The Beautiful Game Becomes Tainted

Tottenham star midfielder Gareth Bale

Tottenham star midfielder Gareth Bale

By: Andrew Knauff
Publication: The Marcolian(Student Newspaper) – Opinion
September, 2009

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The passion that soccer fans have for their favorite club or international team is unmatched by any sport.

Unfortunately, a plague that has affected many sports before has now infested the game fans love so much. A virus called money is starting to change soccer like Major League Baseball before it. Ownership has become more crucial to a club’s success than coaches, managers and trainers. A rich owner has the ability to shell out billions of dollars to acquire the best players from around the world. As the richest owners obtain the best players, smaller clubs get left in the dust as they can’t compete with the money that other clubs are offering their lonely superstar or bright young talent.

Money has taken its biggest affect on the major European leagues, where the world’s best players go to play and get paid; England’s FA Premier, Spain’s Spanish Primera, Germany’s Bundesliga, and Italy’s Serie A. Each year many teams vie for a league or tournament title, but few have a chance of success.

Each league is dominated by few teams who regularly win titles. The FA Premier has the big four: Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal; the Spanish Primera has Barcelona and Real Madrid; Serie A has Inter Milan, AC Milan, Juventus, and AS Roma; and the German Budesliga has been dominated Bayern Munich over the past decade.

Why are these teams good? Money. Each is controlled by either a mega rich owner, or a board of owners who have little concern for a budget and more for titles. The fact that these teams give a mediocre player a six or seven digit salary and compete for titles annually make them a breeding ground for the best players. Great players pursue these clubs so that they can achieve all their goals: fame, success and money.

Real Madrid and Manchester City are two great examples of how money changes a club. Real Madrid has always been a big spender. The managers are seemingly always able to spend big money on some of the world’s biggest superstars. At one time Real Madrid was able to pay and play Zidane, Ronaldo, Raul, Figo, Roberto Carlos, Casillas and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Each of these players could have been the star player on almost any other club in the world, but it appears that no players can resist the temptation of money. Clubs could spend almost their entire fortune on one of these players, but not Real Madrid.

A recent example of Real Madrid’s wealth is their recent purchase of 2007 Fifa World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo for $131 million. Madrid pays Ronaldo an annual salary of nearly $10 million.

Manchester City is a club on the rise. Manchester City, a club in England’s FA Premiere League, was recently purchased(at least 90 percent of it) by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi, the biggest of the Arab Emirates. He’s an oil tycoon with what seems like a never-ending pockets. It’s said he has $40 billion of personal spending money, without dipping into the family fortune of one trillion dollars to buy foreign assets. It is said that he approached Lionel Messi, 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year winner, and handed him a blank check and just said, “Write a number”.

How can any owner compete with that?

Fortunately, Messi declined the offer and decided to play for his dream-team in Barcelona. Messi is one of few players who could resist the money. In the past year alone, Manchester City has collected some of the world’s top talents like world-class strikers, Tevez, Adebayor, and Robinho.

These problems, however, aren’t just specific to players. Coaches and managers are constantly switching clubs to get a bigger check. Even referees have been known to look for some money under the table. It was not too long ago several Serie A referees were convicted of being paid off by teams to trying to fix games to go a certain way. It seems as though the root of all the problems in the soccer community are a result of greed.

So who’s to blame? Is it really anyone’s fault that people want money? Is it wrong that someone would rather create a family fortune to be passed down through the generations than try to help build a lower level club into a contender?
Though every player and big club will hate it, the solution is simple: salary cap. A salary cap would stop big clubs from collecting star players like baseball cards and would enable smaller clubs to be able to compete for titles, and not just fourth place. Each league would need to decide on a cap level depending on the size and wealth of the teams in their league.

Sure, it needs a lot of refining, but a salary cap in soccer would change the competitiveness of the leagues. No longer would Manchester United be a lock to win against Portsmouth, nor would Bayern Munich wouldn’t be hands on favorites to beat VfL Bochum. You won’t be seeing the star studded line-ups that you see today, but you will see a more competitive and varied league, the way the beautiful game was meant to be played.

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