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Money: Is it ruining the beautiful game?

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Earlier this year Francesco Totti, Il Gladiatore, called time on his career. He ended his 25-year love affair with Roma, a story of 786 games and 307 goals.

This also signalled one of the last of a dying breed - players that value their club above all else. They know what it means to the fans.

Sadly, the game has changed.

Since Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Real Madrid for a then £80 million, money has flushed through the footballing world.

Eye-watering sums have become a regularity, and the game has suffered for it. It seems that players such as Oscar and Axel Witsel care more about the money they receive than the team, Instead, choosing to go to inferior leagues in order to satisfy their greed. 

I understand a player in the twilight of his career wanting to just make that much more money for retirement, or a bit of more easy-going game. I understand a player in League One moving if a big team comes knocking, as I would too because that is how football works.

However, rarely before did we see the willingness of players - particularly those about their prime - to abandon pride and glory to fatten their wallets as many are doing.

It’s shameful, because not only is it a slight to the sport but to the fans who would give about anything for a chance to play five minutes for the jersey so easily forsaken.

Perhaps I’m being overly-critical of the players because they don’t really have that much to do with it. They aren’t controlling the finances and directing. They make the choice to go, but the clubs and owners splash the cash. 

If it’s for a player like Cristiano Ronaldo, who is arguably the best ever, then it can be understood. Paul Pogba for £89 million? Gareth Bale for £83 million? Raheem Sterling for £44 million? It’s ridiculous.

Not only for the amount but also due to the fact that the best teams in history tend to be youth products.

Just for a moment though, think of the two most dominant eras in recent club football history.

Personally, I think of a ’93-’03 Manchester United and a ’08-’12 Barcelona. Arsenal’s Invincibles are there, but they never established the consistent, global, force the other two did.

The iconic Class of ’92 and a host of La Masia products respectively proved that youth wins. And evidence that money fails? The Galácticos, so iconic and amazingly talented. That, and failure to meet standards.

Appropriately suffering from what Steve McManaman dubbed the “Disneyfication of Real Madrid”, Florentino Pérez purchased the best players in the world.

The first question was buying David Beckham when they had Luís Figo in the same position? Then, they purchased players such Jonathan Woodgate as a defender, because Florentino Pérez was fixated on building the Real Madrid brand and so needed exciting attackers like (Brazilian) Ronaldo.

Yes, the Galácticos had initial success and won the 01/02 and 02/03 La Liga titles, and the 01/02 Champions League.

However, their dominance dwindled and European performances became embarrassing. It was a far cry from the dominance expected, and that exhibited by the aforementioned youth teams. They showed like the Harlem Globetrotters of football.

This building of a brand, a trend properly started by Pérez is a plague that exists today.

More and more, players that have a reputation are purchased to build a team, and youth is quickly being forgotten. A nurtured player that can have so much value is brushed aside for a ‘proven’ talent.

Clubs are being turned into marketable, money-making machines. I know that clubs are brands and huge ones at that.

The Deloitte Money League reported that 53% of Manchester United’s revenue was commercial. Alongside this television rights are monstrous, with a group stage spot alone in the 16/17 Champions League being €12.7 million.

The value of a name is vast, and I’m not expecting clubs to stop signing players and making money, but there’s a line between being a club that is also a brand, and a brand that happens to be a club.

This line is being crossed. As players play for money now, clubs apparently forget their fans to build the brand; disparity between fans and clubs is growing.

Arsenal took a fourteen-minute flight to Norwich for a game instead of a two-hour bus journey, one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard of. This isn’t even mentioning the greed of officials and owners (Allardyce to name one).

Where does it end though? Where do clubs regain sight of what they stand for, of what they mean? Or, meant. Paying £75 million for Lukaku is obscene; instead, nurture some youth and be patient.

Clubs though, and officiating bodies, need to remedy this. More action is needed. A change in how clubs conduct themselves, and a re-evaluation of what each badge means.

There are a number of things that need to happen.

Firstly, a stricter regulation on owners and managers, to seed out figures not wanted.

Secondly, a limit to how much a club would be able to spend in a transfer window. Proportional, not hugely so, to the spot in the league. Such that the lower finishers can spend say 5% more of their overall revenue than higher spots.

Note that it wouldn’t be proportional to an exact figure, but relative to how much they club makes, so it wouldn’t strip commercial advantages. This might also fix the repeated trend of the same eight glorified teams in the Champions League’s final stages.

With this, the stricter wage cap. Not just per league, but globally.

Lastly, a quota for homegrown players in a match day squad.

It’s time FIFA took a harder stance on this issue. The clubs, the players, the officials - there’s a lot to look back on.

Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons. Flickr Commons, Alexsandr Osipov, Live4Soccer.

Image depicts Francesco Totti and Romelu Lukaku in action.

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