An Unfair Martial Fight

Yes, a 19-year-old teenager moving clubs in the transfer window that just closed for £36 million, which could potentially rise to £58 million after add-ons. A certain Gareth Bale moving from Tottenham to Real Madrid in 2013 for £85.3 million. And a Brazilian named Neymar moving for £71.47 million to Real’s closest rivals, Barcelona, from his native Santos in Brazil.

This brings me to the point about how success in modern football is so reliant on money. Money, apparently, buys you top players, provides them with the huge wages they crave, and ultimately success.

Modern football is all about success, and often this success comes in the form of cold hard cash. This is especially true in the face of Manchester City’s rapid rise from an obscure team to Barclays Premier League (BPL) champions. Following the acquisition of the club by oil-rich sheiks of Abu Dhabi United Group, the club was able to spend over £100 million of players, including Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure and the likes. In a few seasons, they became title challengers and won 2 BPL titles. Not only that, the same sheiks bought many other smaller clubs such as New York City FC, and these clubs became the sister (affiliate) clubs of Manchester City. In the latest transfer window, they also managed to snag Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne for a total of £104 million.

Money buys you power – and it can be the defining factor in negotiating a player’s transfer. It’s really similar to a big bully facing off a young puny weak child, but difference is that in football, it’s legal. Just ask AS Monaco – they sold 19-year old Anthony Martial to Manchester United for £36 million, which could potentially rise to £58 million after add-ons. As per Monaco chief Vadim Vasilyev,

“We wished to keep him this season, but Manchester United made an incredible offer that neither Anthony, nor AS Monaco, could refuse.”

In the Spanish division of Liga BBVA, money is also portrayed in a similar light – as the catalyst to success. Coming in the form of TV rights, Barcelona and Real Madrid had been having the lion’s share of the money (receiving 150 million euros per year – three times the amount earned by other clubs), and thus being able to buy those top players like Ronaldo and Neymar, whereas the other clubs are left with the leftovers, the unwanted, and praying they would not be the next ones to be trounced by a 6-0 scoreline.

Players are also often swayed by money – especially wages, sometimes even preparing to reduce their playing time to earn that few extra thousand pounds per week. Emmanuel Adebayor refused to leave his club Tottenham so as to continue raking in his £100,000 per week despite being told by them that he was surplus to requirements – with him knowing that if he left for Aston Villa, he would be offered a contract with much lower wages.

Jose Enrique of Liverpool would also be able to share that sentiment – despite being left out of the squad, he was willing to stay at the club to keep his £70,000 per week wages, unwilling to leave as no other club would offer similar wages. He was happy to be consistently updating his Twitter and Instagram with holiday pictures, playing table-tennis with any willing teammate at the clubroom, rather than go in search of a new club to earn playing time.

Even though smaller clubs viewed these players as viable and crucial additions, they could not match the bigger clubs in terms of wages and had to leave disappointed.

So what has been done?

In 2009, a new rule was passed down by the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa). The Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations were established to prevent professional football clubs from spending more than they earn in the pursuit of success and in doing so getting into financial problems which might threaten their long-term survival. It also restricted inflated sponsorship deals with parties which were closely connected to their clubs, such as Manchester City and UAE-owned Etihad Airlines, along with Paris St. Germain and Qatar Tourist Authority. However, it was relaxed and slackened in view of pressure from clubs and players – which also went to show the powers of clubs and players over the sport and authority.

So, if we cannot remove the billionaires and multi-million sponsorships from clubs, then probably the focus should be on how smaller clubs can obtain the money they need to offer credible competition.

The solution lies in the distribution of money between the ‘big’ clubs and ‘small’ clubs. And the steps have been taken in the right direction in the Spanish Liga BBVA.

In 2014, a new TV deal – the fair deal ‘smaller’ clubs in Spain had been calling for over the last few years – was struck to level the playing field between the bigger clubs (such as Barcelona and Real Madrid) with the other smaller clubs. The new deal sees 50 percent of the share distributed equally between all 20 Liga BBVA teams, with the other 50 percent determined by other criteria, such as league position in the previous five seasons and capacity to generate funds through broadcasting and social relevance. Though it still means that Madrid and Barcelona will continue to earn more than the rest, it is only because they are the two biggest, most popular and most successful sides in the country. They would no longer monopolise the TV money, and it also means the other smaller clubs can offer stiffer competition in matches and not say ‘Adios’ to their players so quickly once money comes in for their players.

A redistribution of money, even if implemented globally, will not stop soccer from getting monetized further – in fact it is a one-way, no return trip. It may also not stop the likes of Manchester United paying exorbitant prices for teenagers, but what it offers is a level playing field where clubs don’t have to be owned by sheiks, billionaires and oil-rich businessmans to be successful. It gives smaller clubs and their supporters the chance to dream. Less worries about their survival. Not always portrayed as the underdogs. And maybe be able to snag those stubborn players unwilling to move due to their wages.

Sean Lee, 5C22

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