The prime difference between sports in the United States and soccer in Europe is dynasty. Dominant teams will, occasionally, surface in the major leagues of North America: The Golden State Warriors will win three championships in four seasons; the New England Patriots will sustain their success over nearly two decades.
But as a rule, there are checks and balances in place — through player drafts and the presence of a salary cap — to ensure that today’s weak have at least a chance to become tomorrow’s strong.
Soccer has no such mechanisms. It is, instead, driven by a desire not just for success now, but for success in perpetuity. It is a sport defined by dynasty. It is that which encourages not just teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid — owned, in theory, by members, and therefore run by presidents who must seek re-election — but also private entities, like Juventus and Manchester United, to spend recklessly in the pursuit of success.
It is not possible, the executives of those teams know, to sit out a season. It is not possible to rebuild slowly and carefully toward some distant aim. Teams are expected to compete now, to contend now, to win now. If they do not, managers are fired and players are sold and new managers are hired and new players are bought.
A season in which Bayern Munich does not win the Bundesliga is a disaster. Juventus, this summer, might fire a rookie coach because he has not won Serie A — not just in his first season at the club, but in his first season, full stop. Liverpool has been treated, at times, as a laughingstock because a lengthy injury list stopped it from winning a second Premier League title a year after claiming its first in 30 years.
This is the sport’s dominant ethos: That, as Alex Ferguson used to put it, once a trophy is won, you forget about it and seek to win the next. But while that is part of soccer’s appeal — that one victory is never enough — it gives those that run its clubs a problem: There is always another triumph to plan, always another peak to conquer, always another player to buy. That is, ultimately, what fans have been conditioned to expect, and so that is what they demand.