I’ve been following football since I was old enough to understand it. Over the years I’ve seen the sport change and evolve. As a devoted Manchester United fan my interest has always rested primarily in the Premier League, and no league better portrays the change that has occurred in football.
Even as a youngster growing up I noticed more and more foreign players coming into the League. Suddenly there was also alot more money in the sport and players were being exchanged for bigger and bigger sums. Thus the sport, like everything else in society was adapting to the times, but no harm was caused. OK, one may argue it’s better to see more homegrown talent on display but until recently there had always been a relatively healthy balance between British and foreign players.
In 2003 something happened which had a profound effect on football and in particular the English Premier League. It set the tone for a trend that was to grow and grow. Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea FC. Now, it was not unheard of for teams to be bought by wealthy individuals, however Abramovich’s purchase was recreational. He chose football, specifically Chelsea, as his new hobby. The purchase was not an investment to gain profit it was purely for the Russian to use the team as his toy.
All of us football lovers were left guessing as to what effect would this have on the league. We soon had our answer; Claudio Ranieri was replaced by the more flamboyant, controversial figure Jose Mourinho. Top class players were bought in mass. Drogba, Essien, Carvalho, Cole, Mikel and many more were drafted and completely changed the setup at Stamford Bridge. This sudden, inorganic and unprecedented face-lift yielded instant success as the club won back to back titles in 2005 and 2006.
Chelsea’s wealth poisoned the league to some degree as success was derived as a direct result of financial power. Unlike other teams, Chelsea’s wealth wasn’t the product of their own success but the result of a spending splurge. Soon players like Duff, Wright-Phillips, Sidwell and Parker were earning a handsome wage but were sitting on the bench week in week out. It almost appeared Chelsea were snapping up players to deny other teams as opposed to using them for their own gain.
It seems now that football has been targeted by Billionaires as a means of competition. Those who top the rich list are queuing up to buy long-established teams and meddle with them as much as possible. Manchester City are now trying to attract the biggest names in wold football due to their recent takeover and the subsequent influx of cash. Even clubs which have historically been renowned as “small” clubs are been looked at as potential purchases. Teams like Ipswich, Portsmouth, Sunderland, Notts County and Plymouth Argyle are being linked with high profile businessmen.
The most striking example is of course Real Madrid. The Galacticos’ spending is so excessive it borders on unethical. With Florentino Perez at the helm Real are willing to cough up whatever is required to form what they believe to be the dream team of today. Their world record signing of ‘Kaka for £56million was soon outdone by the phenomenal fee of £80million coughed up for Christiano Ronaldo. The Spanish side are also seeking the services of French wizard Frank Ribery. One cannot help but wonder why such money is being spent on midfield alone. Real already boast a world class midfield including Robben, Sneijder and Diarra but this isn’t enough to satisfy Perez.
It’s such a shame to see a sport which was once so honest and exciting be corrupted by money. Football is fast descending into a game of chess between Billionaires who see teams as pawns to be toiled with using their vast reserves of cash. With all eyes on the English Premier League and La Liga other leagues are starved of top class players who are drawn to bigger pay-cheques. Leagues such as Seria A and the Bundesliga cannot compete with their richer neighbours. All the best players across the globe are being stuffed into two leagues to the detriment of all others and to local talent. The Roy Keanes, Razor Ruddocks and Tony Adams’ of old are being replaced by the Ronaldos, Robhinos and Elanos of the modern era. Call me an old romantic but I, for one miss good old days when money ruled the world but didn’t rule sport.