Grim Thoughts: Divining the Future of Football part 1 – background

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be. – Isaac Asimov

I seem to constantly have twitter fights with people that are struggling to come to terms with the modern reality of football, it’s risks and how it’s changed over the last 20-30 years and it’s this that prompted this piece – well that and Tim the Enchanter’s late night with the Seattle Sounders. We all want glory, trophies and the such, but these wishes must be placed against the backdrop of a game that has changed drastically in recent times, and will evolve further in the next 20 years into something I believe may well be unrecognisable to us today. I’m not here to argue about whether this is good or not, nor is anything I’m saying to be used as a Wenger we trust/rust argument – I am simply stating the facts in a timeline as I see them and understand them. Now with that as a backdrop let me get a few things out of the way so that I may write clearly for the rest of this piece: Samir Na$ri is a complete cuntbucket, Cesc Fabregas needs to stop saying he’s an Arsenal fan and Darth Vieira needs to get his nose out of Mancini’s poop chute and remember who made him a fucking football star. Rant done – now let’s move on.

Background

Football is a very old game, every culture and every country has a legitimate claim on ‘inventing’ football as it’s been played in various forms throughout the ages back to the dawn of recorded history and has been banned throughout Europe numerous times in the middle ages for inciting riots (some things don’t change eh?). Apologies for looking back that far and don’t worry this isn’t about looking back it’s about looking forward and the implications on Arsenal. However it’s important to understand the history of an argument if the argument itself is to be understood as it’s my belief that some of the mystery that surrounds the clubs current policies can be explained by the way they’re preparing for the future. This is in several parts

The rise of player power

It’s a seismic shift from the original days of professional football – back in the day contracts were all in favour of the clubs and players were viewed as business assets and to be used as such. Clubs held all the cards, and contract or no could stop players from joining another side – kind of like draconian ‘non-compete’ clauses. Then in 1995 the European Court ruled on the Belgian Football Association v Jean-Marc Bosman in favour of the latter and the footballing world changed forever. If you want to understand the impact of the ruling and don’t yet know take a look at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosman_ruling.

After this ruling clubs lost the majority of their power to influence and control the movements of players and most contracts became as useful as a pair of water soluble underpants. Players became a commodity and all the training and effort put into developing them was instantly a cost clubs had to write off. You could train a player, the player could wind down their contract and then leave for free leaving the club with the cost of development, and don’t kid yourself into thinking there’s no cost; physio’s, coaches, equipment – all are expensive. As a result player contracts became more lucrative and lengthy in order to entice players to stay which exacerbated the gap between the haves and have-nots. No longer could a club compete by developing great players in a youth system in order to compete; everything turned into a contract war. This coincided with sports stars becoming celebrities in their own right and marketing that celebrity for cash.

This is not confined to the world of football of course – everyone admires what people that are good at sports are capable of, but for some reason this new found celebrity means that because Mr. Messi is a half decent footballer, people will surely want to buy stuff he says is good regardless of; a) if he really thinks it’s good or, b) it is in fact any good. Of course sports companies like Adidas are obvious, because wearing the same boots as him will enable mere mortal players to dance around Sunday league defences (not) in the same manner as him and as fast. But a quick web search brings up others that are not so obvious, such as a deal with Herbalife, because it’s these supplements that allow him to maintain his vigour, Konami because he helps sell non-FIFA football games, Pepsi for the sugar rush, and Chery because the Chinese LOVE a Barca player and if he stands in front of a crappy Chinese car it distracts from the fact that it is in fact a crappy Chinese car.

Make no mistake: because contracts favor them and celebrity favor them, players control the world of football now, not clubs and certainly not managers. For evidence we only need look at Mancini’s step down from his previous “Tevez will never play for Citeh again” to their inevitable make up sex after Tevez pretty much did what the fuck he wanted for a few months.

The influx of cash

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and money is power in its most fungible format. The rise of player power has coincided with several other factors such as the rise of the super-agent – itself a consequence of player power, TV wealth, the Premier League, the Champions League and the influx of monies brought by participation in all of these TV fuelled cash registers.

Now, more than at any other time in the game cash is king and boy is it lording it over its kingdom. TV and the globalisation of European football via worldwide audiences has brought the game to the attention of the entire planet. You have to travel to some pretty isolated places in the world for the name Cristiano Ronaldo not to have some name recognition, more so then most modern Hollywood superstars I think you’ll find. This global notoriety has I think been responsible for the single most warping effect – the reinvention of the club benefactor. The idea of a Football club being a plaything for a rich person is not new – Elton John has owned and been involved with Watford since 1976 – however for said rich person to personally BANKROLL the club? Don’t be ridiculous.

In 2003 a previously unknown Russian Billionaire called Roman Abramovich bought the perennial ‘almost winning’ club Chelsea and turned the football world on its head. Up until this point the big successful clubs had at least become big successful clubs by working at it – building their brand, building their support base and in turn building ever bigger stadia to put bums on seats. Before Abaramovich there was a simple logic to developing a club: 1) Increase revenues, which in turn allows you to 2) pay more for players which generally should lead to 3) winning things which allows you to go back to 1) and build the cycle again. This was the reason for the Emirates Stadium after all and is the ‘secret’ behind the success of most of the truly big clubs who all have massive stadiums and as a consequence the most supporters.

Then along comes the seemingly limitless cash of a Billionaire that doesn’t give a crap about 1) so skips it entirely and injects a bunch of his OWN money into said hapless club and goes straight to 2) which leads to 3) faster than anyone could bank on. Happy with this success he continues to merrily ignore point 1) which others notice and which directly leads to others doing the same thing all around the world and we see the rise of Man Citeh, Paris Saint Germain, FC Anzhi etc. as global clones of the Roman-method, with differing levels of success.

This is all seen as good clean fun by fans of these clubs and the media at large, who benefited, but to everyone else it’s looked at with disgust because they’ve not had to put in decades of work in building their own clubs – they have no history. However what these rich benefactors had failed to recognise or care about is that it accelerated the haves/have-nots cycle that had always existed to the point where smaller clubs that are in the ‘have not’ category were forced to spend far beyond their financial reach in order to compete whilst gambling on their future success, threatening the future of local and national institutions alike. This in turn forced Governments and the useless agencies that control European and World football to bring in “fair play rules” that are at first a worry to benefactor clubs until they realise they can instantly circumvent them by simply cheating and donating money from alleged ‘legitimate’ sources despite the fact that we all know it’s a load of cobblers.

So what you may say – where am I leading with this? Ahhh dear friends – for that you must wait until tomorrow because I have things to do. This is the backdrop of the current madness for we all know how Arsenal are behaving to this influx of cash – the question is what does it mean for Arsenal and football at large – until tomorrow my friends.

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About Grimbo

Transplanted to the San Francisco bay area eight years ago, Grimbo is a Londoner by birth although one that was born on the wrong side of the River Thames. He survives the immense sunlight exposure of North California by being coated in sunblock and regularly marinaded in beer, he hopes that one day his immense freckle collection will all join together so that he can claim to be tanned. He’s both a player and sometime manager of Sunday League clubs all over the region and semi regular patron of Maggie McGarry’s in San Francisco, home to the infamous Bay Area Gooners many of whom marvel at his ability to scream “you c**t” in the correct accent while remaining blissfully ignorant of how unacceptable the c-bomb is to those around him.

17 thoughts on “Grim Thoughts: Divining the Future of Football part 1 – background

  1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1critic

    Just don’t write “belated april fool” in ur next article. Would be the ultimate anti climax though…

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    This is intriguing Grimm. You’ve set the stage for part two, and I look forward to it. I would be most interested in your opinions/thoughts on whether professional European football can remain insulated from the worldwide economic malaise, and the acute problems currently facing Europe. NFL-syle salary cap? How will Arsenal’s frugality play out in the next couple of seasons?

    Cheers,

    1NTTA

  3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

    Well written post Grimm and it lives up to the title.
    It seems that evolve is the key here. From the club era, to the players era (lead by Bosman), and finally to the billionaires era (lead by Abramovich). I do know about Morrati’s, Berlusconi’s, Perez’s, etc. But from my knowledge, Abramovich start the globalization of billionaires takeover of clubs.

    From the knowledge of the past, it seem that football era evolves through one person. I hope this time the government will finally be the major influence in leading a new footballing era. Because the fact is, unless something is radically change, this billionaires era will be here for a long time and drastically changes the courses of football, just like what the players era have done.

    Finally, i’m looking forward for part two of your post Grimm. And by the look of it, if what you and the others says is true, it seems that FFP can’t be the rules that will make drastic changes to football, although i’m still inclined to believe or hope that those deal won’t be accept.

    Oh, and i hope Caribkid read this post and reevaluate his hatred to Chelsea. Because with his doping, the pool of clubs with high pulling power for players grow larger and it is directly effect our ability to compete and winning trophy. I’m pretty sure that Drogba and Mata, for example, is not coming to Chelsea because of the rivalry and their style of football and if they haven’t come to Chelsea i think they will come to Arsenal.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

      The last part is not for me to bash Caribkid though and if it seems like it, i’m deeply sorry. And it’s not my rights to dictate his opinion, so hopefully all is well.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

        Ooops, meant Barcelona.

        BTW. Dortmund won the Bundesliga 2 years in a row and their payroll is 54M in comparison to 115M for Bayern. All is not lost if you spend wisely and have good coaching.

    2. Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

      No problem Nikki, I certainly do not seem slighted, but it also does not change my perception traumatically :)

      Before Chelsea it was the wealthy, government backing for both Real Madrid and Barcalona. Not any different to Abramowich. In the US it became that way long ago as then millionaires became billionaires from their investment in sports teams. They then designed a system that would sustain their investments through salary caps and Leagues which had no relegation and then used their clout at the highest government levels to have laws passed which made them immune to anti-trust regulations.

      Globalization has merely sped up the process. It’s all politics my man. If you don’t have big business backing with millions at your disposal you can’t even get elected. It never was about the common man and now it’s just getting worse.

      Not trying to be jaded, but have you ever watched those Sci-Fi movies where corporations rule the world. Well, that’s where we are moving to right now.

      It is what it is.

  4. Vote -1 Vote +1xJane

    To what degree are big European football leagues beholden to revenue sharing? The sale of the LA Dodger baseball team for $1 billion has led to speculation of the NY Yankees being worth $3 billion if they were to be put up for sale. This is because baseball teams own the rights to the broadcasts of their games. And it should force a recalculation about the most valuable franchises/richest clubs in the world.

    Un-shared media rights would help teams who have a large following but not a sugar-daddy owner – Arsenal, perhaps even Liverpool and ManU (?!).

    My hope for this series of articles is that you will address competitive balance beyond the very top of the table.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

      If it was implemented before the rise of billionaires doping, it will help Arsenal tremendously. We would be like Barca and the league will be like La liga today. But because of the doping, Arsenal wouldn’t get much help. Man City and Chelsea will be much richer because their fan base grow larger after the takeover and the star buying plus they still get the doping. Man Utd of course still have the largest fanbase and might still compete. Liverpool is growing (?) smaller and they do have dopping when they buy the stars of british player.

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1Cannons of Rhetoric

    Money makes the football world go round, always has, always will. The new equation is:

    Wealthy owners = Clubs with large stadia

    FFP will change nothing I think. The people holding the money are also the ones making the rules. If anyone thinks UEFA will boot Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man U, Man City, Chelsea etc out of the Champions League, they’re sadly mistaken. The rules will be enforced for smaller clubs, the bigger clubs will find loopholes…

    We just have to use our heads and fight smart, which is what we’ve been doing so far. Let’s hope we continue doing the best we can…

  6. Vote -1 Vote +1marek

    As Nikki has mentioned, the era of the “sugar daddy” pre-dates Abramovich. Berlusconi of A.C. Milan fits the bill – he plowed plenty of his own cash into a failing A.C. Milan.

    I’m also not sure whether the sugar daddies make things tougher on the smaller clubs. A sugar daddy’s desire to buy the latest toy (be it player or manager) can lead to a windfall for the smaller team whose player/coach the sugar daddy wants to poach. Smaller, stable clubs that never could compete with a Man U, a Real or a Milan are still smaller, stable clubs that cannot compete – but now at least they can hope for a sudden influx of big money from a transfer.

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