Football Matters Part II: Beyond the pale, the money game and the mercenaries

Author’s Note: This is the second installment of the ‘Football Matters’ series, you can read the first part ‘Two colors inside and the divisions outside’ here.

Football and mercenaries, two terms that sound unrelated and should actually be unrelated, but aren’t. The ever increasing money revolution across various parts of Europe that has seen more and more clubs being taken over by business oligarchs has seen modern football take a new meaning, where money defines how it’s run, not as a sport but more as a business.

There are two iterations valid in most cases today: Footballers = mercenaries or mercenaries = footballers, in either case money is the common denominator, not loyalty or love for the game or the club you play for. There was a time, not too long ago, when loyal and one-club men used to dominate Football all around the world. Longevity used to be a factor and the players would love to play it out at the club they loved, to be called legends at the club which to them was be-all and end-all, for money wasn’t as important as staying true to your roots and staying with the club that you’ve loved all so much, for they were as much a part of a club’s legacy as the club was definitive in making their own identity.

After the Bosman ruling came into existence which empowered the players more than ever, so much so that they could no longer be held to ransom by their clubs and the more recent money explosion in European football, in part due to advertising, foreign ownership, agents and TV rights, amongst other things, the players today do not mind taking a step down the footballing ladder in order to make a few extra bucks even if that means that they fission their association with clubs they previously identified with.  That’s why it isn’t surprising that players like Carlos Tevez, Ashley Cole or Samuel Eto’o move around for financial purposes.

Moving for money in modern football rather than for footballing reasons has become a common place, which happens in all the leading leagues across Europe, not surprisingly most footballers would rather go and join clubs in the second tier of English football than joining leading clubs in countries like Scotland, Denmark et al, because even the lesser clubs in leading nations would get you more money, and the players don’t mind accepting that even if they spend the rest of their lives in mediocrity, far from the fight for silverware. This jumping of the ship by players has become so common that we are almost getting used to the fact that sooner or later, any given player playing for any club, no matter how reputed, could decide to jump the boat and leave to greener pastures; and when that happens, in a split second the love we had for the player suddenly becomes hate, and an incredibly strong hatred at that.

When lines of rivalry blur and money rules…

It is the economics of the sport and the nature of football today with all the money around practically force these players to behave like mercenaries. Loyalty towards the club and the fans is a secondary virtue, if at all it is considered one. And the players who do indeed show loyalty, or at least try to, are portrayed as players who ‘lack ambition’ and the agents in play would eventually get them moving to other clubs. Not surprisingly then, the likes of Matt Le Tissier, hardly exist anymore for whom sticking to their roots was more valuable than going for money. Or indeed, the likes of Pavel Nedved, Alex del Piero or Gigi Buffon, who stuck to the club they loved than jumping the gun to a rival for more money after the farce of Calciopoli happened.

Moving to a bigger club to fight for trophies is not probably as big a ‘sin’ in the eyes of the fans as it is when a player moves to a club with lesser reputation, or with lesser chances to win silverware, in order to make money, when the passion of playing football for a footballer turns into a job from which money must be made. The fans meanwhile are so attached to the club they support that they take for granted that the players, their idols, do feel the same way and then comes the familiar feeling of betrayal, when a player chooses money over respect. The love turns to hatred, for the fans saw them as idols living their dreams, and given an option, the supporters wont mind doing what these men do, for free because it is supposed to be as much about passion and love as it’s about money.

Football has become a business, agents the traders and the players the valued commodities chased by oligarchs almost as to flaunt them. In a constantly evolving world of football, loyalty, respect and love for the game has gotten lost somewhere, replaced by money as the top dog. Normal people like us won’t mind jumping the ship should a better financial offer arrive, but then most of us dont love our jobs either, for footballers it has usually been about passion for the game, but doesn’t seem so anymore. Players don’t mind moving to remote Russian clubs whose name people might not be able to pronounce, to earn a few extra bucks even if it is at the cost of ruining your legacy. Loyalty used to make a footballer’s story better, but now with the money you can make, you can buy stories altogether, not a bad deal is it?

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