The normally sober francophone Swiss newspaper Le Temps was recently moved to ask whether there is any point in continuing with domestic professional football. The editorial in question was partly a howl of anguish at a calamitous season for the clubs in the paper's catchment area. But it also raised a valid question about how clubs in the smaller European countries can remain viable when bigger outfits from elsewhere offer greater glamour by exploiting their status as "the most indebted clubs in the world".
The Austrian state of Carinthia (Kärnten) is best known for being the political stronghold of Jörg Haider, the right-wing populist who died in a car accident in 2008. That the region is less well known for its football is also Haider's legacy. The attempts by the former governor of Carinthia to use local sport as a publicity tool led to the demise of three different clubs and a series of criminal investigations.
The result would have made any autocrat proud. Of the 167 votes cast, 161 were in his favour, five were abstentions and one was void. There was loud applause and wide smiles all round in Madrid on February 16, as Ángel María Villar was re-elected for another four-year term as president of the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF), the Spanish football association.
Simone Farina looked a little lost at the Ballon d'Or presentation last month. But the 29-year-old defender, caught blinking under the bright lights of the Zürich Kongresshaus and nervously glancing over at Marco van Basten, sat in the same row, had as much a right to be there as any of the shortlisted superstars.
Eight years ago Monaco reached the Champions League final. They are now battling against relegation to France's semi-professional third tier. It is a familiar story of decline. Since Didier Deschamps quit as coach 16 months after that European summit against Porto, a succession of managers, directors and presidents have been turfed out or walked away. Each has taken with him a blueprint for success that either failed or was dropped before coming to fruition.
After a chaotic summer for Greek football, the Super League filled its last two places seven games into the season. The delay was caused by an investigation in match-fixing, which resulted in Olympiakos Volou and Kavala being demoted to the fourth tier. The investigation, which concluded in June, lasted ten months and looked into 41 games from the 2009-10 season.
For their live coverage of the second round of the German cup, played in late October, the TV station ZDF chose Borussia Dortmund's encounter with Dynamo Dresden, east Germany's best supported team, who are now back in the second tier after a decade of decline. What happened on the pitch was as dull as had been expected. Dortmund won a lacklustre game 2-0. The events on the terraces and outside the ground, however, had a long-term impact, raising questions about police tactics and the role of the ultra movement in German football.
As the economic crisis deepens in Portugal so the careless spending of years gone by appears increasingly irresponsible. We are left with barely used motorways, superfluous submarines and a small herd of white elephants – most of the Euro 2004 stadiums. The championship was heralded at the time as "a way for Portugal to affirm itself" by José Socrates, who became the country's prime minister between 2005 and 2011. While Euro 2004 was ultimately a huge success as a sporting event, the country is still counting the cost.
It was understandable that many England fans would happily celebrate last November's 1-0 win over the reigning world and European champions at Wembley. There was, though, at least some recognition that Spain have not been at their best recently. Since winning the last World Cup, La selección have qualified for the summer's Euro 2012 finals with a 100 per cent record. But they have also lost 4-1 to Argentina, 4-0 to Portugal and 2-1 to Italy in friendlies, while also drawing with Mexico and Chile. A number of reasons have been put forward for this, including less motivated players, highly motivated rivals, inter-club politics and the idea that extra substitutions helps opponents counter Spain's tiki-taka style. A further factor should be added – money.
"This time, we are not here just to have fun." So said APOEL Nicosia coach Ivan Jovanovic in August, after his team had booked their place in the Champions League group stages for the second time in three seasons. However, as Jovanovic and his players received a heroes' welcome as they passed through the airport following the draw with Zenit St Petersburg that saw them qualify to the last 16, they were certainly enjoying themselves.