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Has football 'sold it's soul' for money?

By: James Bayley Updated 15 Apr 2013 17:01:10

Has football 'sold it's soul' for money?

For many, money in football is a force of good which has revolutionised the game for the better, bringing with it a globalised sport which connects the people together. But for other’s whose ethics may stand firm against money, they believe football has ‘sold its soul.’ No on can deny the power and influence that money has in football, with Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV, changing the face of the game from a “working class” game to a billion pound business. On the surface of football everything looks to be incredibly successful, the Premier League is labeled “the greatest league in the world” and billions are entertained by it, but beneath the surface, there is conflict and unrest. When the Premier League started back in 1992, no one could have truly predicted the impact it coupled with the millions of Sky Sports, would have on not only the English football but the global game as well. But has football ‘sold its soul’ to money?

Football is more than a game, it’s now a brand and the most globalised and popularised sport in the world, which is watched and loved by billions, it’s business which makes billions. Rupert Murdock’s Sky TV took advantage of this “golden opportunity” and invested millions. The money-mad mandarins of Murdock’s Sky Sports TV, who currently run the game, will continue to seek ways to globalise, commercialise and sanitise it, destroying the games soul and roots. Our game has stepped into an era of spending giants; the commercialisation of the Premier League saw it secure around £3.5bn from its most recent round of television deals, which run until the end of next season. About £2.1bn was generated from domestic rights sales, including about £1.8bn for live rights from BSkyB and ESPN, and £1.4bn from overseas broadcasters. Premier League’s contract is the second biggest TV deal in the world, bettered only by that of the NFL in America, which really shows the true power of football. Worrying concern is the fact the fans are no longer even a consideration, never mind a priority, when it comes to how the game is run, the TV deal with Sky Sports comes first. The money and power of television is controlling the game.

The longest serving and successful manager in the Premier League; Sir Alex Ferguson, who seen how football has changed in the last 20 years of his management career states:

“When you shake hands with the devil you have to pay the price. Television is God at the moment. It shows itself quite clearly because when you see the fixture lists come out now, they can pick and choose whenever they want the top teams on television.”

The fact money continues to be pumped into the Premier League, opens the gap from the Football League further, with tens of millions of pounds now separating the clubs in the top flight and those in the Championship. There’s a strong argument that the TV money and sponsorship money has morally corrupted the game. Money that has been put into football mainly by SKY TV can only really benefit the top clubs in English football, leaving the rest struggling to survive, is that a fair competition?

The injection of money in the game, is the step into the unknown in many respects no one knows the future in football, creating a sense of danger and uncertainty. The recent match fixing allegations are a real “wake up call” leaving football in the dark and exposing how corrupt, fickle and weak our game is across Europe, with more than 700 suspect football fixtures under investigation. Money power in the game is illustrated with match fixing. Europol calculated that more than £6.8m on betting profits had been corruptly made, with in excess of £1m in ‘corrupt payments’ made to football people. FIFA governing board are investigating allegations and called for longer prison sentences for criminals involved in match-fixing after the EU intelligence-sharing agency Europol exposed a rift of suspicious games under investigation for match fixing in Europe.

Football needs to be wary of the dangers of match fixing just look what happened to cricket. Match-fixing is the biggest curse in any sport and in most respects is worse even than drug-taking. The force behind match fixing is the power and corruption of money. Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, said while the “focus” of the investigation is not on England:

“Given the scale of corruption involved, it would be naive and complacent to think that the criminal conspiracy does not affect the English game. All those responsible for running football should heed the warnings. This is a sad day for European football and more evidence of the corrupting influence in society of organised crime,”

This is the way “modern football” is heading with the focus now on the emergence of the billionaire owners and private investors, which allowed clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City to spend an unlimited amount of money of the best players and without that win trophies. People say money can’t buy you success but money gave Chelsea and Manchester City the wealth to buy the best players to win trophies. This could prove to be the very point of the beginning of the end, of the true values of football. No longer have do clubs in England to spend years building a reputation by producing great home-grown players of their own, unearthing talent for reasonable prices and winning trophies through sheer great management but instead for clubs such as Manchester City and Chelsea money brings instant success.

The Premier League needs to limit the amount of money a club spends in the transfer window; this is a problem in itself. At first seeing foreign names grace English football was a breath of fresh air.

When Middlesbrough signed Brazil star, Juninho and Ravenelli it seemed that English football was moving forward into a new era and the Premier League was making way for ‘a golden age’. As the new millennium hit this carried on further as yet more money poured into the Premier League, more foreign superstars followed, the likes of Henry, Crespo and Di Canio. It all changed with the catalyst in 2003 when Russian Billionaire; Roman Ambramovich walked through the gates at Stamford Bridge and changed football with his oil money taking the power and popularity of the Premier League to a new level.

The main qualms with money in football are; it’s control on the wage structure. Player wages for the 2011-12 Premier League season reached a record £1.6 billion pounds. This represents a 70% wages to revenue ratio, a figure that would be completely untenable in any other business. High wages also eats away at the integrity of the game meaning that football has been ruined and controlled by money. Players are no longer loyal to their clubs, but act more like mercenaries constantly vying for a bigger wages and moving to other clubs who may pay them £200k a week.

The opinion of the economist of football; Arsene Wenger on money within our game is particularly interesting , claiming the Premier League has ‘sold its soul’ to television but calls for fair play in rescheduling;

“We have sold our soul and we do not control our fixtures any more. It is the truth and I cannot say the television is wrong, but it is not normal that you can have a direct influence on the schedule through the television. The Premier League has to make sure there is a bit more fairness in the schedules.”

A football club plays an integral part in the ‘working class’ communities as a sport which brings people together and communities together. A Premier League ticket is now the in demand ticket in the country, BBC Sport’s “Price of Football” has shown, that fans in the Premier League are paying between £15 and £126 for match day tickets this season, with season tickets costing up to £1,955. It’s a sad state of affairs to see, hard working and dedicated football fans from working class backgrounds, who love the game, are being driven away by ticket price hikes, it exposes the ugly side of the beautiful game.

A few months ago we saw the debate of money in football rage on further, with the ticket price issues but this time Arsenal football club were at the centre of a media hysteria, a club once run by tradition but sadly has left behind its “working class” fans when it moved from the traditional Highbury Stadium to the multi-million pound state Emirates stadium. The illustration of the fans frustration and anger towards being “priced out” the game they love, hit boiling point, with the protest from a small section of away fans at The Emirates Stadium in the game against Man City. Its ironic in some respects that the richest club in the country fans were protesting about ticket prices but most regions of Manchester are “working class” and high inflated ticket prices for games in the south for Arsenal aren’t economically reasonable or fair. In protests the away City fans at The Emirates Stadium held a painted bed sheet with the message reading; ‘Where will it stop?’ It was a complaint about the fact that Manchester City’s travelling fans had been charged £62 for tickets to see their team play Arsenal — a fee that has become symbolic of the apparent money grabbing that governs English top-flight football.

The wealth of money brings with it the power to pay over the odds wages, sometimes in excess of £200,000 a week, to attract the most talented players in the world. Changes and restrictions are slowly being enforced in football, with the FIFA implementing a new ‘financial fair play’ regulations in the coming season, which will be interesting to see how effective it is in controlling and restricting money within football. Football may already sold its soul to money and it’s too late to change.

What would the true greats of the past in football think of the influence and power that money has in the game? True greats such as Bill Shankly, Don Revie or Brian Clough make of this? Gone are the days where a manager no matter how talented could take a club of Nottingham Forest’s size to 2 European cups. FIFA and UEFA are losing grip of football and some rules and restrictions need to be put in place before the real spirit of football is lost forever and it becomes a business rather than a spectacle.

 


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