A topsy-turvy season of Premier League football has come to an end with surprise results for all teams, except for maybe the consistently poor crew at Aston Villa. Leicester City have hit the jackpot of £93 million, mostly bolstered by the £5 billion TV deal that most expected to flow into the already overflowing coffers of a Manchester or London club. Teams like Tottenham Hotspurs, West Ham United, Southampton and Watford have claimed a stake to be considered as competitors for next season’s European places alongside clubs which made huge revenues (and investments) in the last decade. Leicester’s unpredictable title win this season was embraced by fans around the world with hyperbolic puritan escapism, alluding that money is not a factor in winning football trophies. Of course, what they mean to say is, money is not the only factor in winning football trophies.
Much like life, there are things money can’t buy in football but you do have some things that you can buy to reduce the impact of such things. The technique and fitness of individual players can be improved by designing and spending on training regimens and infrastructure. Talented players and managers can be bought from different parts of the world. Words like “history” and “tradition”often litter discussions about money in football but if you look closely, it is only used to celebrate the victories of an established hegemony but at the same time to lament the rise of a new hegemony. “You can’t buy fans!”, you say? As teams that routinely make the list of richest football clubs in the world have ably demonstrated, it is even possible to manufacture a huge overseas fanbase (who stay up past midnight to watch football and dream of flying to European stadiums to watch their clubs play) that dwarfs the needs of the local fans who actually turn up at stadiums week-in and week-out to watch their clubs play. None of this, of course, takes anything away from enjoying the sport unless a good vs. evil narrative is central to your understanding of sports.
This good vs. evil narrative – a relic of our collective human obsession with religion – has always plagued football, another one of our collective human obsessions. The rags-to-riches stories of some of the best footballers to have ever played, from Pele to Luis Suarez, have been anecdotes that demonstrated the meritocratic fairness of football in a “nasty, short and brutish” life outside of the game. Clubs bankrolled by multi-billionaires being upset by clubs bankrolled by multi-millionaires are celebrated as events of hope that the inherent goodness of the poor is a force that can beat the inherent evil of the rich. Thus, the evil in modern football is the same evil in modern life: Greed and his bastard offspring, Capitalism. The good is a little more complicated because what can possibly beat the evil of capitalism? A revolution, of course.
This revolution will ensure all clubs start off as equals and only the “deserving team” wins. After each season, the revenue generated will be distributed equitably based on which clubs won more and which clubs attracted the most fans. Wait, isn’t this how we reached the current state of income-gaps in the first place? Okay, then the Football Association must put in social safety nets and affirmative action policies for the least performing clubs and historical instances of oppression by referees and bigger clubs will be considered before final league tables and prize monies are calculated. The definition of “deserving team” is usually limited by club loyalties but is usually agreed to be “team that plays exciting football” which is another way of saying constant attacking play. Since the success of such exciting football is measured by goals, this would also mean that the league title would go to the team that scores the most goals and not to the team that wins the most matches. (Sorry, Leicester City!) Of course, investments outside of revenue earned by club is also a strict no-no because this would create unfair advantages for some clubs. We should ideally also not keep score, as this would result in some teams being considered better than others purely on the basis of the number of goals that they scored and conceded!
The romantics may clamor for a revolution and shed a tear about how money has corrupted football and loyalty means nothing for anyone except the fans in football anymore. Meanwhile Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho are all bringing their respective styles of previously successful management to the same league next season. Is the point of football to bring all the best talent in the world and make them compete in different scenarios? Or is it to spot young talent and provide them situations to grow, even when they make mistakes? The point in sports is to win. The competition might be more exciting than the result but it is the prospect of the result that creates the competition. Everyone involved in the setup of a club understands that winning is not one of the most important things but that it is the only important thing. And this is precisely why Stretford End would put aside its critiques about his style and embrace Mourinho as one of their own, if he even hints in his first few games at maintaining the best win percentage for any manager in Premier League.