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Brighton face Middlesbrough in football’s richest game
What’s the richest game in football?
Not the World Cup final.
Nor the Champions League final, for which the winner earns £10.5 million in prize money, just £4 million more than the runners-up.
Leicester City’s stunning Premier League title victory has had a game-changing effect for the Midlands club and was worth £24.7 million in title money and millions upon millions more in shirt sales, game-day revenues and brand value.
Yet the richest game in football this season will be a far less illustrious fixture: a meeting between Middlesbrough and Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday in the industrial city of Middlesbrough. It’s a winner-take-all meeting between the two Championship clubs with a spoils of well over £100 million in television money alone.
The two clubs will battle at Riverside Stadium in the ultimate climax to the Championship promotion race. The winner will join Burnley in the Premier League next season, the most lucrative promotion to date given the league’s new TV deal.
“We’ll be watched everywhere on the planet,” Middlesbrough Aitor Karanka says. “The whole world wants to see our game.”
The two clubs are currently tied on points heading into the last game of the season and Middlesbrough maintain a narrow edge on goal differential. The last time the two sides met, Karanka’s men clinched the top spot at Christmas with an emphatic 3-0 victory.
Since, though, Middlesbrough suffered a major bump in the road in the spring. After narrowly missing out on promotion in the Championship playoffs last season, they soared towards the top of the table, losing just one of their first twelve matches.
Then, however, there came a wobble in the road when the club splashed out £10 million for Jordan Rhodes in January, against the will of Karanka, Jose Mourinho’s former No2 at Real Madrid. Rhodes spread disharmony through the locker room and in a loss to Blackburn in March, banged his boots in the dressing room so Karanka could not be heard.
Later that week, Karanka stormed out a meeting with club executives and was on garden leave for the club’s 2-0 defeat to Charlton. The rumor mill started churning with news of Karanka’s potential successor, only for the Spaniard to return to the club and ignite an unlikely run of form. Nine games later, and Middlesbrough haven’t lost, although three consecutive draws have jeopardized their promotion bid and let Brighton back into the race. Rumor has it, though, that Karanka might be out the door regardless of tomorrow’s result.
By contrast, Brighton have excelled around team unity and harmony and the club have incentivized the entire backroom staff with a promotion bonus. Despite a near escape from relegation last season, chief executive Paul Barber has followed manager Chris Hughton’s lead in the transfer market and is reluctant to make the same mistake as Middlesbrough.
“The manager’s unhappy that he’s got players he just doesn’t want in his group. Or the player’s unhappy because he knows the manager doesn’t want him in the group. Either way it’s totally counterproductive not to start and end with the manager on recruitment. The chairman [Tony Bloom], whose money we’re spending, is intimately involved in the process as well,” said Barber, per the Telegraph.
The club signed Liam Rosenior, Connor Goldson, Anthony Knockaert, Tomer Hemed and Steve Sidwell over the summer and went undefeated in their first twenty-one matches of the season. They have rode a recent surge in form towards the top of the table and they’re undefeated in thirteen matches since late February.
Victory tomorrow would seal the most unlikely of promotion stories and, of course, £100 million pounds that would more than return the club’s recent investment in the stadium and first team.
Photo credit: James Boyes (Lewes 0 BHA 0 18 July 2015-1173.jpg) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons