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.
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.