The Demise of Football

The concentration of massive amounts of wealth has resulted in the exclusivity of quality players, quality facilities, and thereby concentration of success and ever-increasing margins of said success.

Before 2008, Success for Manchester City had been hard to come by- they had been trophyless for over 32 years. However, on September 1, 2008, Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Ltd. took over the club and their fortunes have drastically transformed ever since- They’re one of the most successful English football clubs of the 2010s, boast of one of the most expensive squads and a tactical genius of a manager who runs the show from the sidelines of the pitch. City’s success story has been one for the ages- however, the charge often levied against them is that of buying their success. That isn’t far from the truth. However, City isn’t the only one to have done so. They simply brought themselves stake at a table that was already fairly exclusive- what makes City a source of fierce contempt is the fact that they broke the monopoly of certain clubs and consequently, established their own. Manchester City is the manifestation of a larger problem that plagues football and one that is ruining the game that everyone adores.

Football clubs weren’t always businesses. Football clubs started as a folk pastime and were collectively owned by communities. Essentially, football clubs were social institutions of, for and by the people. As a matter of fact, major stakeholders (51%) in German Clubs are still local communities. This modus operandi came to be incompatible with a time that was underscored by increased industrialization. Football as a leisure activity came to be resented by people as morally and socially corrosive. It is in this climate that the commercialization of football in England began and a regulating authority of English Football, the FA (Football Association) was established in 1861. Consequently, the first professional Football League in 1888 was formed with 12 clubs. Over time, membership expanded and so did tiers of football. Clubs were still by and large social institutions that the community-owned and relished. It was only when private ownership of clubs began did the ruin set in and needless to say, things are worse than ever before.

More money is being pumped into football than ever before which makes success at the top level all the more elusive. Competitive balance in leagues is less than ever before and the unpredictability that Johan Cruyff talked about is eroding. The direction that football has taken is one towards a self-perpetuating system – super clubs are more successful on the pitch and by unprecedented margins. Subsequently, they receive more revenue and they are more successful in the field of play. Some view this as a the holy cycle of the market economy at work, while to others it is practically a form of sporting fraud.

Irrespective of their corporate format, football clubs are supposed to be much more than simply corporate undertakings – while the game has transformed into one with and economic basis, it remains social in nature. Supporters invest not only their financial capital in clubs but also their human and emotional capital. Additionally, football clubs have deeply rooted identification with particular cities or regions and hence with communities. The existing ownership model does not, of course, prevent clubs from acting as social institutions and delivering on their obligations to society. However, it does significantly limit their capacity to act as such. Acts of social solidarity have been reduced to sporadic episodes of performative wokeness that are tokenistic at best, and evasion of responsibility at worst. This phenomenon was on display last month by London-based club Arsenal FC, who fired 55 staff members as redundancies amidst a global pandemic, while paying a 32-year old player 220K $ per week in wages.

Shubhankar, a student at Ramjas College is growingly conscious of the juncture at which football is and suggests the following measures for the initiation of a return to the roots of football clubs, “More youth academies should be set up which also give meals to kids (similar to what Marcus Rashford did); Staff and workers should be paid fairly. Ownership of clubs requires revisioning- for example, clubs should not be owned by ppl who are sponsoring rebel groups. In order to pay homage to the roots of the club, locals should get more stake in matters of the club. To extend tangible actions against structural inequality, affirmative action policies like quota for ethnic minorities in leagues or teams should be brought about. A cap on spending to ensure fair competition and monitoring thereof should be looked into. A pension system for players who can’t continue playing due to injury or whose career has been cut short due to one should be implemented as well.”

Colin Shindler, a life-long Manchester City fan in an interview with iNews, claimed, “City’s triumph felt hollow. it felt hollow to me because it just felt like they bought it. We’ve already spent 300 million, let’s spend another 300 million. Right we’ve got it now. We are just part of some sort of global attempt at world domination. These people want a club in New York, they want a club in Melbourne. We are not Manchester City, we just happen to be their club in England that’s part of a portfolio. The sense of emotional identification with the players and the fans is what I miss most about the old era. I’m completely out of sympathy with where football is going. I claim nothing original about what I’m saying, but what I won’t do is join in with the general cause of saying ‘isn’t the Premier League wonderful?’ I don’t believe it.” His sentiments sum up those of a million fans right now. Surely, there’s something to be done to bring back the old charm of football, the very charm that made it a global phenomenon?

Featured Image Credits: REUTERS/Carl Recine

Ishatva Rajeev

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