Football is growing crazy(er)

Luke Shaw

 £27 MILLION is the market price for an 18 year old English full back defender in today’s market. Crazy stuff huh? It really makes you think, what is this sport, so many of us love, coming to?

Personally I don’t know what’s crazier, the fact that this kid fetched such a high price, or that after his team, Manchester United, had signed him they realized that he was overweight and are now making him train by himself. Subsequently going on to sign another new Argentinean player to play at left back. (This time for a cool bargain £16 million, and in part exchange for another player) And speaking of Argentinean players, this guy:

Angel Di Maria: Set to break the British Transfer fee record.
Angel Di Maria: Set to break the British Transfer fee record.

Is now being flogged for sale for a truly stunning £75 million, if reports are to be believed.This is especially hilarious as reports suggested that less than a year ago; this same player was offered to Arsenal FC for a “bargain” £30 million pounds. What a stellar year he must have had to double his market value in that time. And yes Angel Di Maria did have a particularly productive year, but that price is still symptomatic of the crazy nature of football (soccer) today.

In 1893 Willie Groves set a British Transfer record when Aston Villa paid £100 pounds to West Bromwich Albion for his services. Now of course the British Pound was worth a helluva more back in those days, so let’s not jump to conclusions. A bit over fifty years later we see that Billy Steel set a new record by moving from Morton to Derby County for £15,500, and not forgetting this is still 1947 we can excuse such a paltry fee, after all there had just been a war. In fact it took till 1961 and the transfer of Dennis Law from Manchester City to Torrino for the first £100,000 transfer to take place. And it took till 1979 till the first million £ deal as Trevor Francis traded Birmingham for Nottingham Forest, and at this point football got a bit funky, as even Andy Gray (yes he played football once) fetched a transfer fee of £1,469,000 to set a new British record that same summer of 1979.

Whats most surprising? The fact he had hair like that, that he played football once, or that he was once the most expensive player in Britain?
Whats most surprising? The fact he had hair like that, that he played football once, or that he was once the most expensive player in Britain?

Now we start to get to the point where player fees start to snowball faster and faster, by 1986 Mark Hughes was worth £2,300,000, and barely a year later Ian Rush went for £3,200,000. By 1995 Dennis Bergkamp was worth £7,500,000 to Arsenal, an unheard of sum of money for a football player. Until Newcastle paid £15,000,000 for Alan Shearer the next summer, but by 1999 Nicholas Anelka a player nicknamed “Le Sulk” broke the £22,500,000 mark. And were not even approaching crazy territory, because here come the big money flops, in 2001 Veron was worth £28,000,000 and by 2006 Chelsea paid £30,000,000 for Andriy Chevchenko who turned out to be one of the worst buys of all time, but was in turn overshadowed by Chelsea again splashing £50,000,000 on Fernando Torres, who flopped so bad he made everyone forget about Chevchenko.

Sure he makes over £10m a year, but he will still always be remembered for this.
Sure he makes over £10m a year, but he will still always be remembered for this.

Truly now we are well into the crazy heartland of cuckoo transfers, Real Madrid paid £80,000,000 for Ronaldo in 2009, and not to be outdone they did it again in 2013 paying £85,000,000 for Gareth Bale, confirming to everyone that Real Madrid will not be outdone by Real Madrid when it comes to big money transfers. And just in case there’s any doubt on the matter they last month splashed another £75,000,000 on James Rodriquez on the back of one good tournament. So if my calculations are correct, and this current trend continues, prepare to see someone bid £1 Billion pounds for Emile Heskey next year.

Putting aside the mathematical figures, which let’s face it, make our heads hurt, let’s try and rationalize these monumental piles of money which most of us will never see in our lifetime. Why are these dudes worth so much fucking dough all of a sudden?

A big part of this has to do with the increased commercialization of the game. In the last few years, football has picked up a tremendous following throughout the world. The world cup final for instance attracted over 1 billion viewers. New markets have opened up in the Far East, India is going gaga, China will probably go into civil war the next time Liverpool play Manchester United, and meanwhile people in Africa actually commit suicide over football results, and not because of gambling issues, but simply because of the ridicule they are subject to if their team losses.

Kenya2
This isn’t funny

What no one seems to want to acknowledge is this is not a sport anymore. Or not a sport in any way we recognized a few years ago. The stakes have gotten monumentally higher, and the fear of failure drives men mad, be they common fans or chief executives of billion dollar sport franchises. Between TV licenses, shirt sales, match day revenue, commercial sponsors, etc… A team can make millions by simply competing in the Premier League, while the Champions League is of course the fabled honey pot. Last year the broadcast revenue alone of the Premier League was placed at around £1.5 Billion, the cost of relegation to the lower leagues is therefore huge. It’s why football clubs are prepared to gamble so much. They spend hundreds of millions of pounds because the potential cost of not spending those hundreds of millions of pounds could potentially cost them even more. And often we find that many clubs spend their money and still fail, at which point they come to deal with the harsh financial realities of the risks they take.

What we also notice now is that players are not just players, they are assets, hugely valuable commercial assets, with huge marketability, and in many cases Brand power. David Beckham was one of the earliest examples of this, as in 2003 Real Madrid quickly recouped the £20+ million they spent purchasing his services on shirt sales alone.

Everyone loves Beckham.
Everyone loves Beckham.

More recently superstars such as Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have probably got a bigger following than most Hollywood superstars. Does Brat Pitt have a museum? No? Does Angelina? Should she? Maybe, but Ronaldo does. Hell, were getting to the point where players are becoming more valued than actual trophies. Some teams already hold elaborate presentation ceremonies for new players. Imagine paying good money during a recession to go sit in a stadium with several thousand other people to see a player being unveiled. I can understand parting money to watch an actual game, but an unveiling? And yet people pay, and go, by the thousands. I’m just waiting to see which football club will be the first to hold a parade for a new player.

More fanfare than we will give the second coming of Jesus.
More fanfare than we will give the second coming of Jesus.

I’m still not convinced that any player in the world, even ones as good as Ronaldo or Messi should be anywhere near worth £80,000,000 pounds. But are their brands worth that much? Well yes unfortunately. And they are worth more every day. Can this continue? Well that’s another question, but as long as the interest continues to grow and grow one would think so. The African, Asian, and US markets are just starting to open up, and they each represent billions of dollars more. Will a player ever be worth a billion quid? For the sake of humanity I hope not, but I expect we will start measuring the value of football players in the hundreds of millions of pounds in the coming years as more commercial markets open up and match day and broadcasting revenue continue to rise. I have poked a lot of fun at teams like Real Madrid for spending so lavishly, but the weird thing is every time they splash big money, they are as much investing in their own brand as the players. Every time a Ronaldo, or a Bale, or another Galactico joins their ranks he not only strengthens their team, he makes the brand that is Real Madrid that much more famous, and that much more valuable. It’s not so much about the playing squad as it is about publicity. As the old adage goes, you have to spend money to make money.

Gone are the days when managers were praised for being cautious and investing in their clubs academies and patiently nurturing young talent. Fans want success, and they want it immediately. Of course it doesn’t help that every little success by a perceived rival team is immediately broadcast through every source of media. If Tottenham spend a £100 million pounds strengthening their team, then their city rivals Arsenal FC actually hold protests urging their team’s manager to go out and “spend some fucking money”. Why? Because their rivals just spent £30,000,000 on a player from Italy hardly any of the English fans had ever heard of before the deal was announced.

As I said, it is the fear of losing, coupled with the tantalizing honeyed promises of competing in the upper echelons of European football which are causing this financial madness in football today. In conclusion, as this post resembles an essay, it’s all gone Bonkers.

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