Player-power is an abstraction that, according to many, is ruining the Beautiful Game: the Bosman Ruling (whose eponym has been firmly struck from Ian Holloway’s Christmas-card list) was incepted as a means of bringing balance to the club-player relationship, as an aid for the humble footballer in the face of vast corporate growth and greed. But the pendulum has swung too far, and a burgeoning cohort of elite superstars are beginning to reckon themselves untouchable, entitled to demand weekly figures that soar to previously inconceivable elevations.
Ok, this is old news in 2010. Ever since Abramovich led the charge of global financiers way back in the first half of the decade, football has changed beyond what the boldest forecasts could have predicted: it defies earthly economics, flourishing while the rest of the world falters in fiscal catastrophe, and continues to field a product that, absolutely invariably, keeps the fans glued at least to their TVs (if not necessarily to their stadium seats).
But my point is this: at some time in the recent past, the equilibrium between business and sport has been disrupted, and, in the avaricious eyes of too many players, cash has become more sought-after than success in the prosperous meadow of the Premier League. The grass is greener where the notes are crisper, end of story. At least Ronaldo harboured the boyhood fantasy of playing in Madrid: I love my home-town, but what really brought YaYa Toure to Manchester- enviable urban regeneration, or 200,000 grand a week? Not bad for a holding midfielder.
It isn’t blind nostalgia that makes so many fans look back in regretful wistfulness to the relative utopia of 90s English football: we might only have sent one team into the nascent Champions League, and the standard of play was indubitably lower, but we enjoyed domestic campaigns that could crown an unlikely champion in Blackburn Rovers (in fact, they were big-time bankrolled too, weren’t they?) Materialism hadn’t hit the football realm quite so forcefully, anyway, and we were still years from the prospect of a top-flight club flirting with administration and annihilation.
Rooney both typifies this plague and breaks new ground, leveraging his own unquestionable importance to United against an apparently new found, voracious hunger for £££s. He is a landmark case, because his situation seemed so settled, so content. 30 minutes from his beloved home and winning trophies, Rooney was loving life, and then what? The circus closed, and he decided to stay, albeit on a wildly inflated contract. (I still think he’s going to go, either in January or in the summer- read next week for the full conspiracy theory. You’ll have heard it here first, I promise.) He is a fresh precedent, a pioneer in the art of extorting your besotted employer for every last penny of potential earnings.
Where money is generated in such huge quantities, though, there’ll inevitably be a matching aggregate of rapacity and mercenariness. Football is all boom and no bust, which is perhaps a great misfortune as far as the purists are concerned. The sad fact is that, seemingly, we can do nothing to halt the moral decline: players will kiss a crest on Saturday and repudiate it on Monday, so long as the price is right. What a shame that such mammonism has seeped out from the boardroom, intoxicating our pitches and infecting our players.