Sunday, 17 June 2012

Euro 2012 - The tournament that money cannot buy

Euro 2012 has been growing on me. I hate the adverts with fake fans waving flags, corporate sponsors pretending to like football, The facepaints, the Mexican Waves - and Ireland’s footballers’ (but not the fans’) performances have been disappointing. On the whole, however, it has been pretty good so far. But there is one thing I have particularly enjoyed – the fact that no-one can buy this tournament.

If you have read my previous blog, you will be aware of my depressed state about the state and future of football. Clubs who got rich by winning the lottery, instead of long-term hard work and careful management won the big prizes. Cardiff have had to change their shirt colours because their new Malaysian owners think red is a lucky colour and the Chinese prefer dragons to bluebirds.

The thing I really like about the Euros is that no-one can buy the cup. Money is irrelevant in this competition. Players play for teams not because they are paid a fortune, but because it is their country; teams are bound together not by a billionaire’s money but by national origin; fans support the team not because they are successful but because that’s their country.

International football these days is of a lower standard than club football. Teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid Bayern Munich etc. have more time together, and can be assembled from any part of the world. If you don’t have a good left back you go out and buy one. If there isn’t a good English left back, then tough, you have to make do with what you have. As a result, club football has overtaken international football as the pinnacle of the game. To be honest I have always favoured club before country. But I just wonder if the tide will turn. As more and more of club football gets dominated by the lottery of billionaires buying toys to play with, maybe international football will be the only place left where football retains a bit of purity, the only place where money does not win.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Money and the Future of Football

Ever since Man City won the Premier League and Chelsea won the Champions League I have felt rather depressed about the state and future of football. I’ve have fired off the odd frustrated tweet about how Money has finally won the day, but usually get messages back accusing me of sour grapes because Man United didn’t win anything this season. 140 characters is not enough to mount an argument, so this is to explain my point.

It’s not that I don’t like them. I actually quite like watching Man City play. Mancini, Kompany etc. have been truly gracious in victory (Chelsea are a different story, but I won’t go there!). And for the umpteenth time, yes of course I know Man United have spent a lot of money in recent years. It is impossible to win anything big in football these days without spending money. The point however is how that money has been acquired and the degree to which that money swings the ability to win trophies. The difference between Man City & Chelsea and all the other main clubs at the top of the EPL (Arsenal, Liverpool, Man United, Spurs etc.) is that Chelsea and Man City alone have been massively boosted by the random injection of unimaginable amounts of cash by individual donors, money which at least in Abramovitch’s case is highly dubious, as pointed out by Dave Boyle in a recent article.

Roman Abramovitch and Sheikh Mansour could have chosen any club, but happened to choose Chelsea and Man City as objects of their largesse. In other words the money acquired has little to do with their identity or history as a club, skill at management, whether or not they have bought or sold well, levels of support, fan loyalty etc. United, Liverpool, Arsenal etc. have survived and sometimes thrived, instead by virtue of a gradual build-up of good management, tradition, stewardship of resources etc. In fact for many of them, their owners have been a handicap to success rather than a bonus. The Hicks & Gillette era at Liverpool was an unmitigated disaster. United have spent £71m on debt repayments over the past 9 months - they could have bought two Eden Hazards for that, with some change left over. In addition, the money Chelsea and Man City receive means they can offer players virtually what they want, which means that clubs such as Arsenal and United will struggle to attract top players any more, or at least ones for whom the pay packet is a primary factor in who to sign up for. In addition it means that clubs like Portsmouth and Leeds have almost gone bankrupt as a result of trying to keep up, and more will follow in time.

It is hard to see how Chelsea and Man City would have won what they have won this season without Abramovitch and Mansour. These donations have hugely tipped the balance in their favour, and the result is that there is no longer a level playing field in English football. If City & Chelsea can trump anything United, Arsenal or Liverpool can offer, the latter will find it hard to get the best players. While such injections of cash were not met with success, it was possible to cling to the hope that tradition, good management of resources and old football nous would win out. But this season, finally the big donors got what they wanted. And that is truly depressing for the future of football.

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