Archive for the 'Europe' Category

Oct 03 2013

Profile Image of Becca Fisher

Est-ce que le foot est vraiment quel que chose qui unifie?

9782253109075-GMadické est le jeune demi-frère du narrateur, Salie. Tout au long du livre, il est obsédé par le football et le joueur Maldini qui joue pour l’équipe d’Italie. Il pense constamment à la vie en Europe, plus précisément en France, à cause de Salie. Il croit fermement à «l’herbe est toujours plus verte de l’autre côté.» Il pense que la vie de Salie en France est si parfaite, même si elle essaie de lui expliquer autrement. Elle est dans une position très difficile parce qu’elle est née au Sénégal, comme Madické, mais vit en France. C’est le ventre de l’Atlantique qui les sépare. Elle pense que la France est oppressive, misérable et solitaire, tandis que Madické et les autres villageois pensent que la France est un paradis. Salie est enracinée partout et à la fois exilée tout le temps. D’autre part, Madické est enraciné au Sénégal avec toute sa famille, l’amour et le soutien.

Madické représente les étrangers qui idolâtrent France. Malgré tous ses défauts expliqués par Salie, il refuse d’admettre les imperfections de la France. A la fin du livre, comme Madické mûri, Salie lui envoie de l’argent pour démarrer une boutique. Il se rend compte que son rêve de jouer au foot était enfantin et il devient satisfait avec sa réalité. Même si il décide de rester au Sénégal, il reconnaît les différences de cultures et peut-être leurs implications.

Cette relation entre Salie et Madické met en perspective beaucoup de choses. Il démontre l’exception culturelle qui existe en France et le rôle qu’elle joue en ce qui concerne le problème de l’intégration. En France, tout le monde semble être heureux avec la façon dont ils vivent. En tant qu’étranger, il est difficile de ne pas seulement comprendre ces différences de culture, mais aussi devenir une partie d’une nouvelle. Je pense que cette “exception culturelle” est l’une des choses qui rend l’immigration en France si difficile pour Salie. Si elle avait immigré dans un pays dont la culture était plus similaire au Sénégal, il aurait été plus facile. Cela représente aussi la difficulté de l’intégration en général. Même si cette histoire est particulière à la France, elle peut être généralisée à immigrer n’importe où. Les différences de «langue», la religion et l’éducation posent des difficultés d’assimilation.

Comme nous avons parlé en classe, le foot est souvent considéré comme un rassembleur entre les différentes cultures et les immigrants. Il offre un langage commun et l’intérêt mutuel. Les règles sont assez régulières et le jeu n’a pas besoin de beaucoup de ressources. Mais, le foot est un peu préjudiciable à la relation entre Salie et Madické. Salie essaie très fort de rester en contact avec sa famille parce qu’elle se sent isolée et triste en France. Quand elle appelle pour parler avec Madické sur la vie au Sénégal, il veut seulement des mises à jour sur les derniers matchs et joueurs. Très tôt dans le livre, il devient clair que la différence et la distance entre les cultures provoque le foot d’être une grande source de tension entre Salie et Madické. C’est un sujet difficile à analyser car nous ne sommes dans aucun de leurs positions. Les deux, Salie et Madické, sont justifiées dans leur intérêt, mais malheureusement ils ne sont pas dans le même page. Peut-être que ce n’est pas le jeu de foot lui-même qui crée la distance et la tension entre les deux personnages, mais le foot souligne leurs différences de caractère et est donc considérer d’une façon négative. Mais à la fin du roman Madické est capable de se rendre compte que peut-être son obsession était injuste et un peu ridicule. Le jeu de foot est fascinant et c’est intéressant de voir comment il est capable d’affecter tant de gens de différentes façons. Cela aurait pu être n’importe quel autre sport ou un hobby que Madické et Salie n’étaient pas d’accord, mais dans ce cas il était de foot (dont je suis sûr, n’était pas une coïncidence). Comme nous l’avons expliqué en classe et dans African Soccerscapes, l’Afrique continue de se tourner vers la France et l’Europe comme les fondateurs et les idoles de ce sport. Ce livre est capable de démontrer ça à l’aide de Madické, qui représente le Sénégal, et Salie, représenter la France. Cependant, Diome est également en mesure d’intégrer les effets positifs et négatifs de cela aussi.

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Sep 24 2013

Profile Image of Ale Barel Di Sant'Albano

“Spend some F****ing money Arsene!!” Guru or bust? Is he the only sane manager left?

Arsene Wenger, now 63, began his tenure at Arsenal in 1996 and he led the club to almost a decade of non stop success. He has since, however, suffered eight seasons without a trophy including two abysmal loses in the Capital One Cup final. Arsenal have won no trophies since 2005, and have now been forced to qualify for the champions league for the past 7 seasons. He is the strangest character in football today, some say he is one of the bests, some think he is simply an arrogant Frenchmen that had a few great years.

fgbfdvr

The main problem that people address is his refusal to spend money. Wenger refuses to buy those players depicted as game changers, “world-class” or “fuoriclasse,” but instead focus on taking the maximum value out of each player. However, is this the right decision when you have a club as distinguished as Arsenal, competing in a league and competitions with clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, or Real Madrid, even though Arsenal made roughly 155 million pounds last year after deductables.[1] (Management firm Deloitte estimated last year thatPremier League clubs had cumulative debts of £2.4bn.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gSFEaI4HdA

But isn’t the fact that he consistently makes the Champions league ( a 30 million pound pay off) while being the only club in the top 10, of the premier league to earn a profit, simply astounding?

Wenger, who graduated in economics at Strasbourg University in 1971, has a mathematician’s brain. The subject taught him how to see the true potential in each player, Valuing a player for what they are or what they could be. Despite having players like Samir Nasri, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie, Wenger has never spent more than 20 million pounds on a player until this year with Mesut Ozil. The total he paid for Henry, Vieira and Pires was less than the £23m he received from Real Madrid for a troubled young French teenager, Nicolas Anelka.

Wenger’s Genius transfer deals

  • Kolo Toure (Bought: £150k ; Sold: £16m ; Profit % = 10667 %)
  • Cesc Fabregas (Bought: £500k ; Sold: £35m ; Profit % = 7000 %)
  • Nicolas Anelka (Bought: £500k ; Sold: £23m ; Profit % = 4600 %)
  • Alexandre Song (Bought: £1m ; Sold: £15m ; Profit % = 1500 %)
  • Robin van Persie (Bought: £2.75m ; Sold: £24m ; Profit % = 873 %)
  • Marc Overmars (Bought: £7m ; Sold: £25m ; Profit % = 357 %)
  • Emmanuel Adebayor (Bought: £7m ; Sold: £25m ; Profit % = 357 %)[2]

 

In addition, Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team and a innovative economist in his sport, says: “When I think of Wenger, I think of Warren Buffett. Wenger runs his football club like he is going to own the club for 100 years.” Wenger has most recently moved Arsenal to the Emirates Stadium. Not only has this increased there revenues, but they sellout practically every match while having the most expensive tickets in the league. Never previously a giant club, Arsenal now rank fifth in global football for revenues. In the short term, though, heavy debts on the stadium has curtailed their spending[3]

 

Wenger in his first seven seasons at Arsenal achieved an average league position of 1.6 while only spending 7.5% of the Premier league’s total wages. In the past six years his record has been less striking but he has still managed to average a league position of 3.3 while spending 8.8% of the total wages in the Premier league. [4]

 

The problem seems to be that Wenger is no longer open to any form of change. He is set to his system and is sticking with it despite the outcome, however as players values skyrocket, there must begin to be more and more leniency to tactics. Is Wenger recent purchase of Ozil a one time thing to please the fans or will he adapt a model more suitable for the premier league.  Clearly the investment is paying dividends as Arsenal  has now collected 9 points from 9 and currently leads the Premier League.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/d363b054-6548-11e2-8b03-00144feab49a.html

[2] http://networkofsports.com/arsenal/2012/09/the-genius-of-monsieur-arsene/

[3] http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/42992d86-d48c-11e0-a42b-00144feab49a.html#axzz2fGzNXXmw

[4] Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, Nation Books; Second Edition edition (May 1, 2012)

 

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Sep 12 2013

Profile Image of Christopher Nam

The Dispensability of Coaches

The Mexican National soccer team has recently fired its head coach Jose Manuel de la Torre, following its world cup qualifying loss to the U.S., hiring Victor Manuel Vucetich to replace him.  This is the third coaching change that the Mexican National team has made this past week.  The decision to fire coaches as the immediate response to poor results has become all too common throughout sports, especially soccer.  Coaches aren’t given the time to set their foundation, develop their players, and build team chemistry around their game plan.  They are expected to win, and to win as soon as they step into the office.  But is this constant shuffling of coaches good for teams who want success and to see their investments pan out? A report published by the League Managers Association showed that of the 92 professional teams in all levels of the Premier League, 63 of them made managerial changes: with 43 firings and 20 resignations in 2012-2013.  The average tenure for a manager is only 2.81 years, which includes the outlier of Arsene Wenger who’s been at Arsenal for 17 years.  Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s Russian billionaire owner, has a reputation with committing knee jerk reactions when it comes to managers.  Under his ownership, he has had as many managers as Chelsea had the previous 70 years. 

I believe that this tradition of firing coaches as soon as any sign of failure becomes present is ruining the game of soccer.  A strong relationship between players and coaches is an essential aspect in building stability and chemistry within the team.  The manager needs time to build a rapport with his players in order to figure out each individual’s preferences and playing style so that he can fit each piece into his game plan.  Even players realize the importance of playing on a team with stability, which comes from an established coach that has a long, strong bond with his team.  Neymar was one of the biggest and sought after names this past summer with his eventual decision being to move to Barcelona.  One of the main reasons why he chose the La Liga team over another Premier League team was that he wanted stability.   The Premier League has gained a reputation of seeing coaches as easily replaceable, and being a quick fix to any problems.  If this trend continues, with players like Neymar opting for other leagues, the Premier League teams will have to seriously think about how they view their managers.

Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably one of the greatest soccer managers of all time, needed four years to win his first trophy with 12 Premier League titles and two Champions League titles soon following.  Manchester United stuck with their manager even though results weren’t panning out because they realized the need of stability and the time it takes for a truly great manager to build a foundation for his team.  Most of the successful teams not only in soccer but in all sports generally have had long tenured managers that started out with limited success.  Another explicit example of this case comes from a Coach very important to me as a Duke student.  Coach Krzyzewski of the Duke Basketball team had two losing seasons in his first three years before establishing himself as one of the best coaches of all time.  Although most teams want to see immediate results and hope that new coaches are a quick fix, a true, long lasting investment takes time to establish.  For the sake of soccer, and the many teams aiming for success, I hope that these teams start to put stability as their number one priority and realize the importance of a commitment with a manager.

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Sep 12 2013

Profile Image of Ale Barel Di Sant'Albano

“We must not abandon our youth, and we’re not going to abandon them”

In the build up to the World Cup, Cesare Prandelli, head coach of the Italian National Team has raised concerns regarding the sales of key Italian players to foreign markets. “We must not abandon our youth, and we’re not going to abandon them. They are struggling and we need to work out why,” he said. Cesare Prandelli. But how influential is foreign player migration on domestic leagues and national teams?

With the most recent group of Italian internationals moving abroad, such as  Emanuele Giaccherini, Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Daniel Pablo Osvaldo, Prandelli worries the invasion of foreign names is hindering the development of younger Italian players, which could have serious problems on the future of the Italian national team.

In Italy, there is a long history of playing older, experienced players instead of giving the youth a chance. A clear example of this is the fact that in the recent U-21 European championship, 17 of the 24 players Italy selected played on Serie B (second division) squads.

Prandelli noted in his most recent press conference “It was thought that the presence of many foreigners would stimulate our young lads, but we’ve seen that things have not gone that way,” Prandelli said at a press conference. “We need to reflect on this.

“We need to study and plan. If I were a club president, I would think about working with youngsters and bringing them through into the first team, rounding things off with foreign players, but only good foreign players.

“We must not abandon our youth, and we’re not going to abandon them, but we’ve also got to see the reality. They are struggling and we need to work out why. They’re not getting regular games in the league and they are not finding any continuity.”

This led me to think about how key player migration is to club competition. Is it make or break for a teams season? Does it impact the national teams? Surely leagues with more money can afford the foreign talent? Can Italy continue “stimulating the younger lads” even though the foreign talent they are bringing in is not top class?

 

Over the last twenty years the number of foreign players in the European leagues were increased in part due to changes in the regulations allowing more foreign players in the teams but most notably, as a result of the increased purchasing power of certain leagues. Increased foreign player migration has led to: First, increased disparity of teams playing in European competitions, as the richer clubs are able to send scouts all across the globe to discover some of the world’s best unknown players. Second, because gifted footballers across all continents of the world are able to play against the world’s best teams on a week to week basis, the standard of play by national teams outside of Europe is increasing as a result. It is a matter of time that either an Asian or African team wins the World Cup.

Foreigners made up 38.9 percent of the 2,744 players in the five biggest European leagues in the 2006/07 seasons.  The figures were compiled by researchers studying the 98 teams in the five main European leagues (Bundesliga, the Spanish league, the French league, the Serie A and the Premier League).[1] (Raffaele Poli, a researcher at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland). The five leagues averaged just under a quarter – or 24.3 percent – of homegrown players on rosters. The Premier League has the highest number of foreign players – 55.5 percent. Brazilians make up the largest group of foreign players in the five leagues. [2]

To some the presence of foreign players has brought about excitement for the prospect of teams being able to market their clubs all over the world and most importantly excitement for their fan base. The national pride of the past has vanished due to the fact that football has become more entertaining and more competitive to watch. On the other hand, many argue that have too many foreign talents limits the growth of home-grown, and furthermore creates a complete divide in the competitiveness of the league and weakens the national team. 
The arguments for and against foreign players have been protested in the media for decades, without much action ever taken. In another perspective, the increasing wealth of the top European leagues, boosted by television revenues and corporate sponsorships, has attracted in the best players from all over the world.[3]

Other factors that have contributed to the movement of players, is players are simply influenced by colonial, cultural and linguistic linkages. Thus, many players from Senegal, Togo, Cameroon and Tunisia play in France; while many South Americans especially Argentinians play in Spain.

The majority of foreigners emanate from other European countries, followed some way behind by South America. In part this reflects the legal issues such as work permit restrictions and the popularity of soccer in certain parts of the world. In Italy, there has been an attempt through regulations imposed by the FIGC (the governing body) to limit the number of foreign players that can be signed each season by a team. There are sanctions allowing only two non-EU players to join a club each year but clubs are constantly devising strategies to overcome these[4]

% of Italian Players in Serie A Team: 2012

TEAM Foreign Italian % Italian Position
Atalanta

6

26

77

Promoted

Bologna

13

31

61

 16th

Cagliari

8

23

65

14th

Catania

15

29

48

13th

Cesena

14

26

46

15th

Cheviot

15

30

50

11th

Fiorentina

13

27

52

9th

Genoa

16

26

38

10th

Inter

19

32

41

2nd

Juventus

9

30

70

7th

Lazio

19

33

58

5th

Lecce

11

30

63

17th

Milan

11

27

59

1st

Napoli

15

27

45

3rd

Novara

10

29

66

Promoted

Palermo

17

26

35

8th

Parma

10

28

64

12th

Roma

13

27

52

6th

Siena

5

30

83

Promoted

Udinese

20

31

30

4th

 

 

Globalisation is indeed a chief influence in the football industry with the best of the best of all African and South American talent trying their luck in Europe. With the demise of the 6+5 rule (each club having to field 6 players eligible to play for the national team of the country of the club[5]) that UEFA were hoping to instigate in 2012, it is nearly impossible to not see a further expansion in globalization. Furthermore is it possible to see in the future a team winning the champions league with ten home grown players on their side?  It is literally impossible to answer as there are so many variables to cover.

In an ever-expanding globalised world, surely there will always be some parallel amongst ‘success’ and the number of recruited foreign players on your team[6]? Clearly, if there was not teams would not rely on foreign players today? Therefore this promotes the subject: which countries export the most players[7]?

Indisputably, between clubs, the Champions League embodies the acme of soccer glory. Thus, if the number of foreign footballers recorded from a champions league winning side each year one would finally see the true difference between achievement and globalization, if there is one?[8]  Post 1997, the globalisation of football became much easier to notice thanks to clubs like “Real Madrid and Manchester United of ’98 and ’99 respectively, with both 7 imported players starting in their winning teams”[9]. The data reveals  a 194.4 percent rise in the number of foreign competitors in Champion League winning sides in the nineties for the past 30 years . This is a strong indication that globalisation has had, and is continuing to have, an extremely significant influence on professional soccer squads. Inter (Italy) had no Italian players starting in the Champions league final against Bayern Munich in 2010. Nevertheless, the development of globalisation is very apparent. “Even in one decade (80s-90s), there was a 76.67% increase in the number of foreign players in winning team.”[10]

 

An uneven fiscal landscape has also played its part in making certain leagues more competitive as the costs to acquire and hire a player are dramatically different. In Italy were the all-in tax rate stands at over 55% and soccer teams also have to pay an employment tax on the cost of labor. Since agents and players focus on the net after tax income to the player the consequences have a significant impact on a club’s income statement:

 

  England Spain Italy
Net after tax salary

2 mln

2 mln

2 mln

Tax rate

35%

40%

55%

Gross Salary

3.1 mln

3.3 mln

3.6 mln

 

 

 

 

 

If the fiscal impact is applied to club rosters of 30 players at an average of 2 million the ability of a club to compete on salary is not financially viable.  Inevitably certain leagues face another hurdle to become or stay competitive.

 

The advent of globalization and increased communication technology has created important opportunity for the leading soccer clubs to broaden their fan base and as a result capture higher revenues. The Club’s success is predicated on the support of the national league and the Premier League has demonstrated to be the most forward thinking with the development of youth academies and marketing worldwide. Youth will ultimately result in better cost efficiency for teams and larger local fanbases.  The Italian league has failed to capitalize on this opportunity and is at risk of not being able to catch up because the ability of Italian teams to pursue the best talent will be limited in large past due to the lower economic benefit they capture in the globalization process.  Italian teams remain increasingly dependent on the significant capital contribution of their wealthy benefactors.  International player migration is driven in part by certain linguistic and cultural affinity, but mostly because of economics.  The significant talent that is being developed in Africa, Asia or Latin America will be increasingly attracted by those leagues that can compensate the top players and most importantly also provide them the opportunity to create a personal brand.  Serie A will need to address its less attractive financial and economic business environment in order to attract top players and close the gap with the other leagues.    Serie A will need to address its less attractive financial and economic business environment in order to attract top players and close the gap with the other leagues.  So as Italy is no longer attracting the likes of Ronaldo, Kaka, Edgar Davids, Maradonna and Platini, shouldn’t they be focusing on the future of their own talent?

 

Europe’s top 10 earners
Italy’s top 10 earners
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
€14m Daniele De Rossi (Roma) €6.5m
Radamel Falcao (Monaco) €14m Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli) €5.5m
Lionel Messi (Barcelona) €13m Diego Milito (Inter) €5m
Thiago Silva (PSG) €12m Esteban Cambiasso (Inter) €4.5m
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) €11.4m Carlos Tevez (Juventus) €4.5m
Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) €11.2m Francesco Totti (Roma) €4.5m
Robin van Persie (Man Utd) €11.2m Mario Gomez (Fiorentina) €4.25m
Yaya Toure (Man City) €11.2m Marco Borriello (Roma)
€4m
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) €11m Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) €4m
Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
€10.8m Mario Balotelli (Milan) €4m
Ricardo Kaka (Milan) €4m
Philippe Mexes (Milan) €4m

 


[1]  Raffaele Poli “Africans’ Status in the European Football Players’ Labour Market”  Soccer and Scoiety, 2006

 

[2] Raffaele Poli “Africans’ Status in the European Football Players’ Labour Market”  Soccer and Scoiety, 2006

 

[3] Alistair Endesbury. (2008). Football restrictions on overseas players. Available: http://www.idebate.org/discussion/view_topic.php?id=1937&forum_id=1. Last accessed 22nd February 2012.

[4] David Storey “Football, place and migration: foreign footballers in the FA Premier League”, Geography International Journal, Summer 2011

[5] http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/federation/01/03/27/09/inea_media_release_e.pdf

[6] Deloitte, A. (2011). Deloitte Football Money League. Available: http://www.deloitte.com/view/en_GB/uk/industries/sportsbusinessgroup/sports/football/deloitte-football-money-league-2011/1cf28c129dffd210VgnVCM2000001b56f00aRCRD.htm. Last accessed 26th September 2011

[7] Hitchings, A . (2010). The Globalisation of Soccer. Available: http://soccereconomics.com/categories/3390. Last accessed 17th August 2011

 

[8] Hitchings, A . (2010). The Globalisation of Soccer. Available: http://soccereconomics.com/categories/3390. Last accessed 17th August 2011

[9] Deloitte, A. (2011). Deloitte Football Money League. Available: http://www.deloitte.com/view/en_GB/uk/industries/sportsbusinessgroup/sports/football/deloitte-football-money-league-2011/1cf28c129dffd210VgnVCM2000001b56f00aRCRD.htm. Last accessed 26th September 2011

 

[10] Hitchings, A . (2010). The Globalisation of Soccer. Available: http://soccereconomics.com/categories/3390. Last accessed 17th August 2011

 

 

[11] Hitchings, A . (2010). The Globalisation of Soccer. Available: http://soccereconomics.com/categories/3390. Last accessed 17th August 2011

[12]Hitchings, A . (2010). The Globalisation of Soccer. Available: http://soccereconomics.com/categories/3390. Last accessed 17th August 2011

 

 

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Dec 27 2012

Profile Image of Andrew Wenger

UEFA Financial Fair Play

Introduction

            Over the last 20 years European soccer has gone through an exciting but dangerous period of global expansion.  When Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV signed the English Premier League to a $115 million television rights deal in 1992, he set the European club sport on a terror of worldwide expansion.  The Spanish Empire of the 1700s is the only conquest that rivals the expansion of European soccer.[1]  With the additional capital, individual clubs could grow.  More potent, though, was the exposure the clubs garnered worldwide through the advent of technology.  This exposure turned community institutions into global brands that have been wielded with a capitalist’s fist.  The dangerous part is that this expansion has gone unregulated.

In European soccer, regulations are largely non-existent.  Thus it is a utopia for any ambitious owner to attempt to lead their club to the apex of European soccer, the UEFA Champions League.  Many clubs have attempted to attain this goal by building a team full of talent.  Clubs have used modern financial instruments such as leveraged buyouts and excessive amounts of debt.  They have given their plans fancy names such as the “Galacticos Project.”  This sometimes-dangerous process of building a talented team is where regulation is lacking in protecting European club soccer.  In 2009, UEFA did a study of the 655 European soccer clubs and learned that half of them ran a deficit the previous year.[2]   The lack of financial regulation has recently allowed several soccer clubs to go into bankruptcy because they could not pay their creditors.  In response to such occurrences, there is increasing pressure to implement some financial regulations to help protect the solvency of the world’s game.

This post will first investigate how the idea of Financial Fair Play (FFP) was created.  I will examine what some European Leagues already do to curb financial delinquency.  The post will then gloss over concerns skeptics have of the new regulations before delving into how the regulations are structured and how they will be governed.  This will be followed by questions pertaining to how UEFA will be able to achieve their desired goals that FFP is supposed to achieve.  Finally, it will discuss critiques and suggestions meant to improve the current FFP model.

Introduction to FFP

Financial Fair Play is the brainchild of UEFA president Michel Platini.  Mr. Platini did an October 2009 interview with the Wall Street Journal just a month after the UEFA Executive committee accepted the idea of Financial Fair Play.  In it he said, “’I was a leader on the field,’ Mr. Platini, 54, … ‘Now, I should be a leader for the game. To me, it is a game — with many, many things attached.  It has to remain a game, or nobody will save it.’”[3]  His goal is to protect the game of soccer and level the playing field so all can compete equally.

Platini admitted to spending extensive time with sports franchises in the United States to learn how they were so successful, for he claimed they weathered the financial crisis in 2008 better than anyone else.[4]  The reason American sports leagues weathered the crisis so well is due to the uniqueness of the leagues.  “The main role of the leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, and MLS) within this framework is to implement rules aimed at furthering the collective interest of the teams in achieving joint profit maximization.”[5]  At the highest level of each league, the team owners and commissioner work together to succeed together as a league rather than destroy one another.  This is done by strategically placing teams, sharing revenue, and imposing restrictions on labor markets to ensure competiveness.  These are aspects that are innate to American sports ideology but would not work in the free capitalist markets of European sports.

The French and German soccer leagues already have a form of financial governance.   France’s Lige 1 has the Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion (DNCG) that oversees every club’s financials and has the power to levy appropriate sanctions on clubs that do not protect the financial sustainability of their club.  Germany’s German Football Federation requires each team in the DFB to apply for a license each season that allows them to compete in the league.  The license application is based on the financial solvency of the clubs.  These regulations do not guarantee that every club will be exempt from financial troubles, but they do protect the entire league from spiraling into a debt-funded competition.  These regulations have protected the French and German leagues from the widespread financial follies that have plagued the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, and Italy’s Seria A.
Financial Fair Play will be based on the DFB policy of issuing licenses to clubs, which will allow them to participate in UEFA sponsored competitions.  The FFP regulations have been set out with six goals in mind.

  1. To introduce financial discipline
  2. Decrease salary and transfer fee pressure
  3. For clubs to compete within their revenues
  4. Long term investment in youth academies
  5. To protect the long term viability of club football
  6. For clubs to settle their liabilities with creditors on a timely basis[6]

The way Financial Fair Play will work is that over a five-year period soccer clubs will be required to slowly balance their books.  The implementation process was expanded to give clubs more time to comply and the 2012-13 season is the first year that introductory regulations will be in place.  The five-year process will ease clubs towards a balanced budget.  So, in theory, at the conclusion of the five-year period they will only be allowed to spend as much as they make.   The hope is to end the frivolous spending that often runs clubs into extreme debt.  The two chambers of the Club Financial Control Body will regulate this process.[7]   The CFCB will have the power to expel clubs from UEFA competitions if individual clubs do not make the appropriate actions to adhere to the new regulations.  Mr. Platini has repeated that FFP is a provision soccer clubs have asked for.

General FFP Concerns

Even though European clubs have asked for additional regulations, this does not mean that FFP has been met with open arms.  The biggest concern for the overall game is that FFP will create a status quo for big clubs.  Clubs will be required to operate within their revenue streams.  This clause protects clubs from over exerting themselves financially.  The flip side is that clubs with large amounts of revenue will be able to maintain their current financial dominance.  FFP inhibits smaller clubs from borrowing to fund future growth, which is normally how businesses grow.

A big component of FFP is prohibiting an owner with deep pockets to personally fund the team’s growth, but with the requirement of a balanced budget this is no longer possible.  The concern is that clever clubs will increase their revenues by signing exceptionally large sponsorship deals, sometimes with a company their owner is closely affiliated with.  Manchester City’s owner Sheikh Mansour is a Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and four of Manchester City’s eight main sponsors are companies owned by the UAE government.  A main job of the CFCB will be to watch for shady accounting practices aimed at avoiding FFP regulations.

Other major concerns are how the actual FFP regulations will take into account the customs and tax policies of each individual league.  For example, the FFP regulations say that each club must audit their books under their own national conditions.  Well, higher taxes in certain countries will have serious ramifications for the amount clubs can reinvest in the club.  It is also very ambiguous about what can be discounted concerning certain charity payments and investments in other parts of the club.  Third party ownership is not covered in FFP and this could lead to a rise in clubs only owning a portion of a player’s rights.  This would keep the club’s initial costs low but force the club to share the future proceeds from the player’s sale with the third party.  The final concern is that some of the larger clubs are investing their excess capital in non-soccer related investments, like housing projects or a Real Madrid resort in the Middle East.  How does the return on this investment play into Financial Fair Play?  Will the bigger clubs be allowed to count their return as revenue and thus have larger budgets to invest in the team?  It is going to be a full time job to make sure that FFP creates an equal playing field from top to bottom, or if it is simply a guise of equality.

FFP Structure

As stated before the goal of financial fair play is to force clubs to operate on a balanced budget or be penalized by UEFA.  What that simply means is that clubs must make more money than they spend.  The tricky part of FFP is discerning what portions of a club’s income and expenses play into this equation.  Article 58-1 of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations 2012 edition states that relevant income is,

Gate receipts, broadcasting rights, sponsorship and advertising, commercial activities and other operating income, plus either profit on disposal of player registrations or income from disposal of player registrations, excess proceeds on disposal of tangible fixed assets and finance income. It does not include any non-monetary items or certain income from non-football operations. [8]

Article 58-2 follows and states that relevant expenses are,

Cost of sales, employee benefits expenses and other operating expenses, plus either amortisation or costs of acquiring player registrations, finance costs and dividends. It does not include depreciation/impairment of tangible fixed assets, amortisation/impairment of intangible fixed assets (other than player registrations), expenditure on youth development activities, expenditure on community development activities, any other non-monetary items, finance costs directly attributable to the construction of tangible fixed assets, tax expenses or certain expenses from non-football operations.[9]

UEFA has done their due diligence and clearly stated what income and expenses UEFA participants should apply in their financial statements necessary to receive a license.

Once a club has figured out what is relevant income and expenses, the club then submits a financial report stating whether the club finished with a positive balance.  Though it is not as easy as simply finishing in the green.  Article 61 states that there is an acceptable deviation of 5 million Euros.[10]  This number is subject to change for if the equity partner can supply the difference, up to a certain amount, the club is able to pass the solvency test.  As stated earlier, FFP is in a 5-year implementation process.  This process is directly felt in Article 61 because in 2013-14 and 2014-15 owners can contribute up to an additional 45 million Euros to help their club break-even and 30 million Euros in 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18.  After which time UEFA will make a decision about a lower amount.

Another fact about Financial Fair Play is that the break-even requirement is also supplemented by an extended monitoring period.  This monitoring period is for the 2-years previous to the 2013/14 season and 3-years there after.  This means that clubs may have a deficit in one of the three years but, as long as they post a surplus for the aggregate of the three years, they pass the test.  So, a club can post a surplus in T-1, T-2 but not T,  as long as the reported deficit is within the acceptable deviation for all 3 years, then the club passes the break-even requirement.  This entire process is defined in detail in Article 63.

The break-even requirement is not the only stipulation that dominates the FFP regulations, though the toughest to comply with.  Article 62 lays out 4 indicators that are monitored to determine if a club is in jeopardy of being denied a license to compete.[11]  These indicators are Negative Equity, Break Even Result, Going Concern, and Overdue payables.  Break even has already been discussed and dissected.  Negative Equity is based on a net liabilities position that has deteriorated as compared to previous reporting periods.  This means that clubs must actively manage their debt to keep their debt at consistent or reduced levels that can be earnestly managed.  Negative indicator 62-3-iv protects all club employees from being denied payroll.  It means that clubs must be able to pay all club employees and other vendors it owes money to.   The final indicator UEFA uses to judge clubs is in article 62-3-i.  It is titled “Going Concern.” The indicator will be breached if “the auditor’s report of the club included an emphasis of a matter or a qualified opinion/conclusion in respect of going concern.”  This clause allows UEFA to reserve the right to expel clubs that are putting their club in dangerous waters financially, but outside of the previously stated regulations.  These are the major aspects of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations that are used to grant clubs a one-year license to compete in UEFA competitions.

If a club or individual is found to be in breach of these regulations the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) has the ability and power to levy penalties on guilty parties.  The CFCB is made up of two chambers, the investigatory chamber and the adjudicatory chamber.[12]  Members serve a four-year term with an unlimited number of terms.[13]  The Control Body adjudicatory chamber can, under article 21, warn, reprimand, fine, deduct points, withhold revenue from UEFA competitions, prohibit registration of new players in UEFA competition, restrict the number of players a club can have in UEFA competition, disqualify a club from competition, or withdraw a title or award.  Similarly, the body can warn, reprimand, fine, suspend, or ban an individual from competition.[14]  These penalties are the same penalties that have been used in the past.  What will legitimize the CFCB is the precedent they set and the equality they have among cases as they proceed with their task of defending the FFP regulations.  A key factor is that Article 28 states that prosecution is barred after five years of the incident.

The CFCB has already punished several clubs for failing to meet the FFP regulations.  As of September 11th 2012 the UEFA CFCB imposed sanctions against 23 clubs (Index A) by withholding prize money and setting an October 15th deadline for the clubs to prove that their finances are in order.[15][16]  UEFA has also disqualified three clubs, AEK Athens of Greece, Gyor of Hungary, and Besiktas of Turkey, from the 2012-13 Europa League Season.  These are the first of such actions, which exhibit that UEFA is deadly serious.  The problem is finding out to what degree the clubs breached one of the four indicators so as to provide a base line for comparing future decisions.

FFP Concerns

One innate problem with UEFA club football and the FFP regulations is that the tax policies throughout Europe vary greatly and can have a huge impact on a club’s final financials.  In Europe players’ salaries are all done on a net basis so that they can be compared from one league to another.  Each club must pay the players’ taxes.  These taxes can add up very quickly when you are paying a top player a net salary of 10 million Euros and the income tax rate is 50%.  Well, since his salary is net 10 million Euros, you end up paying 15 million Euros for his services.  That extra 5 million Euros is a big difference when you are competing against another club in a country with a 15% tax rate.

The top bracket in the Premier League, for example, is 50% on income above 200,000 pounds ($316,000). In Russia, for foreign nationals, there’s a 13% flat rate. In France, if President François Hollande follows through on his campaign pledge, iast will be 75% on anything over 1 million euro ($1.25 million).  What does this mean? The take-home pay of a soccer player grossing $10 million could be as little as $2.8 million in France and as much as $8.7 million in Russia.[17]

This article has it wrong, however, because many players negotiate their contracts on a net salary basis so as to avoid paying high taxes, and their club ends up footing the bill.  FFP does not address the differing tax issues.

There are also problems with the terms and language within the regulations.  Article 58 of FFP regulations was discussed earlier and, as stated, it lays out what is and is not “relevant income and expenses.”  There are loopholes in UEFA’s criteria.  In article 58-1 “finance income” is considered relevant.  That is a very vague term.  What is stopping a club from gambling on risky and complex financial instruments in an attempt to side step the regulations by classifying the gambles as “financial income” to get ahead?  Or, in another instance, to lend money to a wealthy owner’s parent company at an interest rate that is above the market rate?

Similarly in Article 58-2 “expenditure’s on community development activities” are not considered relevant expenses.  If Arsenal redevelops the area around their new Emirates Stadium, they are developing the community and reinvesting in it, but this redevelopment will surely bring a profit from the increased property values.  Where does this fit into the guidelines?  On a positive note youth development is a discounted expense.  It is the goal of FFP to promote self-sustaining clubs and youth development is one way to cut expenses on transfer fees.

The biggest problem with the Article 58-1-2 is the term “non-football operations.”  Real Madrid is building a resort in the UAE with its brand name attached.  Since the resort is using the Real Madrid brand, does that make it a football operation?  If the team plays preseason exhibition games there does that make it a football operation?  Others agree with this sentiment,  “If a company says ‘We’re genuinely trying to build a global brand, this is a global club and we think this is what this deal is worth,’ it becomes quite difficult for UEFA,” said Daniel Hall, a partner at global law firm Eversheds. “It’s something that is very much open to subjective opinion and that is where there may be legal disputes.”[18]  Where is the clarity?

The last part of Article 58-4 states, “Relevant income and expenses must be adjusted to reflect the fair value of any such transactions.”[19]  Fair Value will have to be interpreted on a case by case basis but whose judgment will be used to make this decision and how will equality be maintained?  Building on this point, Article 11-1 states that UEFA, the licensor, will “ensure equal treatment.”[20]  Article 11 also states in subset 2 that, “The licensor guarantees the license applicants full confidentiality with regard to all information submitted during the licensing process.  Anyone involved in the licensing process or appointed by the licensor must sign a confidentiality agreement before assuming their tasks.”[21]  How can anyone outside of the license process judge if equality or fair value is being achieved  when the entire process is private? The FFP regulations stated that the goal is to protect the long-term viability of club football.   The fans are the heart and soul of club football.  But if they do not know their club’s financial position, how are they supposed to hold their club accountable?  How are they supposed to hold UEFA accountable?  UEFA states it will be equal but the ability to be absolutely equal and confidential with such vague regulations guarantees that problems will arise.

It gets even more interesting in Article 15 “Special Permission.”  UEFA reserves the right under the FFP regulations to grant special permission to lower division clubs if they earn UEFA qualification on sporting merit but are unable to go through the licensing process. [22]  This part of the regulations allows UEFA one of the many loopholes in the FFP regulations to make decisions as they please.  This article, however, only applies to lower division clubs.

Article 61 covers the amounts club equity owners can contribute to make up the club’s deficit.  This clause is perplexing for FFP was created to eliminate the ability for owners with deep pockets to bank roll their club.  Now UEFA is simply limiting the amount they can contribute but, nonetheless, still sanctioning it.

Finally UEFA throws another loophole into the regulations with 62-3-i “Going Concern.” The indicator will be breached if “the auditor’s report of the club included an emphasis of a matter or a qualified opinion/conclusion in respect of going concern.”  Without a numerical value “going concern” is open for interpretation and possibly inequality.  The regulation is meant to give UEFA the ability to govern new situations that cannot be imagined.  But it also gives UEFA and the CFCB the possibility to abuse their power.

Proposed Changes

Financial Fair Play in its current form is flawed.  Club football in Europe needs regulations to protect the institution.  It is the institution of club football that is in jeopardy of failing, not the game itself, as Michel Platini said in the previously mentioned Wall Street Journal article.  He said, “To me, it is a game — with many, many things attached.  It has to remain a game, or nobody will save it.”[23]  A few clubs that enter bankruptcy do not threaten the game of soccer but the institution of club football.  It is an institution that is exciting but must be tweaked.  Where FFP fails  is that it is too vague and bloated with red tape.  Its ultimate failure is that it attempts to fix club football by regulating the clubs in UEFA competitions instead of regulating the market within which UEFA clubs participate.

The largest expenditure clubs must burden is that spent on players.  For example, Manchester City spent 107 percent of revenue on wages last season (2011-12), and Inter Milan 104 percent.[24]  Stephen Dobson points out that players can attract such large salaries due to the capitalistic nature of the labor market and the marketability players have, as they are able to reach millions via technology.[25]   Unfortunately, this market is inefficient; there is not enough supply of elite level players to supply the many clubs that need their services.  This is true with players’ salaries but more evident in the transfer market where teams will pay millions of Euros for a player’s services.  This expensive outlay of capital does not guarantee the necessary dividend payments consistent championships would supply.

The authors of “Soccernomics,” Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanskisaid, said “We studied the spending of forty English clubs between 1978 and 1997, and found that their outlay on transfers explained only 16 percent of their total variation in league position. By contrast, their spending on salaries explained a massive 92 percent of that variation.”[26]  Clubs spend millions on a new signing in hopes that one man will lead the team to glory.  It is apparent clubs are being repaid for one of their two major expenditures, player salaries, but transfer fees are wasteful spending.

To protect European club soccer UEFA must regulate the transfer market instead of regulating the clubs.  When there is a transfer it is compared against the last player to get the largest transfer fee.  A number that is going to continue to rise as there is no shortage of demand for the “best player in the world.”  What UEFA must do is either cap the amount of money a club can spend in the transfer market in one year, or cap the amount of money a club can spend on one player.  In doing so UEFA will establish a numerical value that can be applied to the best player in the world at any time.  If a club feels it is prudent to borrow money to invest in players within the cap then they can go ahead and roll the dice.  To expand you have to take risks, but the current FFP regulations limit a club’s ability to take those necessary risks and, in turn, simply protect the status quo consisting of clubs that currently have large revenue streams.

European club football is in a time of crisis, and just like a sovereign nation might issue a commodity prices freeze, UEFA needs to issue a transfer market fee freeze.  Players’ salaries have shown that they are directly related to a team’s return on expenditures, so I would advise a free market to continue.  Transfer fees in contrast are an unregulated market and one that does not equate to a desirable return on capital.

An updated FFP must also eliminate confidentiality.  Club football exists because of the fans that support their team and buy the team’s merchandise.   The fans and supporters have a right to know what is going on with their favorite club.   Additionally, UEFA should follow the DFB model and require clubs that participate in UEFA events to have a portion of their club owned by fans.  It may not be 50 percent, but involve the fans and make them a part of decisions.

To truly level the playing field, supporters must be given a larger voice in their club.  Financial statements must be made public and the transfer market has to be capped even if just for a crisis period to curb the exponential rise of transfer fees.  Are these solutions clubs would welcome?  That is the true conundrum of FFP.  The top clubs collude together to stabilize the market of European club football that ensures their financial dominance.  These top clubs will not agree to provisions that knock them from their position of dominance.  That is why any “so-called” Financial Fair Play regulations are not fair but a guise of equality to portray to the media and fans.

Conclusion

UEFA’s FFP is an honest try to fix the crisis in European club soccer, but it is by no means the solution.  It does a good job of beginning the process and conversation of protecting club football.  It is simply red tape that the larger clubs will be able to find ways through, for they have the resources to do so.  This red tape was brought on by capitalist expansion.

With the first major television rights deal European football has been on an explosive global expansion.  Football clubs were once simple local institutions where the fans were the club and the club was the fans.  Clubs like Millwall where Ultras define ‘“Millwallism” as a state of living and breathing relationship for one’s club that defines what it means.’[27]  As technology infiltrated European clubs it grew their ability to touch lives globally but also distanced them from those that matter most, the ones that were there from the very beginning.  They are the local, hometown fans that defined the club and the club defines them.  Now clubs must worry about the viewership of fans in remote parts of the world when their club is located in London, England for example.  Technology has distanced European club football from those that first defined the institution and must now find a way to balance them in the global and local marketplace.



[1] Kuper, Simon, and Stefan Szymanski. Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey and Even Iraq Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport. New York: Nation, 2009. Page 80.

[2] Dennis, Phil Dawkes & Ian. “Adopt Arsenal Money Model – Uefa.” BBC News. BBC, 01 Nov. 2011. Web. 9 Oct. 2012. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/9358589.stm>.

[3] Hughes, Rob. “THE SATURDAY PROFILE; Former Star on the Soccer Field, Now Trying to Level It.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Oct. 2009. Web. 9 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/31/world/europe/31platini.html?_r=1>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dobson, Stephen, and John A. Goddard. The Economics of Football. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 2001. P. 15.

[6] “Financial Fair Play.” UEFA.com. UEFA, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. <http://www.uefa.com/uefa/footballfirst/protectingthegame/financialfairplay/index.html>.

[7] Ibid.

[8] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 58-1.

[9] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 58-2.

[10] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 61.

[11]  UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 62.

[12] Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 4.

[13] Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 5.

[14] Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 21.

[15] “Football: Uefa Hands out First Financial Fair Play Penalties.” BBC News. BBC, 11 Sept. 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/19557934>.

[16] Dunbar, Graham. “UEFA to Decide next Month on 23 Clubs in Financial Difficulty | Sports , Football | THE DAILY STAR.” The Daily Star Newspaper. The Daily Star, 5 Oct. 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Sports/Football/2012/Oct-05/190196-uefa-to-decide-next-month-on-23-clubs-in-financial-difficulty.ashx>.

[17] Jones, Matt Scuffham, Rhys, and Neil Maidment. “Special Report: Soccer’s New Goal: Kick the Spending Habit.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 12 Aug. 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2012. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/12/us-soccer-fairplay-idUSTRE77B15820110812>.

[18] Ibid

[19] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 58-4.

[20] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 11.

[21] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 11.

[22] UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA, 2012. PDF. Article 15-1.

[23] Hughes, Rob. “THE SATURDAY PROFILE; Former Star on the Soccer Field, Now Trying to Level It.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Oct. 2009. Web. 9 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/31/world/europe/31platini.html?_r=1>.

[24] Jones, Matt Scuffham, Rhys, and Neil Maidment. “Special Report: Soccer’s New Goal: Kick the Spending Habit.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 12 Aug. 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2012. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/12/us-soccer-fairplay-idUSTRE77B15820110812>.

[25] Dobson, Stephen, and John A. Goddard. The Economics of Football. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 2001. P. 214.

[26] Kuper, Simon, and Stefan Szymanski. Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey and Even Iraq Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport. New York: Nation, 2009. Page 48.

[27] Robson, Garry. No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care: The Myth and Reality of Millwall Fandom. Oxford: Berg, 2000. P. 137.

All graphs were derived from The Swiss Ramble.

One response so far

Sep 01 2012

Profile Image of Grant Allard

Why Football is Part of the Creative Economy

Football is part of the creative economy because its value lies in ideas. Typically when we think of football, we tend to think of it as “big business.” Real Madrid made over $695 million in the 2011 fiscal year and the combined net worth of the top five richest clubs for 2011 is over $5 billion. But to put this into perspective, we need to realize that the combined value of the world’s five richest companies is nearly $2 trillion. We can all see that in the grand scheme of things, football financially pales in comparison to other sectors of industry. Yet football is both immensely powerful and popular. In FIFA’s latest Big Count, 270 million people—or four percent of the world’s population—are involved in football in some way. Further, more people watch the World Cup Final than any other single sporting events. This leads us to ask—is football really a business at all?

Football is, at the very least, is a part of the creative economy. According to the New England Foundation for the Arts, the creative economy refers to a sector of the economy that derives its value from producing and distributing “cultural goods and services that impact the economy by generating jobs, revenue, and quality of life.” Linking football to the creative economy likens football to artists, cultural nonprofit organizations, and creative businesses. This means that we can liken footballers to actors, dancers, sculptors, painters, educators, and other job paths associated with enriching society with a vibrant culture.
We can find evidence for thinking about football as generating the product of culture by looking at a few examples. First and most notably, many countries’ politics are linked to football. The best exemplar in the last decade is Silvio Berlusconi. He made his rise to prominence in football with his involvement in AC Milan’s top administration. After all, he named his political party after a football chant—Forza Italia!

I argue that football is part of this creative economy because it produces and distributes cultural goods that directly impact quality of life and the connections between people. We first must take up the fact that football impacts the quality of people’s lives because this will lead us to understand the way that it creates jobs.
Soccer impacts the quality of life because the experience connects us with others and allows us to escape the pain, troubles, and hurt that we experience in our daily lives. Jordi Royo, a psychologist at the Palliative Care Unit and Home Care Team at the Fundacio Hospital Sant Jaume y Santa Magdalena in Mataró, Spain, demonstrated in a poster that cancer patients’ symptoms were lessened or alleviated while watching soccer matches. But we don’t need to be cancer patients to understand how soccer shapes our views toward life.
A soccer game is a performance. The players are actors in a drama whose laws govern play but do not predetermine it. The spectators come from different perspectives on the world to share the game. We typically think of soccer as being played in blue-collar, industrial cities, whose workforce turns out to support the local team; yet, (as Pelada would remind us) soccer is also played in schools, in jails, and by construction workers. And now, more than ever, soccer is a global game that brings together not only working class laborers in industrial centers but also white-collar workers from cultural centers such as Barcelona, Milan, Munich, and Liverpool. In this way, soccer becomes a cultural institution that defines our own identity.
The cultural centers I mentioned above were large industrial centers before they were cultural centers with outstanding soccer clubs. Kuper and Szymanski, authors of the book Soccernomics, point out that the aforementioned cities were industrial towns during the early development of the sport. These industrial cities have become cultural centers because they forged an identity from their soccer teams. Where capital cities focused on the standard cultural products such as fine arts, museums, government institutions, and business headquarters that come along with being a capital, these industrial cities defined themselves by their soccer clubs because it was a comparison point between cities

Hooliganism would seem to be a phenomenon that threatens the nexus between people because it pits city, ethnic, and class identities against each other in a violent way. Hooliganism though is universally derided as a major problem for the game. It is something that nearly anyone can recognize. Thus hooliganism is a structure—that even though it pits people against each other—is part of the common shared language that surrounds soccer. Hooliganism is a problem because it is a disjunction between seeing the big picture and hyper-focusing on certain particulars. The hooligan focuses on the fact that other fans belong to a certain group-identity that supports an opposing team and thus must themselves be bad. He loses his ability to see the contextual picture of how violence destroys his connection to the world because of the intoxication that he feels when connecting to a few radicals. As the hooligan focuses on his own identity, he loses sight of the sport and its creative power.

Soccer is a creative enterprise that connects people across political, geographic, and temporal boundaries. It is creative both because of the “product” the players produce on the field, but also because of the “products” the fans make, such as fan tributes, blogs, and cultural memes (chants, songs, fan clubs, etc.). Soccer contributes to humanity because it allows people to create new ideas and cultural institutions. Soccer then is part of the creative economy, because it emphasizes our humanity. And while some people become exorbitantly rich, the majority of people involved in football seek to create experience within a domain that underlines our connections to one another as human beings.

2 responses so far

Aug 12 2012

Profile Image of Andrew Wenger

What is Soccer’s Business?

The business of a soccer club is to produce a winning team. At the end of the day sports are a form of entertainment. Too often, though, actions taken place in the board room or at the negotiating table take away from the entertainment displayed on the field. At times, the aggressiveness and sometimes greediness of clubs leads to failure on the field. Specifically, the mountains of debt some European clubs have amassed in recent years often do more harm than good for a club. Last year, players in La Liga — one of the world’s richest leagues — nearly went on strike when one club failed to pay wagesEarlier this year, Rangers FC entered administration after they could not pay some $77 million the club owed in taxes. I visited Rangers when I was younger on a European tour and since that time have considered it one of the oldest and most notorious club in Europe. The same has happened to F.C. Portsmouth for the second time in as many years. In both cases, the financial problems were the result of poor management decisions. When clubs with such great histories are suffering in this way, we have to ask ourselves whether there are fundamental problems with the way the business of soccer is being managed in many places.

In 2005, Malcom Glazer used the financial tool of a leveraged buyout (LBO) to purchase Manchester United for $1.5 billion and make the company private. In the end, I would argue, this action ultimately hampered the team’s ability to keep or purchase new star players. A leveraged buyout is where the takeover artist will borrow the majority of the cost to purchase the new company against the company’s future cash flows and current assets. More often than not in a LBO the new owners will have to sell key parts of the new business to pay down the debt. In the case of a soccer club their assets are their stadium and training grounds as well as their players. Manchester United, for instance, sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee of  $132 million. Even with the sale of Ronaldo, United has been unable to manage their mountainous debt payments and recently reissued shares of the club on the New York Stock Exchange for public purchase. Glazer raised $300 million dollars in the IPO, half will be used to pay down the $663 million in remaining debt. NYT blogger Graham Ruthven claims Sir Alex Ferguson may even benefit financially from the IPO. The IPO took place on Friday August 10th, with a $14 price. A price that was significantly supported by the underwriters of the IPO throughout the day.  But what if the $800 million spent on interest payments and banking fees could have instead been spent on increasing the player and fan experience at Manchester United? Even with the new issuance, control of the club will be retained by the Glazer family as they will retain 67% of B shares which have voting power, so little will likely change in the general approach taken to the finances of the club.

As you can see from the photograph below, the actions by Glazer have outraged many fans of Manchester United, who consider that he has in some ways taken the club from them. They have a point. After all, as a “brand” a club is not only made up of it’s players and managers, but also of the fans and the tradition they carry with them.

Another instance of over spending and debt damaging a club is Leeds United, formally of the Premier League. Rather than piling on debt through a LBO , the club borrowed to purchase players. Leeds were a big club in the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in a Champions League semi-final place in 2001. But the club was ultimately undone by their Chairman Peter Ridsdale’s idea to go for it. He proceeded to use shady financial products to purchase players with borrowed money using future ticket sales as collateral. Essentially the fans loyalty. Ultimately it failed and the club had to sell assets at a blistering pace as the club entered administration: the stadium Elland Road (pictured below), training ground at Thorp Arch, and any player that was worth a nickel, including some considered to be part of England’s golden generation. Great players were sold at a severe discount due to the team’s financial troubles. The club also suffered demotion to England’s third tier and have since had to claw themselves back from the brink of extinction.

The idea of corporate borrowing is nothing new. Most companies must borrow to fund future growth. But there is a line between intelligent borrowing and getting caught in a credit crunch. Just like the many U.S. home owners who over-extended themselves between 2003 and 2008, soccer clubs may soon find themselves unable to pay their debts. In Europe, several countries — Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Italy — are desperately trying to reorganize its debt in order to make payments. Fiorentino Perez, the Chairman of Real Madrid and creator of the “Galacticos” is in the midst of de-leveraging in his real business, A.C.S., or Actividades de Construcción y Servicios. The company is one of the largest building services companies in the world. As he has done with Real Madrid, Perez has orchestrated huge loans, creating $12 billion in debt that the company has since had to sell assets to cover. Real Madrid, meanwhile, is currently $500 million in debt because of the money it has spent creating the “Galacticos” (pictured below). Many in business have believed that  borrowing to fund instant success is the winning formula.But the formula only works as long as growth outpaces debt obligations.

The authors of the book “Soccernomics,” Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, make a compelling argument that the outlandish transfer costs that have become the norm in professional soccer are not the way to success. “We studied the spending of forty English clubs between 1978 and 1997, and found that their outlay on transfers explained only 16 percent of their total variation in league position. By contrast, their spending on salaries explained a massive 92 percent of the variation” (48). They conclude that the market for player wages is efficient while the transfer market is well not efficient. You can see this inefficiency at work in many cases. Tottenham Hotspurs, for instance, transferred Jermaine Defore to Portsmouth and Robbie Keane to Liverpool for a combined $52 million only to bring them back a year later under new manager Harry Redknapp. Soccernomics provides the ultimate example of transfer market inefficiency. “In 1983 AC Milan spotted a talented young black forward playing for Watford. The word is that the player Milan liked was John Barnes, and that it then confused him with his fellow black teammate Luther Blisett.” Milan bought Blisett. This type of almost comical folly may be why, down the road, Milan has had to sell two of their most valuable players this summer to pay down debt — Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva (below), both to now super-wealthy club Paris Saint-Germain. AC Milan has run a total deficit of  245.4 million euros in the last 5 years. The spending of some of the biggest football clubs in the world is out of control.

Many clubs feel that they must take on such debt to keep up with the “Jones’s” — clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea, whose  billionaire owners are not worried about the bottom line of the clubs they own. Sheik Mansour from Qatar bought Man City for a measly $330 million but then proceeded to spend close to double that on stocking his team with talented players. He was only following the lead of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (pictured below). UEFA reported that more than a quarter of the 650 soccer teams in Europe are spending $16.50 for every $13.50  of revenue. Running a deficit is fine for the super rich owners who care about nothing else than winning. Unfortunately not every team is owned by an owner with bottomless pockets. The massive television contracts in Europe are giving clubs increasing revenue. In June 2012 the English Premier League signed a record $4.7 billion/3 year television deal and the German Bundesliga signed a $3.2 billion/4 year deal. The deals were a 72% and 52% increase over the previous deals respectively. Compare those numbers with the $115 million Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. paid for the television rights to the Premier League in 1992. But even with the rising revenue teams are still forced to borrow to compete with the billionaire owners of the world. European teams currently run a collective $1.5 billion deficit.

Some are trying to stop the process. Michel Platini (pictured below) has launched the Financial Fair Play (FFP) plan, which is meant to force European clubs to balance their books by the 2013/14 season. If clubs fail to balance their books they will be excluded from UEFA competitions.But what if Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City refuse to follow the rule and are kicked out of the Champions League. Mr. Platini, what happens then? Riddle me that?

Perhaps clubs will have to start running teams like my namesake, Arsene Wenger. Are we related? I  guess we will never know. He is a fantastic manager though. It is said Wenger uses statistics to judge a players future output on the field compared rather than over-evaluating a player’s past performances. He has a degree in Economic Sciences from the University of Strasburg in France: from an economic perspective, this player evaluation model makes much more sense than the approach taken by other clubs. It is similar to judging a blue chip stock. You don’t make your decision to invest on the stock’s previous performance but attempt to judge its future performance by looking at the fundamentals of the company presented in their financial reports. As players, our statistics are our financial reports.

Perhaps the Financial Fair Play plan will alter a shift in professional soccer in Europe. Barbara Berlusconi has underlined the need for change: “Soccer teams will have to transform into proper companies. If you can only spend what you get, then you have to keep costs in check and increase revenue. It’s a challenge that can become an opportunity.” This change in soccer will be a positive one if it improves what is produced on the field, or simply forces owners to be smarter with how they spend their money. The thing is soccer clubs are not like regular companies. The authors of Soccernomics say it best: “The business of soccer is soccer,” they note, and clubs “are more like musems: public-spirited organizations that aim to serve the community while remaining reasonably solvent.” The irony of what is happening today in so many clubs is that running a soccer club with pressure to make money may ultimately contradict its stated goal of winning on the field!

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Jul 05 2012

Profile Image of Philip Kaisary

¡Tricampeones! Spain complete their cycle

“Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good football. I go about the world, hands outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.”
- Eduardo Galeano

 

They are calling them el generation de fenómenos – ‘the generation of phenomenons.’ On the night of July 1, 2012, in Kiev, the most talented generation of footballers that Spain has ever produced – or, perhaps, will ever produce – fashioned their most lucid performance. With their destruction of Italy by four goals to nil, the largest margin of victory in a European or World cup final, Spain has become the only team to defend successfully the European Championship, and the first international side since the Uruguay teams of 1924, 1928, and 1930 to win a hat-trick – tres tantos – of consecutive major tournaments.

Spain, the perennial underachievers have become perennial world-beaters and record-setters. Much has been made of the fact that the cycle that was set in motion when Spain defeated their bête noire, Italy, on penalties in 2008, a team that they had never previously beaten in tournament football, has now come full circle. Italy has been beaten again, and with panache.

Spain’s recent dominance of world football has been so staggering that we must rouse ourselves from the enchanted state that their mesmeric play is capable of inducing and remind ourselves of its unreal reality: Spain have not so much as conceded a goal in a knock-out game since Zinedine Zidane scored a break-away solo effort in their 2006 World Cup quarter-final against France. Or to put it another way, as Rob Smyth has observed, “Iker Casillas’s net has been untouched for sixteen and a half hours.” Spain’s extraordinary cycle has been defined not only by their inventive and artistic football, but also by their impregnability.

Yet, it is not for achieving their record-setting triptych of victories that Spain 2008–’10–’12 now assumes a place in the pantheon. Hungary 1953, Brazil 1970, Holland 1974, Brazil 1982: football’s immortal sides are not mere winning machines, but the workers of miracles. Last night, Spain’s miracle was to play at a level of such audacious incisiveness, married to an impregnability approaching perfection, that, as Pablo Neruda might have put it, it were as if the moon and the stars lived in the lining of their skin. If it was not quite as astounding as Barca’s 5–0 destruction of Real Madrid in 2010, the spectacle of the condemned Italians chasing Spanish moon-shadows was both exquisite and cruel.

That the Italians had sight of goal on occasion only exacerbated the cruelty of the joke: as if the cat-like Casillas would ever be beaten! Denied agency, Spain’s adversaries became mere victims: the harder Italy chased, bravely competing for territory and possession, the more stretched they became and the more hopeless their cause. By half-time Spain were two goals to the good.

Jonathan Wilson has argued that Pep Guardiola’s final season at Barcelona became like a Greek tragedy – the hero aware of his destiny yet unable to prevent it. This final’s narrative arc also took on something of the hue of Greek tragedy: Spain compelled Italy to chase the game, creating the conditions in which Italian defeat would be fulfilled by their desperate attempts to avert it. The theme of Italy’s defeat had been scripted through the ages: Aeschylus and Sophocles, Yeats, Mann, and Conrad. Italian defenders strained and stretched sinews, contorted their bodies (to breaking point in the cases of Giogio Chiellini and Thiago Motta), pressed and continued to chase, but Spain’s prodigies created or discovered space where none seemed to exist, stretching, manipulating, and piercing defensive lines, seemingly at will. Such exquisite mastery sears itself in the memories of aficionados forever.

The aesthetic aspect of Spain’s sublime technique and dazzling collectivity is consummate evidence with which to buttress Lilian Thuram’s contention: “Footballers can be like artists when the mind and body are working as one. It is what Miles Davis does when he plays free jazz – everything pulls together into one intense moment that is beautiful.”

Intense moments of beauty in which fantasy and reality blur: Xavi’s perfectly measured pass for Jordi Alba in full-flight, inviting the left-back to return to earth to score a goal I had only thought possible on a Playstation; the balletic quality of an Iniesta body-swerve; the high-speed smuggling of the ball through, between, around, and away from Italians all night long; the sublime improvisation inherent to what Xavi calls “mig-toc” – “half-touch” – tiki-taka that maps the coordinates of a beautiful and unrelenting dance: ‘there is only one ball and you shall not have it.’

With Spain’s near flawless performance in Kiev, the argument about the identity of football’s greatest team just got more complicated.

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Jun 26 2012

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

Mario Balotelli and the New Europe

During international football competitions like the European Cup, eleven players briefly become their country, for a time, on the pitch. A nation is a difficult thing to grasp: unpalpable, mythic, flighty. Historians might labor away to define the precise contours of a country’s culture and institutions, and even sometimes attempt to delineate its soul, while political leaders try mightily (and persistently fail) to stand as representatives of its ideals. But in a way there is nothing quite so tactile, so real, as the way a team represents a nation: during their time on the pitch, they have in their hands a small sliver of the country’s destiny. And in those miraculous and memorable moments when individual trajectories intersect with a national sporting victory, sometimes biographies and histories seem briefly to meld. At such moments, the players who inhabit the crossroads of sporting and national history –Maradona in 1986, Zidane in 1998 — become icons, even saints.

This charged atmosphere can also mean that the collective of a given country’s team can also become a symbol. This was perhaps most forcefully the case in France in 1998, when the fact that the country had won it’s first World Cup with a team bewildering in it’s jovial diversity (Armenian! Algerian! Guadeloupean! Kanak!) was taken by many as signifying and symbolizing the arrival of a new France. The feeling was short-lived but powerful, indeed energizing. And it suggested one particularly powerful way through which international football competitions can speak to questions about national identity and belonging, and more specifically the place of immigration and immigrants in the nation.

Watching the 2012 European Cup competition, you can increasingly see how histories of immigration have reshaped the world of European football. For a long time, France was relatively unique in the extent to which players with roots outside of Europe played central roles on the national football squad. It’s a tradition that goes back to the early 20th century in France — in the 1930s the Senegalese player Raoul Diagne and the Moroccan Larbi Ben Barek both played on the French national team, for instance, and a string of Algerian players did as early as the 1920s and through the 1950s. Portugal, meanwhile, had the great Mozambican-born Eusebio in the 1960s. The great French generation of Michel Platini, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, included a number of players with African and Caribbean roots. By then, other countries — particularly the Netherlands, which famously included several players of Surinamese background, and England which in the late 1970s incorporated a series of black players largely of Caribbean ancestry — began fielding more diverse teams. But in other countries the process was much slower. Germany, Italy, and Spain in particular continued to field teams with few if any players of non-European background. Perhaps the most startling contrast in this regard came in 2006, when a French team in which 19 of 23 players on the squad had roots in Africa, North Africa, the Caribbean, or the Indian Ocean, in contrast to an Italian team which, with the exception of some Argentine-Italians, had no players with non-European roots.

In the past years this all begun to shift in important ways. The German team in the 2010 World Cup was heralded for it’s multi-ethnic composition — with Ghana (via Boateng), Brazil (via Cacau), Tunisia (via Khedira) and Turkey (via Ozil) all represented. If the numbers were small compared to the French team, it still represented a shift, one brought about through a conscious longer-term policy that sought to expand and diversify training and recruitment in German soccer. Similar changes are visible on other national teams. Switzerland’s team (absent from this Euro) benefited strikingly in South Africa from the contribution of Gelson Fernandes, son of Cape Verde immigrants who scored their goal in their stunning victory over Spain. At the Euros this year The Czech team showcased the talented Thedor Gebre Selassie, son of an Ethiopian doctor. And the player who truly defined Sweden’s exalting performance against France in the final group game in this year’s Euro, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is the child of Croatian and Bosnian parents.

There is obviously no simple explanation for how and why certain international teams include players of immigrant background. At some level, each player’s trajectory is an individual story, one that combines talent, discipline, and luck to bring them to the highest levels of the sport. But there are also larger social and historical forces at work. These involve three inter-related processes. At the broadest level, there is of course the history of migration in each European country. While these histories are — especially in an increasingly integrated Europe — tightly connected, they are also quite diverse. Migration to some countries — most notably France and the U.K. — is shaped by their colonial histories, though both countries also have large migrant populations that are not from former colonies. In places like Belgium and Italy, migration from former colonies (particularly the Congo in the former case and Ethiopia and Somalia in the latter) is a small part of a broader tapestry of migration. And intra-European migration, particularly from Eastern to Western Europe, is also part of the story as it has long been.

But patterns of migration don’t necessary become patterns of sporting participation. For that to happen, there have to be mechanisms for the inclusion of migrants into the networks of training that professionalize young players. To understand how that happens in different countries, you need to understand the different types of professionalization — most importantly the structuring of academies or sport-training tracks in schools. That is something Lindsay Marie Krasnoff explores well in a recent piece contrasting Spanish and French academy systems. Interestingly, though, the Spanish national team remains an outlier in some ways, for there is a striking absence of players of non-European background on the team. Why is this the case? Will it change in the coming years?

In this European Cup, the most important and fascinating player of immigrant background is clearly Mario Balotelli. For the past decades, Italy’s national team has had very few black players, and none ever so prominent as Balotelli. He’s earned a place as the team’s key striker, and his presence has been at the center of polemics and debates around racism at the Euro competition. His story is as fascinating as it is complex. Born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents, he had health problems as a child and ultimately was fostered with a wealthier Italian couple. Although the fostering was initially meant to be for a year, Mario ended up staying, leaving behind his Ghanaian name of Barwuah and taking on that of his foster parents, the Balotellis. At 18, he took on Italian citizenship. As the Daily Mail reported in 2010, his relationship with his biological parents became strained and distant. A brilliant player, Balotelli has found vertiginous success on the pitch, coupled with regular appearances in the newspaper for various teenage stunts, and has been recruited to play as one of his national team’s key strikers during this tournament.

Though a number of players intervened into the discussion about how to respond to racist fans during the European Cup, none was more forceful than Balotelli, who announced that he might walk off the pitch if confronted with monkey noises or other forms of racist abuse. As it happened, he was — during the Italy vs. Croatia match — as several hundred fans made monkey noises at him and one threw a rapidly-retrieved (and photographed) banana onto the pitch to taunt him.

He didn’t carry out his threat of leaving the pitch, though the fact that he had emphasized the issue probably helped pressure UEFA to take action after the match. They fined the Croatian Federation 80,000 Euros for the behavior of his fans. Of course that fine can seem rather small, especially when compared to other fines levied by the same body. As The Star reported: “The fine is €20,000 ($25,000) less than the UEFA disciplinary panel ordered Denmark forward Nicklas Bendtner to pay one day earlier for revealing a sponsor’s name on his underpants.”

During the next game, against Ireland, Balotelli scored his first goal of the competition. What happened next generated perhaps one of the most potent and fascinating moments in the tournament: as he turned to celebrate, he began to say something. But his teammates rapidly put their hands over his mouth, muffling and silencing him. The image was unsettling: a goal celebration that was also a bit of a mugging, as if the job of Balotelli’s teammates was to make sure that he scored but didn’t speak afterwards. Most commentators — like those I heard on Belgian television — commended the action, taking the line that given Balotelli’s penchant for controversial statements and behavior, they were doing the young man a favor. But what, precisely, was Balotelli trying to say? The Independent has suggested that — like Samir Nasri who, after scoring against England, had shouted “Ferme ta gueule!” at the camera, presumably responding to a recent criticism in L’Equipe about his lack of scoring — he was going to taunt the Italian journalists who had been critical of his performance in previous games. Then again, maybe he was just going to say something about how awesome he is, which he clearly enjoys doing as well. But there’s another possibility, which is that Balotelli had some words for the racist fans from the previous game who had taunted him. His teammates stifled whatever it was that was about to come out of his mouth.

Balotelli faces seeping racism at home too: in anticipation of the Italy-England match, Italy’s leading sports newspaper, La Gazetta Dello Sporto, published this cartoon, whose racial vocabulary is not that far from that of the Croatian fans.

As Elizabeth Cotignola has recently noted in a provocative piece about the specter of decline threatening Italian football, migration — and a more open approach to migrants in Italian society — may be the key to assuring the future of the sport in the country. If that is true, Balotelli may represent the beginning of a new era in Italian football.

What is striking in the lead-up to the Germany-Italy game is that, no matter which team wins the victory will be the result of a collective effort by a group that brings together diverse histories. If the Italian teams wins, there is a good chance it will be thanks to the alliance of the veteran Andrea Pirlo with Mario Balotelli. Though Balotelli failed to score in open play, he threatened England on several occasions. Pirlo, meanwhile, directed the team effectively, and topped the evening off with a cheeky and brilliant panenka during the penalty kick shoot-out. The experience of the French team in this tournament is testament, once again, to what can happen when a team of very talented players lacks a figure who centers and directs the action of the team — the way Zidane did in 2006, for instance. But with Pirlo and other experienced players behind him, Balotelli has the opportunity on Thursday to earn a place in the pantheon of Italian football.

Balotelli has now scored twice, once against Ireland and once scoring the first penalty against England. Will he do so again against Germany? And if so, what will that mean for him, and for Italy?

15 responses so far

Aug 12 2011

Profile Image of Joaquin Bueno

Champions on Strike

The headline in El País said it all: “The strike of champions.”

As of Friday, August 12, the AFE (Spanish Footballers’ Association) union resolved to strike for at least the first two matchdays of the Spanish professional football season.

Their reason is  a crisis in Spanish football related to the credit bust that, thus far, has left at least 200 players in First and Second Divisions owed €50 million in wages.

Furthermore, the players are standing against the increasing incidence of their colleagues’ wage payments being delayed, sometimes for months. What’s more, they are demanding stricter oversight from Spanish football governing bodies to prevent such situations from occurring.

The way they see it, Spanish football should be looking more in the way of countries such as Holland or Germany, where club team spending is much more controlled. They even point to the Premier League, where a team like Portsmouth, declared insolvent, is punished with relegation.

In contrast, in Spain football teams have been juridically ignored regarding their spending and labor practices. To highlight the situation: Zaragoza owes its players millions from last season, yet have already signed eight new players, one of whom cost €8.6 million. Players, bound to contracts, are unable to escape the situation, and, furthermore, since there are no legal provisions to punish the nonpaying clubs, are forced to stay on since they haven’t been paid and their only hopes of getting payed are by staying put.

While many have mocked the idea of football players being slaves, one can also understand the bad positions that teams often put players in. Imagine, a young man gives up his schooling with the idea of being a professional footballer. He does so with the idea of building a career, and focusing every bit of energy on it. Yet the shelf life of an average player is shorter every season; the reality is that football is only a solid career until one’s early thirties, when the body gives out.

At this point, the situation for Spanish players is such that there is no guarantee that they will even get the financial benefits of that career. What’s more, the boom in the Spanish football industry, parallel to the boom in the economy firmly tied to real estate speculation and excessive spending, has seen teams spending exorbitant sums on players–many of them quite bad–from all over the world. The past 15-20 years have seen a global expansion in the game–via TV rights and merchandising–that has favored cosmopolitan teams with universal appeal.

Now, with the burst of the bubble and the drastic slashing of banking credit (not to mention the possibility of increased regulation), many teams are beginning to look like sinking ships. Very expensive ships with no life rafts.

What’s more, since credit has dried, very few teams are able to get any, and we could have guessed that those with that luxury are Real Madrid and Barcelona. Both teams continue to sign players left and right, paying high wages and enjoying the profits of their all-encompassing appeal in every corner of the world.

In many ways, it’s becoming a two-horse race; a look at revenues in Spain, compared to similar charts for league titles in the last ten years, shows that there is one Real Madrid, one Barcelona, and a field full of also-rans.

In a Spain (and a Europe) in which the common people are being forced to swallow “austerity measures” (cuts to social spending and increased taxes), that makes the idea of the football business somewhat more ridiculous. While small and medium businesses in Spain, still a strong economic force, are finding their credit to be cut, they see a sector of the Spanish economy not bound to the same basic rules. Solvency, spending what one can afford to pay, paying one’s employees.

And yet, the press, while highlighting the strike (though not so much its financial implications), still warms up to the idea of the start of the new season, not to mention the Fabregas saga. The nationalistic Madrid-based papers (especially AS and Marca), as well as the Catalan dailies (such as Sport),  have also given these lastly mentioned stories much more prominent attention.

At the same time, as the 15-m movement against the austerity measures continues to be vociferous in Spain, El Pais also featured an article about former Sporting Gijón footballer Javi Poves, who quit the sport for “ethical reasons,” motivated by his anarchist political beliefs.

The 15-m, short for “15th of May,” protestors have been staging nonviolent protests since May against what they view as governmental and corporate irresponsibility in the economic crisis. They demand, among other things, accountability and the upholding of workers’ rights.

And interesting bedfellows the two groups, footballers and protestors make, at least in terms of our discussion here. As the football season approaches once again, so do we get closer to finding more about the true depths and consequences of the global economic crisis. Football, more than ever, parades the fantasy that all is well, that the world is in order, and that the best team wins, again and again.

 

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