Monday, May 15, 2006

"They are here only to make themselves feel important"

So says Alex Sharrat of Soccernet about the new school of mogul ownership in European soccer. Suffice it to say, he is not a happy bunny:

Football sucks.

That's a nasty way to open, but after witnessing the conclusion to THE WORST SEASON EVER, it had to be said.

Ouch, babe.

After detailing the Yankification (pre-this, of course) of most of Europe's top leagues, he becomes, well, shrill

No, something's rotten here.

European football is drowning in its own self-importance, and the fans have become too scared or lazy to throw the game the life jacket it so desperately needs.

Instead, we sit at the poolside, fat and bloated after gorging ourselves on a super-Size diet of bland and tasteless football, remote control resting on our swollen bellies, flicking from one mind-numbing championship to another.

Sniff, sniff, sniff. But how did all this happen?

It happened because football has been stolen from the fans by a deceitful, shadowy cartel of money-mongers - and the most humiliating thing of all is that they did so right under our noses.

While we gazed with open mouths and wide eyes at the circus freaks parading in front of us, we didn't realize that they had an army of shifty little cronies walking amongst the crowd, picking our pockets.

Childish naivety is the only excuse we can offer; our brains were too fried from the free candyfloss and root beer to notice what was really going on around us.

I feel like I've finally awoken from a five-year blackout, and this past season has been one long and dirty hangover as my throbbing head tries to work out what happened.
For the last few seasons, I have noticed that something was indeed rotten in the state of Denmark. And Spain. And Italy. And England. And...Soccer is a game that relies on 'style' for it's entertainment value, and what has happened recently is the commodification of football. Function trumping form to such a degree that one might almost be watching some sort of 'Strat-o-matic soccer'.

In a game where the average score is probably 2-1, what goes on between goals is mightily important - what has largely happened is that top talent is largely concentrated in the top few teams in each league (an almost necessary situation given the almost unfettered free market for playing talent). Thus, 'smaller' teams know that they will have a hard time competing skill-for-skill in a open, flowing (and thus entertaining) game. So they "park the team coach in front of goal," stultifying, unsatisfying, 1-nil to Chelski games ensue, and I changed the channel 20 minutes in.

The most frustrating aspect, for me, is the 'big clubs' propensity to buy up young, exciting talent and park it on the bench. Example #1 from this season is Chelsea's Shawn Wright-Phillips. A year ago, people were openly wondering whether the then Man City winger should start for England. Ahead of the one guy even us yanquis might recognize:

Suddenly, he signs with Chelsea, hardly plays all season, and is left off the England World Cup squad (not even there as an alternate). Good times.

Baseball's owners should take note - though they've actually done a decent job spreading the wealth to a degree, I think this is more a reflection of how bloated and top-heavy the Yankees have become (despite their $200mil + payroll this season, they have about an $80 mil roster) than any particular genius of Selig and co. It remains to be seen how long fans in Tampa and Kansas City and Seattle (and rapidly, Minnesota) will stand for teams not in contention, especially without the worry of relegation from the top league for the worst teams, and without the artificial drama of parralel tournaments contested during the season.

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