Una Mullally: Money has fouled soccer’s appeal
Hyperinflation and excess have helped make the beautiful game seem trivial
Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar in action with St Etienne’s Saidy Janko. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
It’s a hard thing to admit that you’ve fallen out of love with football. But as another season of the Premier League gears up, I can’t pretend any longer. After a lifetime of fandom of Manchester United, I’ve barely watched a match in two years. It’s strange when such a constant in your life disappears.
I can’t remember when it happened, but it was probably sometime around being too sick to focus on a football match or view it as important. It fell away. And never came back. I did crack a grin at Wayne Rooney scoring for Everton against Manchester City, but that’s more tribalism than anything else.
The music that you listen to in your teenage years becomes the stuff to which you tend to regress. I think that’s true of sport as well. Are United fans in their 30s or 40s really going to have as intense a relationship with De Gea as they had with Schmeichel? Fellaini and Pogba as Giggs and Scholes?
A music journalist I know once quit writing about music for a period because he said he fell out of love with it; the endless hype around record releases, the latest indie band, the having to listen. These things can happen, right? Surely they’ll come back around again? But once you break the taboo of admitting one of the biggest sacred cows around is ultimately pure silliness, I know there’s no going back.
With too much money now in the Premier League system chasing too few quality players, their price increases simply because the money is there to buy them
It’s partly getting sick of the economics of it all, the ridiculousness of fees that are paid for very average players. It’s partly trying to ignore the corruption of the sport on a global organisational level.
I read a piece recently about football and hyperinflation, on the back of Neymar’s £198 million transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain. The article, by Josh McLeod, a PhD candidate in corporate governance from Heriot-Watt University, spoke about how the league is experiencing a classic case of “demand-pull inflation”, otherwise known as too much money chasing too few goods. Of the various reasons demand-pull inflation occurs (a rapid increase in consumption, exchange rate issues that increase exports, government spending), the key ones are monetary growth and expectations. With too much money now in the Premier League system chasing too few quality players, their price increases simply because the money is there to buy them.
The other reason is the expectation that inflation will continue. We expect (or sometimes just imagine) that things will get more expensive, so therefore they become more expensive. The correlations with Ireland’s disastrous housing bubble are pretty clear.
The ludicrousness of the market in the Premier League right now is due to the £5.1 billion broadcasting deal between Sky and BT Sports, which began last year and will finish in 2019. Until then, the money-throwing dramatics will be as theatrical as an Ashley Young dive, and probably just as dishonest.
How can you ethically support Fifa in any way? How can you excuse the actions of that organisation and talk about the ethical ones of others?
I’ll await the inevitable snarking about not supporting a more local club, but I didn’t grow up with the League of Ireland. The rivals embedded in my mind were foreign too. I despised Liverpool so much that, as a teenager, I once invested hours and hours playing an entire season of the computer game Championship Manager as their manager, and put Robbie Fowler in goal for every match just so I could watch them lose catastrophically over and over again in a computer simulation. While I understand that this is the kind of detail that shows up in the psychological profile of the perpetrators of mass shootings, I’m merely admitting it to illustrate how dedicated one needs to be to a level of pedantry necessary to investing one’s life in following English football.
As a child, we didn’t have “the sports channels”, so instead I would sit in front of the television on Saturday watching teletext and, week in, week out, taking down the Premier League scores as they came in. I could now probably name only 70 per cent of United’s first team.
I was in Nepal in 2013, working on an article in a remote area in the southwest of the country on the Indian border about rescued domestic slaves. I met some women in a village who had formed a co-op and whose main priority was getting enough cash together to send their sons off to work somewhere else so they could earn money to send home. Where were the sons going? Qatar.
It took me a few seconds to realise the initially surprising answer wasn’t surprising at all. Those sons, in a far-flung part of Nepal, were building the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, a competition which is already soaked in the blood of the hundreds, probably thousands of migrant workers who have died in Qatar’s construction boom in recent years, of which preparations for the World Cup are a large part.
How can you ethically support Fifa in any way? How can you excuse the actions of that organisation and talk about the ethical ones of others? You just can’t. Football is shrouded in so many ugly things that didn’t feel relevant when I was a teenager, but now they’re to the fore. Coming out about falling out of love with it feels strange, but for now, the years of investing so much time and energy into the antics of a team and a league feels trivial. Maybe it’ll come back around, but it’s hard to refocus when the scales fall.