offseason, Marseille bought Andre-Pierre Gignac and Lyon bought Yoann Gourcuff, the two biggest names on the French market. However, Rennes will go into week 11 in the lead.
Rennes’ resurgence is what provides hope for smaller-budget teams. Rennes has the reputation of having one of the best, if not the best, farm systems in France. Rennes has been rising in the French rankings for several years now, finishing fourth (qualifying for the Liga Europa) twice in the last five years. The culmination of their efforts came this season as Rennes not only took the lead, but also had three players on the French national team. Rennes’ farm system has also produced many other high-class players such as Gourcuff and Petr Cech.
While nobody knows how the season will end for Rennes (there are 28 games remaining), we do know that they have shown that a great farm system can contend with a huge budget. They have shown that with years of training and hard work, sometimes the little guy wins. Sometimes Rocky beats Apollo Creed. Sometimes a group of college kids beats the USSR. Sometimes money doesn’t buy the happiness of victory.