The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

I’m Sad That He’s Spending :(

I’m irritated, so don’t take this one too seriously.

Every transfer window, winter or summer, there’s a few things which people will predictably say, and which don’t make a lot of sense. Let’s address a couple of the easier ones:

1. “Player A chose a club which offered more money than another club, which was higher in the standings! That’s terrible! He has no character! I can’t identify with him anymore, and am going to start watching something different, like competitive religion or airborne knitting, instead! Football is shite!”

Pull your bib up, for one thing. For another, how many people in the real world, when offered a choice of two jobs- one with more prestige, one with more pay- fail to choose the one with more pay? Some certainly, but the majority- never. If anything, people ought to identify MORE with the players who make the same choice. And if you’re going to suggest that after a certain level a few pounds here or there “doesn’t really make a difference”, take some basic psych courses and get back to me, because you’re essentially arguing that human nature should be different than it is. Better yet, go talk to a priest; it’s really their department.

More importantly it should be recognized that there’s more than just the current standings which go into a player’s choice even when evaluating purely competitive standards. Example: a player from abroad with a huge reputation is coming to England, and Chelsea, Liverpool and Man U are all after him. He might have, if this were a few years ago, have decided that while Chelsea were on top in the league, they had severe management issues and were likely to regress in the future while United or Pool were a more stable long-term proposition. He might have been attacked (mostly by Chelsea fans, perhaps literally) for not showing “ambition”, but time would arguably have proven him farsighted. The same player, a few years from now, might prefer a different side as Man U enter the inevitably awkward period in which Ferguson gives way to whoever succeeds him, and Liverpool fumble with their new stadium plans and manager issues. If a player today were being pursued by, say, Man City and Liverpool, I could see that player making a reasonable evaluation that taking into account the management troubles at Liverpool and the major financial commitments of the owners of City, over the next 5 years City were likely to operate at a higher competitive level than Liverpool. That evaluation might of course be utterly wrong; that doesn’t make it dishonest.

You can probably also get good odds on any of the people who speak some version of the above complaint seeing the other end of it when one of their team’s players decides that, no, Barca or Madrid or Milan is really his competitive level. Aliens on planets yet undiscovered can hear the whining when that happens more often than not.

2. “Man City are going to destroy football with their oil money! It’s immoral and evil!”

At least most of the people who come up with this one also said the same about Abramovich, so racism probably isn’t the root in most cases; xenophobia’s a different story. Simple myopia however may largely cover it. Now, Chelski and Al-Citeh certainly are sudden scary financial powerhouses, dwarfing the resources of even Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Newcastle, etc., and that is frightening and new and results in a lot of people hissing in response like cats with water thrown at them. But what on earth do fans of those teams think their clubs look like to fans of Stoke or Southampton or clubs at that level? What exactly is the difference, I ask? And when I do, I’m told something about clubs “living within their natural resources” or some such. What I’d like to know is why a financial picture in which the big beat up the little and steal their best players with larger financial offers is acceptable because it’s “traditional” and “natural”, while those relatively smaller clubs getting help from abroad is somehow cheating? I mean, let’s be serious: ever since the Premier League was established competition at the highest level has been essentially frozen, so that it requires a generous soul to need more than the fingers of one hand to count the clubs which can seriously compete for the title. When Al-Citeh and Chelski bring in more money they also bring in competition, and when I read of fans of big time sides bitching about those clubs, as often as not what bothers them isn’t the money or even how the money was acquired, but the competition. Man up, the lot of you.

3. “No, you’re wrong! The problem isn’t who has the money, but how MUCH it is! That’s immoral!”

Let me beat this one to death with a stick while we’re here, as I’ve read it before. The problem here is just a baseline misconception of the nature of the game. There’s a shitload of money sloshing around in world football today because you, whoever’s reading this (and me, writing it) have helped to put that money there by buying tickets and replica shirts and cell phone ring tones and pez dispensers with Cesc Fabregas’s face on them and similar goofistry. Once that money is spent it has to go somewhere, and the options are two: owners and players. Personally, I don’t give much of a shit who gets which chunk as long as the split is in the realm of equitable, and I’m at a loss to understand why anyone else cares (with one exception). All I can really come up with is that Europe and America have very different native political frames in some respects, and the European one in many cases is more leftwardly oriented than the American (note: I am not making a value judgment here about the larger worldviews) with concomitant assumptions about the moral attributes of large sums of money. Really digging into that is a subject for a much longer post than I have time for at the moment (though there’s probably a great thesis in it about the income threshold at which the laboring class of an industry becomes identified with the ownership class to an outsider), but I’ll bet that’s the root of much of it.

The one exception, which may be reasonable, is that there are some fans who suggest that the players getting so much is responsible for ticket price increases. In American sports this is manifestly untrue due to collective bargaining agreements with fixed revenue sharing clauses and escrow accounts and the like, although I’m not sure that framework holds entirely for football which is far more Darwinian and capitalist than American sports. I will say this however: which of the Premier League clubs today could get away with seriously reducing ticket prices? The instant they did so to the point where it affected competitive strength they would be lynched by their own supporters, and the competition to remain in the league is so fierce, and the penalty for dropping out of it so steep, that very few clubs could ever take the chance. The competitive pressures on clubs at the highest level right now are so high that many are virtually required to screw every last dime out of fans to compete for players, and while players end up with that money the actual driving cause isn’t their greed but the pressures of a largely unregulated capitalist system. The only way ticket prices could be reduced would be for it to happen at clubs where the incoming revenue streams exceed expenditures on players and the club is meeting its competitive goals. If any fan can honestly say that of their club I’m open to learning about that situation, but I can’t think of any in England at least like that off the top of my head.

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January 20, 2009 - Posted by | Other Soccer

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