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Still Champions?

16th December 2019

Today's Champions League last 16 draw features teams drawn exclusively from Europe's top five leagues. But that's only half the story.

Football fans won’t need reminding that the draw for the first knockout round of this season’s Champions League takes place today. What they may not realise, though, is that for the first time, the sixteen teams left all play in Europe’s “big five” leagues.

In addition to Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham from the English Premier League, four teams remain from Spain’s La Liga, three from Germany’s Bundesliga, three from Italy’s Serie A and two from France’s Ligue 1.

In the translation industry France, Italy, Germany and Spain are collectively known as FIGS, and when clients want to localise websites, product specifications and marketing material for new territories, these languages have traditionally been high on their list of priorities.

They remain prominent, of course. There are 680 million native speakers of French, Italian, German and Spanish, and 1.02 billion speakers of these languages altogether. But Chinese alone is more widely spoken than all of them combined. And Portuguese has more native speakers than the sum total of French, German and Italian.

So while the traditional powerhouses may be making their presence felt in European football, when it comes to global business it pays to take a broad view.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a series of new tariffs on American imports in September, including a levy of 5% on US crude oil, it sent shockwaves through the American business community. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the trade dispute between the two countries, China is too big a market to ignore. And Brazil, home to over 80% of the world’s Portuguese speakers, is a key importer of British pharmaceuticals and machinery. Of the world’s 500 largest companies, over 400 operate in Brazil, including flagship British businesses such as Rolls Royce, BP and Shell.

We’re two weeks away from the 2020s. English will remain a global lingua franca in this new decade and French, Italian, German and Spanish will still be important business languages. But Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese and Korean are rising. And when we watch the Champions League last 16 ties next February and March we’ll be reminded that Juventus, the pride of Italy, will be pinning their hopes on Brazilians Danilo and Douglas Costa as well as Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Paris St Germain will rely on Angel Di Maria of Argentina and Edison Cavani of Uruguay. Bayern Munich have just given a league debut to midfielder Sarpreet Singh, a New Zealander of Indian descent. Barcelona are only half a team without the genius of Argentina’s Lionel Messi. And where would England’s best teams be without the talent of Egyptian Mo Farah, Senegal’s Mane, Ukrainian Oleksandr Zinchenko, Argentina’s Sergio Aguero, Croatia’s Mateo Kovačić or Son Heung Min of South Korea?

Football isn’t the only global game being played today. To survive and thrive, we all need to maintain strong links with our traditional partners while reaching out further afield and embracing the rising economic powers of the 21st century. There’s no value in just kicking the ball around our own back garden. We need to aim higher. We need to speak to the world.

 

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