The 2023 UEFA Champions League final is wrought with drama on the pitch, but the perspective from outside of the lines is perhaps more compelling. From the financial disparity between the Premier League and Serie A to the almost inverted storylines of Inter Milan and Manchester City, we explore the off-the-pitch implications from the biggest club football match of the year.
The Champions League final is here, and we’re seeing a team who’ve found recent success domestically but is yet to achieve the pinnacle of continental football coming up against a side who is drenched in history, both in their own country and Europe. Manchester City will play in their second final versus three-time winner, Internazionale FC. This fixture acts as yet another signal for the changing of the arc in European football and also the ever-increasing gulf between the Premier League and the rest of the continent.
Inter have a history of success. They’re seeped in a rich and meaningful history. Meanwhile, Manchester City’s success comes more recently, following their takeover by Abu Dhabi billionaires in 2008. With multiple Premier League trophies, five of which have come in the last six years, they’re truly a dominant force in the English game and will be regarded as one of the best club sides ever.
But this Champions League final is about as much off the pitch as on it, with it raising multiple contextual issues and faults within the sport itself before a ball has even been kicked in Istanbul.
The financial gulf between the Premier League and Serie A is humungous. Teams promoted to the Premier League this year received around a total of £100 million in prize money, four times more than what Italian clubs received for getting promoted to Serie A.
In 2022, it was reported that the Premier League receives 10 times the TV revenue that Serie A does, an incredible number which reaches the billions. To avoid naivety, it must be said that there’s a wider conversation to be had here around the running of the leagues, the context of the nations themselves, and the landscape UEFA and FIFA have built. The Premier League is light years ahead of Serie A financially and it’s not stopping anytime soon.
Whether Italian football fans like it or not, the Premier League is run properly from a business perspective. Marketed correctly and branded right, its position in global football is prominent, if not entirely dominant. It’s without a doubt the most popular league in the world, and some would call it the “best.”
Conversely, Serie A has been mishandled ever since the Premier League was introduced and has failed to progress from being the best league in the world from the ’80s and ’90s. It hasn’t developed, nor has it evolved. The league needs a big overhaul, a large change of focus, and a kick up the backside in order to start being regarded in the same category as the Premier League.
On the pitch, the game is all but decided in the eyes of English football fans, and probably a lot of Italian ones, too. Manchester City is scintillating, their football is outstanding. Pep Guardiola is no doubt a tactical genius and the work he’s done at every club he’s been to is nothing short of phenomenal (I won’t entertain the arguments around his budgets and “ready-made sides,” but I will acknowledge the FFP breaches, albeit not directly his fault).
Inter are having a slightly different time, with a Scudetto win under Antonio Conte in 2020-21 and a lingering presence around the top four since.
The Premier League is often branded as the Super League. There was a horrendous attempt of launching one in 2021, but some think that we didn’t need a new one as we already have one in the form of the top flight in England. That notion is entirely financial however, as if you look at the recent history of European football, it’s dominated by Spanish sides. What is the issue, though, is the financial state of the game. Everything is tailored to the English game, and it’s becoming increasingly worrying that we will see other leagues fall so far behind that they cease to exist, or turn to the likes of Saudi Arabia to host their cup finals and a handful of league games.
This final’s not a David vs. Goliath, or at least not in the normal sense of the phrase. Manchester City are not at that historical behemoth level that other clubs are, and Inter are far from a minnow and should merely be seen as an underdog in terms of on-the-field play. In fact, if you asked this question 30 years ago, it’d be exactly the same but reversed.
Inter are a global superclub — they’ve got three European Cups and have major success domestically. But this game acts as a new meaning of the phrase, with it being a battle between David and Goliath’s financially motivated siblings.