Soccer lost its soul a long time ago

County View

County View
John Healy

As a lifelong soccer fan, and given the shenanigans of the past week, this column may be excused for encroaching on the theme normally reserved for the centre section of this newspaper.
If the stalled attempt at a European Super League has shocked and confused fans in its audacity, it can hardly have come as a surprise. Rest assured that, even if this battle has been won, the war is far from over, since there is no end to the greed of those who run football at the highest level.
Football lost its soul a long time ago. It has become a parody of what sport is about, but it is a pretence that is kept alive by fans who delude themselves that the outrageously overpaid performers on the pitch have the slightest loyalty to the shirt they wear.
By what contorted logic can any athlete be worth a salary of €300,000 a week? To put that in context, a teacher in an England school would work for ten years to earn what a footballer gets in a week. Or how to explain the economic lunacy of a club paying €200 million in a transfer fee for a gifted but cossetted player, from which in turn a coterie of huckster agents and handlers will also line their pockets.
Football lost its way when clubs were taken over by plutocrats for whom everything is measured in money terms. The most egregious deal of all was when the despised Glazer family, a clutch of American wide-boys who care little about football but who know all about money, took over Manchester United.
The sleight of hand by which the roughly €983 million deal was done would make a three-card-trick operator blush. The capital needed was raised by way of loans, which in turn were secured against the assets of the club, and not of the Glazers, leaving the club making interest payments of nearly €70 million per year. In short, the Glazers bought Manchester United with Manchester United’s money.
The collapse, for now, of the Super League plan raises the interesting question of where the monopoly-money payments are going to end. How long can the bubble last before it inevitably bursts?
The answer, of course, is that as long as there are fans willing to be fleeced for their misplaced loyalty to clubs, the merry go round will continue. Football is now a global brand, and there are more customers with deep pockets in Japan and Korea and China than there are in Europe.
And as long as the pretence is kept up that it is all about sporting endeavour and honest competition on the field, the golden goose will continue to deliver.
The retired RTÉ man, Tommie Gorman, recently wrote a warm, affectionate piece on his love for Sligo Rovers. It is, he says, a love deeper than logic. A loyalty to a club that has seen more bad times than good, but knowing that, once in a blue moon, its turn will come, and the afterglow will help carry it through another fallow seven years. A club where money was always a problem, but yet someone would always come up with a solution.
A generation earlier, Michael Parkinson wrote in the same vein of his beloved Barnsley, anchored then in the lower half of the lowest division, permanently saddled with debt, but with an identity bound hand and foot to its local community.
Sligo and Barnsley may be a million miles away from the European Super League. But when the house of cards comes down, and the football world comes to its senses, the true heart of football will still be beating.