Alright. Enough is enough. This whole thing is really starting to spiral out of control. It’s not like this is a revelation or anything. Everyone knows finances in European football have completely gotten out of hand.
Football mirroring life once again, it’s impossible to miss just how easily the rich are get richer while the poor continue to get poorer. The system is set up to work that way, and no corner of the sport escapes the effects of the greed that runs rampant within it.
You’ve heard it all before, but I’ll tell it to you again. For the effect, that’s why.
First, think about how increasingly rare it is to find an elite player outside of one of the super-rich, “mega-clubs” like Chelsea, Bayern, PSG, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona and Juventus. They’re the only ones who can afford to buy the best players, they then win things with them, which ultimately provides them with even more prize/sponsorship money to go out and hijack another small club’s best player. That’s why we see more and more young stars like Mario Götze leaving a potentially dynastic Dortmund side for Bayern, and why we’ll continue to see various behemoths attempt to pry guys like Gareth Bale away from an on-the-cusp sidesl like Tottenham. It’s a ridiculously vicious cycle, particularly if you’re a fan of a club classified with the have-nots rather than the haves.
Skeptical of the claim that such trends are getting worse? Consider for a moment the concept of the Treble. Prior to the 2008-2009 season, only four European sides had ever won three major titles in a single year — Celtic in ’66-67, Ajax in ’71-72, PSV in ’87-88 and Manchester United in ’98-99. But in the five seasons since, there have been three: Barça in ’08-09, Inter in ’09-10 and Bayern this season. If that’s not the dominant becoming more dominant, I don’t know what is.
Financial Fair Play? Get out of here with that malarkey. Does anyone actually believe that UEFA is going to adequately police it? Never mind the legality of UEFA telling independent entities in different countries how they should spend their money: “Clubs”, to quote Jurassic Park‘s Dr. Ian Malcolm, “will find a way.” At least that’s how I think that quote went. But they will, like when Manchester City side-stepped the rule by signing a ridiculously unprecedented stadium deal with their owner’s airline company. Or like Monaco, who still could be banned from playing in Ligue 1 next season, are still spending the type of money that even Roman Abramovich could grow envious of.
And that’s just the clubs. We haven’t even delved into the murky, back-stabbing realm of player agents, third-party investors, match fixing, ever escalating ticket prices or the governing bodies that are supposedly looking out for everyone’s best interests.
The players, too, aren’t immune to this greed either. And why should they be any different? Many are little more than paid mercenaries, forcing moves to new clubs just for fatter contracts. Think Adebayor, Ibrahimović or Carlos Tévez… or anyone that’s signed for Chelsea in the last seven years. Hell, Spurs’ Benoît Assou-Ekotto will even admit to it. Of course, not all players play just for the pay. But it’s a lot more than you and I would ever suspect.
Take reigning four-time FIFA World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi. When asked to describe his personality, most would probably pick words like “humble”, “quiet” or “modest”. Universally thought of as an upstanding — if not shy — man, many of us assumed him to be a worthy role model. Messi just went about his business, producing magic with his feet and spending his free time playing with
Legos his new-born son. I mean, it seems like he just started growing facial hair this season for crying out loud.
For many of his fans, even contemplating Messi as anything other than an innocent will cause the devoted to fall into bias-tinged fits.
And that’s exactly what happened last week when news broke that Messi and his father were being investigated for skipping out on paying €4.1 million in taxes to the Spanish government in 2007 through 2009. Delirium. Responses ranged from “Messi would never do that!” to “It’s possible he didn’t know as it must have been his accountants!!!” Both are poor excuses. Didn’t he ever wonder why he was getting way more than of his annual income than he should have been? Like, “Oh hey, where did this extra €4 million in my banking account come from?” Or maybe the pint-sized Argentine just thought he didn’t have to pay as much taxes anymore.
Whatever the truth behind the incident might be — and we’ll never know unless someone tells us in a book down the line — Messi’s clearly fessing up for something. A voluntary payment of €10 million Euros, plus reports of an additional €10-20 million settlement, show that at least someone in his entourage is guilty of tax fraud. For a guy looked at as a role model AND who earns roughly €34 million a year to try to scam Spain, a country in dire financial straits, of €4 million? That’s reprehensible. Even if it wasn’t Messi directly, he was all too happy to enjoy his extra money and to turn a blind eye to the people working under him. It seems Messi is more like Maradona than we all even knew.
And that’s what it’s come to: European soccer and it’s elite have become so greedy that even those we suspected of being pure are just as likely to be guilty of such gluttony. Do I have any suggestions to fix it? No, I don’t. But for those European leaders who believe that they’ve set in place financial restrictions that will do the trick, it’s time to get their heads of the sand. Things are far from fixed, and the problem may be far deeper than most suspected.
As Rick James nearly said, “Greed… it’s a hell of a drug.” And if we don’t figure out some way to get it under control, like the Superfreak himself, European soccer could end up a shadow of its former self.