About plastic clubs

Plastic teams are a touchy and controversial subject in football world. Some tend to remark either their lack of tradition among top teams, their sudden rise to prominence once they were taken over by rich owners, their impact in the player market flowing “too much cash”, a practice some argue said plastic teams started, and, on the field, the lack of chemistry between players due to their buying of mostly star players from big teams without regard for the position they tend to play on.

I wouldn’t necessarily argue with said points, but let’s remember football as a whole tends to be plagued by this growing lack of spirit and over importance of money, see the players who can no longer handle playing on a top level seeking a higher pay in China instead of trying to re-launch their careers at an European team. While once top players signing outside Europe is nothing new, thinking about how many players have turned to USA’s Major Soccer League in the past, they did it once they were old enough to be somewhat of a burden to big teams, and that spell in the United States would be their retirement from football. I think money started having a bigger priority over spirit once Florentino Perez took over Real Madrid in the early 2000s. One would tend to refer to the sale of Claude Makelele to bring Manchester United’s David Beckham over to Santiago Bernabeu in 2003, as the beginning of this “dark era”. The move earned criticism from a lot of fans and even players, despite Perez shacking off Makelele’s spell and outright declaring and I quote, “he will not be missed”. Even Zinedine Zidane disagreed, his “Why put a layer of gold on the bentley when you’re losing the engine?” question remaining famous up to this day.

Back on the topic at hand, even these plastic clubs have something that tends to place them in a better light.

Manchester City

It’s possibly the most hated plastic team in European football, since their rise to prominence in a league that had European top teams like Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and, more recently, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur,  was one of the breaks in said teams’ streak, and that wasn’t very appreciated by fans both in England and abroad. Abu Dhabi United Group’s purchase of Manchester City in 2008 was both their salvation from a financially precarious situation and the catalyst of their recent establishment as a Premier League title contender. At the time the club was granted a Fair Play entry in the UEFA Cup, and the influx of cash helped the club reach the competition’s quarter-finals. After another UEFA Europa League (the rebranded UEFA Cup) participation, Manchester City won their first Premier League title in 2012 and from there on went to win two more (2014 and 2018), as well as establishing themselves as a regular presence in the UEFA Champions League, with the best result being a semi-final against Real Madrid in 2016.

Ok, now one would argue they were a “shit team” before and the Arabian cash suddenly pulled them up. Founded in 1880 (1894 with their current name), Manchester City is mostly known for being that team that was always in Manchester United’s shadow. Well, that isn’t quite accurate, to be honest. Even City had two league titles in their record, won in 1937 and 1968, and an European Cup Winners Cup, won in 1970 with Polish side Gornik Zabre. To be fair, after 1958 (the Munich air disaster), Manchester United wasn’t a force anymore until Sir Alex Ferguson’s takeover in 1986. United even relegated in 1974, and that was after a Manchester Derby, with ex Man United legend Denis Law scoring for City in a 1-0 win on Old Trafford being exactly the cause of the relegation. Now, I agree that Manchester United is a brand and was above Manchester City for most of their history, but City had their moments of glory. Not misunderstanding, that’s not to say their best days weren’t after the takeover.

Paris Saint-Germain

One could argue Paris Saint-Germain is more of a straight forward example of what a plastic club is. After their take over by the Qatar Sports Investment, PSG established dominance in France, winning 5 league titles up to date (4 consecutive from 2013 to 2016 and one in 2018) and became a recently regular presence in the UEFA Champions League, in the same fashion Olympique Lyon conquered all their 7 titles in the 2000s and had those amazing campaigns in the Champions League; as well as having completed signings of rather high profile players, such as David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Neymar among others.  It’s even more so since, unlike Manchester City, they don’t have strong opposition to battle for the league title, since we all know the French championship tends to be weaker than the Portuguese or even Ukrainian one at times.

Not many things can be said in PSG’s defense, to be honest. The team isn’t even 50 years old yet, having been founded in 1970 after the merger between Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain. It’s popularity rose for becoming Paris’ only team in Ligue 1, and established some sort of a fierce rivalry with Olympique Marseille, one based on rather the geographical and social rivalry between Paris and Marseille than the two teams competing for achievements on an anual basis, and soon become the fiercest rivalry in French football, nicknamed Le Classique, but other than that, it was just your regular French football team, winning a league title in 1986 and struggling with relegation next years. PSG had its fair share of success in the 90s, when Canal + took over the club. With players like George Weah, David Ginola and Valdo Filho, among others, PSG went on to win its second league title in 1994, and the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1996, becoming the only French team beside Marseille to win an European trophy. The take on this team is more complicated than Manchester City’s case, it had more success than City before the takeover, even going as far as UEFA Champions League’s semi-finals in 1995, but it’s so much younger than said club.

Chelsea

I probably shouldn’t include Chelsea in this list, but some people tend to consider it a plastic team for some reasons. Granted, the club experienced its most  successful period in history since Roman Abramovich’s takeover in June 2003, but it had far more achievements than a regular plastic team both before and after the takeover by a rich owner. On terms of major trophies, 5 Premier League titles (2005, 2006, 2010, 2015, 2017) were added to their record, but, in the 2000s, with players like John Terry, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, Frank Lampard,  Claude Makelele, Andriy Shevchenko, Paulo Fereira, Ricardo Carvalho, they played as far from a plastic team as fashion goes. Besides, Chelsea reaching the UEFA Champions League final in 2008, which they lost to Manchester United at penalties after 1–1 after regular time, and winning the finally winning the Champions League in 2012 over Bayern Munich, again at penalties after 1–1, is something most teams dream of achieving.

Chelsea was founded in 1905, and for most of the part it’s true that it’s role was rather minor in English football. They won their first league title in 1955, and were invited to the inaugural edition of the European Cup as a result, but FA forbidding their participation, resulting in Manchester United becoming the first English club in the European Cup one year later, and a UEFA Cup Winners Cup won in 1971. I’d dare say Chelsea’s rise steams from the 90s, a decade before Abramovich. With a generation with Gullit, Vialli, Zolla, Di Matteo, Dan Petrescu, Frank Leboeuf among others, Chelsea went on to win another UEFA Cup WInners Cup in 1998, along the UEFA Supercup against Real Madrid. Chelsea’s debut in the Champions League was in 1999, in a 3-0 win with Skonto Riga, and the team went on to the quarter-finals, where they were eliminated by Barcelona. After a few years in the UEFA Cup, the 2003-04 season once again proved successful, Chelsea reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

Leipzig, Red Bull Salzburg and other examples

Now these two are the most straight forward examples of plastic teams I could ever hope to give, it’s the term itself to the latter. Red Bull Salzburg was formed in 2005, after Red Bull took over Austria Salzburg and rebranded it, declaring that “it’s a new club with no history”; the take over had most fans of Austria Salzburg form their own team in the lower leagues, but all they have achieved it’s a dominance in Austria with 9 league titles won ever since their formation, the club having never made it to the UEFA Champions League group stages in 7 clear attempts, losing to even teams like Dudelange, Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Malmo, Dinamo Zagreb, Rijeka and, most recently, Red Star Belgrade.

RB Leipzig, on the other hand, was formed in 2009, in Oberliga (5th German league), and earned a few promotions until making their debut in Bundesliga in 2016. Their first season in Bundesliga had them ridiculously finish on second place and qualify for the Champions League, in a group with Monaco, Besiktas and Porto. Eventually, after finishing that group on third place, they went on to the Europa League quarter-finals, eliminated by Marseille.

Other most notable examples of plastic teams in European football, in lower championships, could include: Viktoria Plzen, Ludogorets Razgrad, CFR Cluj, Skenderbeu Korce, BATE Borisov, etc.

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