Written by Uche Abugu
Men are born for games, nothing else! Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game in not inherent in the game itself but rather in value of that which is put at hazard.
Football is more than just a game – according to Bill Shankly – it’s a matter of life & death! Apt, one must agree, when you take a long look down the football boulevard, from 1869 up to date. It has gathered together great riches while alienating its spine, as that surely has polarised the game and it’s teeming lovers more so than ever. In the words of Arsene Wenger, we no longer look to history in the same way as before. ‘In the evolution of the modern society the weight of the present has become predominant to the past and the future’.
The money-mad mavericks that currently run the game continue to seek new ways to globalise, commercialise and exploit it. Money! Money!! Money!!! –It’s love, the root of all evil is spiralling out of control and we need to get the balance right.
Clubs are no longer connecting with supporters, the game has veered off in strange directions and large parts of football are unrecognisable as it used to be – community asset and fan based; ‘Our Own’! ‘for us by us’. Now the bond between these parties, fans, club and community is skating on thin ice. Money has caused greed & botched dreams. The more you get, the more you want. I think some people are willing to go to lengths which aren’t within the rules of the game to get more of it. Ruined by this vicious and soul-less pursuit, clubs have become ‘brands’ which provide ‘ROI’ for their owners, (a place to go spin your wheel of fortune) while those that used to be spectators have become “customers”. Football keeps telling us that it’s now a business, yet, if we tow their line of thought – in any other business, the customer is king right? Always with a choice, but here, the King has neither a crown, nor a sceptre to wave around.
So, who is parking on the dance floor?
The greed of football bodies, clubs and players included have stripped the game of its vestiges of moral authority and sanity, the purity and simplicity previously known,all gone with the wind. What we have now are cheats, match fixing, and the win by any means necessary mentality.
Over the past years because of its autonomy where no sovereign powers actually oversees and supervise it’s activities, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) like a drunken sailor, does whatever it likes. Compelled by the love for ‘green backs’ it is now embroiled in huge financial scandals – the encyclopedia of corruption; written and edited by FIFA.
An investigative report by ICIJ made available show documents as released by a Panamarian offshore financial law firm Mossack Fonseca, linking four senior FIFA officials to off shore accounts, for irregular transactions (deals with one of the indicted figures at the heart of an alleged World Cup of fraud). Who would have thought we’d see names like Gianni Infantino, Jerome Valcke, Michel Platini & Juan Pedro Damiani, who incidentally is a member of FIFA ethics committee. Say a prayer for our beautiful game. In a bid to cover up or save face, FIFA is tilling the ground for a possible retrieval of 2022 world cup hosting rights from Qatar.
They released recently a commissioned report by John Ruggieon on the treatment of migrant workers building world cup stadia in Qatar. Of course we know there are certain human right conditions that must be adhered to by any host country; violation(s) opens up the possibility of being stripped. The only silver lining is that these scandals are more fun to watch- what the hell, it’s FREE!
Development of football at grassroots level should be assisted by the big clubs and football authorities. Ex-president Sepp Blatter and his predecessor Joao Havelange, both used FIFA’s developmental funds, monies earmarked for the promotion of football in impoverished countries to buy world cup votes. A colossal $6 billion in the last 4 years is no joke.
This deprival has led to the ‘new slave trade’. To have just one professional footballer in an African family, is the financial equivalent of a winning a lottery.
‘The trafficking of kids to play football abroad is a reality we can’t wish away or turn a blind eye to any longer’. It has become a massive business, which thrives on people’s dreams of a better life for themselves and their families. Nothing is more inhumane, than killing a man’s dreams. Most of them reckons, the risk to their child’s education equals or not comparable to child playing pro football in Europe.
These vulnerable people are lured into ‘debt slavery’ deceived by the glitz and glamour of playing European football, as painted by illegal agents and academies. Just like prostitution, they sell their house, family inheritances & mortgage their lives away. Anticipation of death is worse than death itself.
At least 30% of these talented youngsters migrate from West and Central Africa countries, including Mali, Cameroon, Togo, Nigeria, et al. For those lucky enough to make the trials, refuse to go back when they don’t make the cut. Why? They have nothing to go back to; the shame & stigma that follows, is surely more than they can bear. Let’s not forget their folks sold all they had to enable them get there. These kids as young as 10-14yrs end up with the short end of the stick- the streets! An unforgiving concrete jungle; where they’re in more danger than they could ever have been at home. Sleeping anywhere night meets them, they become desperate, turn to criminals & drug users doing just about anything to stay alive- psychologically immature, you can’t blame them!
This is now leaving a tragic legacy of dead or homeless young footballing hopefuls across Europe. If only FIFA’s developmental funds were used appropriately; to train, license and establish credible academies, the story would most definitely be different.
There’s really been an alteration in how our society wants to be seen – someone said 200 years ago the target was to be a saint for people, 100 years ago, to be a hero in war it was; today it’s a billionaire or a footballer.
Footballers of this era have taken the place previously occupied by aristocrats and the clergy. It’s apparently too heavy a weight to place on the shoulders of young men & women without proper social skills, dragging them out of school at 14, paying them vast sums of money; multi-millionaires they become at 20. Big cars and houses, they retire at 30 with bank accounts that business moguls would envy. They only speak the money language. Surely, it’s difficult to keep such persons focused and motivated. Playing for the love of the game becomes far-fetched.
Let’s not forget that the aspirations of the young are shaped by modern culture and this modern celebrity orientation only produces a generation of ‘fakes’ & ‘celeb wannabes’; why save lives for £40,000 a year as a doctor when i can play football for £150,000 a week? Some soldiers get paid £15,000 annually! Lots can’t even afford to build a house or top of the range schools for their wards, little or no life insurance with retirement benefits so meager, it makes you cringe! Yet, with all this earnings, what we have now is a coterie of tax allergic football stars and managers. Greed and Irresponsibility!
With increased TV revenues, professional football became desperate, living up to capitalist ideas of using nefarious tactics, sometimes illegal to get their wish; ‘if there is money to be made, someone will find a way to make it’. Growing up, football was mainly about fun (sheer joy), it was innocent & satisfying, with a level playing field, trophy haul and good old rights to brag. There used to be a collective sense of humour about the indignitaries and troll that comes from following teams who dashed hopes with galling results, consistently falling short of the final hurdle like Arsenal or Liverpool are at the moment. Yet, in all their agony, supporters buy club merchandises in their numbers and fill up stadia on match days, irrespective of the competition. Loyalty!
Nobody really cared about bank balances or what car you drove. Now it’s ‘sad’ to concede that teams like Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal, three of the most successful English club sides are happier finishing fourth in the league, (not to miss out in the lucrative UEFA Champions League) rather than winning FA or Carabao Cup. Top two changed to top 4 and has now metamorphosed into a top 6- well you don’t need to be clairvoyant to know what’s next.
When leagues resume their chase for silverware every season, therein commences also a parallel tournament christened ‘the sack race’.
Longevity has become a rare commodity. Managers now take the fall, when things go awry, even though it’s not their fault most times. Revered names like Alex Ferguson were only able to achieve what they did via patience and consistency – it actually took him 5 years to win his first trophy at Manchester United. Probably if then was now, Fergie might have become a pundit to make ends meet, as he would have won a ‘sack race’. (The 3 year syndrome) Out of the 92 managers in English leagues, only about 16% of them have been in their current clubs for more than 3 years. Damning figures!
Verifiable data shows that gains made from changing managers are very marginal. Statistics show an average of 2.5 points the match after a sack, then after 10-12 games of good outcomes, results revert back to status quo. Has Crystal Palace improved on their performances, since Frank De Boer left?, nobody needs to be told where West ham will end up finally come May. Colossal hundreds of millions are lost in this cat & mouse game via disputes, severance payments made to coaches and agents. But who actually pays this piper? The fans of course, at the end clubs do anything to make up these lost monies through their draconian behaviours.
It’s a sad state of affairs to see hard working and dedicated football fans from working class backgrounds all over the world who love the sport, driven away by ticket price hikes and gluttony for more money. Clubs’ average season ticket go for £1500- £2500. As fans, we have a love affair with football, when our team win, we’re ecstatic and jubilant, lose; its despair- though the crux here is when outcomes (election, games, hosting rights) are manipulated for financial gains, anger & betrayal is the word. Some fans have stopped watching football, being fed up with the money focus, especially the older generations who played and watched soccer in its pure state- entertainment, dignified and not the celebrity, hype and melodrama we have now – Egregious!
All these have led to the ever- burgeoning disconnect between the supporters and their players. The divide only widens because as the clubs’ balance sheet enlarges, players led by shylock agents increasingly transform to guns for hire- mercenaries with short term goals & ambitions (make as much as you can, retire at 28). Kissing a badge in goal celebration is not due to scarcity of lèvres féminines – rather an expression of love and loyalty. Getting autographs are now herculean tasks, most times, you need to be in the mixed zone- question is how many can afford that? Indeed we are closer (tweets away) than ever to our football celebs.
The laughable FFP rules meant to stem this cancerous tides are riddled with loopholes and as astute, shrewd businesses, clubs exploit them to scary proportions- one wonders why it was enacted in the first place. For instance, instead of clubs paying 150k/week to a player which might ‘unbalance’ their books, they would restrict their outlay to half that figure and pay the other half via complex, elaborate deals- the so called related party transactions; ingenious we must agree. Financial engineering; the detergent used in keeping them squeaky clean before the blind FFP rules.
Why aren’t most clubs member-owned non-profit organizations again? This structure was prevalent in Spain so many years ago, up till 1992. In fact two of the most successful and biggest clubs in the world- Real Madrid and Barcelona still operate with this structure. Madrid for instance has 91,000 members, paying an average of €123 per year for member privileges. 50 years and above members are exempted from paying membership fees. These are the people who vote in the board and presidents, and yes accountability is sacrosanct.
In Germany, legislation mandated that at least 51% of all clubs are owned by the fans. Little wonder Bayern Munich and afore mentioned clubs are well ran, successful in trophy count and financial stability. The just concluded AGM of Arsenal couldn’t have highlighted the argument more. It was attended by around 200 shareholders, the majority of whom voted unsuccessfully against re-electing chairman, Sir Chips Keswick or director Josh Kroenke, in a rare move to show their unhappiness with the club and their recent on-field achievements. Not only were Chips & Josh re-elected, they also claimed the team is doing very well on the pitch. What do I know, 3 FA cups in over 10 years is now bae for Arsenal’s status; pathetic!
Have you ever asked yourself why football is so profitable? Simple, the supporters! It’s allure and how it captivates the audience are some of what makes it so special- the game that make grown men cry! Without it, there would be no money to be made. You can’t just change the team you support for subjective reason, and it’s this that has left the football clubs in a prime position to shake and squeeze the very last penny out of our pockets in their greed. Their SWOT analysis is spot on. These subjective reasons can work to the advantage of the clubs when properly utilized.
Sponsorship will probably continue to grow, more clubs will be formed or some will stop to exist sooner rather than later, but as with any market driven by money the walls may soon come crashing down- inescapable? The ideology of more money, more happiness is only a farce.
Has football become a victim of its own success and popularity?
– The love of ‘money’ which is known as the root of all evil is dreadful, as the good book tells us. It’s fair to say that in the 80s football was a sport, now it’s just a massive hydra–headed monster, like that of the popular Greek myth of Medusa & Perseus; it needs to be cut to size.
Another day, yet another take over as modern era football continues to suck up those things that made the game so great in the years gone by. It’s just about here and now, but where do we go from there? We really don’t know. Maybe it’s good; maybe bad – truth is nobody seems to care at the moment either.