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Football, Cricket, BRICS and the UK economy

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The changing face of football (and cricket) can tell us a lot about the emergence of the BRICS, and the challenges the UK economy faces if it wants to keep up.

What have the top division of English football and the UK economy got in common? World-leaders in the late 19th Century, massive debt-fuelled growth from the mid 1990s to the late 2000s, both the Premier League and London's markets were watched by disproportionately large audiences around the world.

Belligerent Blues from both the Premier League and No10 can still make headlines in Europe, leaving nasty tastes in the mouths of their French and German counterparts. But the quality and value of the stock of both has diminished.

In the face of this decline, emerging markets - especially the BRICS - are increasingly important as a threat or an opportunity. How well the Government and the Premier League clubs are able to nurture the talent of tomorrow, and whether they invest in the right infrastructure now will determine how well they can compete in the long term.

Football

The thriving economies of Brazil, Russia and China have football clubs increasingly prepared to splash the cash for big names. Didier Drogba could become a recruit for Shanghai Shenhua of China, joining former Chelsea teammate Nicolas Anelka, and Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala have already (reputedly) made Samuel Eto'o the world's best paid player. In both cases, businessmen enriched by more liberalised markets have been able to bankroll the clubs.

It's just like watching Brazil play cricket

In Brazil, you don't necessarily just need a billionaire backer. Massive sponsorship and TV deals are now the norm as companies target a growing and increasingly affluent middle class. This means that fewer Brazilian players are rushing off to Europe to earn their fortunes, and Brazilian clubs are even in the market for expensive imports - as with Corinthians of Sao Paulo's bid for Carlos Tevez.

Football isn't such a big deal in India, but cricket is enormous. And, like in Brazil, there's an emerging and enriched middle class that corporate sponsors and TV are desperate to tap into. This can lead to eye watering deals for the likes of Kevin Pietersen.

W(h)ither the UK?

The massive and increasing buying power of the BRICS in the footballing world is replicated in the real economy and Britain has some shining examples of businesses that export to the BRICS. For example, Jaguar Land Rover has been enthusiastically exporting vehicles to the BRICS, where those newly affluent middle classes have money to spend.

Similarly, Mace has made successful inroads selling consultancy to countries like China, where economic growth is supported by major investments in infrastructure. Given this, it's no wonder that the UK Government is trumpeting an export-led recovery.

So what's stopping you?

Are we doing enough to help our companies grow and thrive in the export market? UKTI has an improving reputation, David Cameron and Vince Cable have led trade missions galore to the BRICS, and we even packed Prince Harry off to Brazil.

But we're hobbling ourselves in other ways. Lack of airport capacity in London & the South East is a massive and worsening problem. Two flights a week to Sao Paulo won't help flog too many footballers (or anything else) - even in the era of Skype the best business is still done face-to-face - and we're falling behind our competitors in the rest of Europe.

Skills remain a problem - employers continue to bemoan the quality of staff available to them, a problem exacerbated in the short term by tightening immigration controls. And SMEs are still struggling to get finance, both choking off the growth of the big exporters of tomorrow and stifling the suppliers of today's big exporters.

Defying gravity

Barcelona blew away another Sao Paulo team, the South American champions Santos, in the Club World Cup in 2011. Chelsea could therefore delude themselves that their Champions League semi-final conquest of the Catalan club this year effectively makes them world champions. No-one else would believe this, and few believe that a better export performance in March means UK PLC suddenly leads the world economically.

Much like Chelsea, who need to replace the ageing, creaking former world beaters (Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard), the Government needs to get investment into Britain's infrastructure and nurture its home grown talent if the gravity-defying performances by British clubs and businesses aren't to become the exceptions rather than the rule.