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One evening when my classmates and I were out on the school playing field having a Rounders tournament, our collective attention was grabbed by the sound of approaching helicopter rotors. Now, I should probably mention that the school was a small rural one and the pupils were 80s Irish country kids, so as the whirlybird proceeded to land in the field right next to us, it would be fair to say it caused quite the furore.
As it turned out, it was the well-heeled parent of two of my fellow students, who had decided to collect his offspring in a show of ostentatious wealth. He had, however, brought a parcel of chips for us all, so as The Great Benefactor and his sons took off and the wind tousled my hair, your scribbler’s innate working class outrage was becalmed somewhat by the hot mouthfuls of vinegary salted potato. Money talks, you see. That was a school day which definitely educated my formative mind.
Of course, there are few industries that bear out the truth of that old chestnut as much as the world of Barlclay’s Gazprom Professional Soccer Ball. These days, when speculation arises about who might take stewardship of a top club, it is not enough for fans of those clubs that the prospective owners be merely wealthy. They must, rather, be awash in petrodollars – unimaginably, almost comically wealthy and ready to lavish that munificence on the plaything they have acquired.
The little lad with the wind-blown barnet has since become a shaven-headed (fine, ‘bald’) man of 43 and in that time, the era of the sheepskin-wearing shoe-empire millionaire local-boy-made-good who sat chomping cigars in the executive box and sanctioned a signing or two each summer has ended. Now, owners are multi-national conglomerates or fabulously rich individuals who are represented in the stands by any number of company men on match day. Mmmm, tasty, tasty Gazprom.
The only thing to have grown more spectacularly than the investment into the game is the amount paid to its exponents. The elite footballers often earn more in a week than many of us can manage in several years. “Well,” you rationalise, “they’re the best of the best. Fair play to them, I guess.” However, it’s the earnings of the lesser lights that reawakens that sense of unease I felt as a little kid when presented with gratuitous spending.
In the current climate, a squad player, a fellow universally derided on social media as a ‘bottler’ or ‘hoofer’ or ‘journeyman,’ can earn a public-sector annual salary in a week. How’s that enforced productivity drive and unpaid overtime feeling now? It becomes somewhat easier to understand those ‘bluds’ on Arsenal TV with their faces contorted in hate and resentment when one considers that angle.
Of course, it’s all nonsense. A bubble, artificially inflated and entirely likely to burst all over the shop, leaving a spectacular mess for us all to clean up. Ultimately, the envy of superstars is a kind of surrender to the realm of impotent rage – why bother? You’ll only annoy yourself.
Take the reaction to the contract talks involving the subject of yesterday’s column, Emre Can. Liverpool fans, many of whom were less than impressed with the German’s efforts this season, got themselves into a terrible lather when it emerged that Can was playing hardball over the wages being offered for him to renew his deal with Liverpool. Figures of up to 100,000 of your English pounds were touted and it caused heads to explode, Scanners-style.
If you take the player’s word, however, the filthy lucre is not a motivation at all. “It’s never,” he insisted, “about the money.” As a retort to the paper-talk, the passably presentable 23-year-old said:
“I read in newspapers it was about money but it isn’t about money. We’ve had a few good meetings and everything is fine. I am happy at Liverpool. We will see. You never know what will happen in football but I am happy here. It is about the future, what happens. In the last few months, the most important thing has been that I am pain-free and we have spoken more about that than the contract. We will speak in the next few weeks and months and see what happens. I am happy to leave things until the end of the season. I just want to play injury-free. The meetings are with my agent but I am very happy at Liverpool. In the future, I hope to play for many years at Liverpool.”
Now, no matter what the approach I take to following up Can’s words, someone will likely get the hump. If I say that he seems a decent lad and why can’t we all be friends, it’ll be taken as the gullible wittering of a naive mug. If, on the other hand, I were to say that we should remain entirely sceptical about anything footballers say, given the inherently selfish nature that propels them all, it will be perceived as the cynical naysaying that drags the club down.
The reason that such disparity of views exists is that money is involved. It is not known as the root of all evil for nothing. Money is the most divisive of things. It is at the heart of the ongoing FSG debate, it is the reason for the antipathy so many feel towards wealthy athletes who underperform, and it is also, in the opinion of this columnist, the only thing that will allow Liverpool Football Club to move on to the very top tier of world football.
There simply cannot be enough money spent on wages, ground improvements, training facilities and new shiny superstars. As a person, I’m financially cautious because I was brought up on a shoestring household budget. However, that same history often prompts the purchase of something wildly exotic. Just for the thrill of it. It’s that impulse that I, as a fan, always project onto my football club. I want the insanely wealthy spendthrift owners, the unending arrival of Galacticos, the constant presence in the Champions League and the feeling that Liverpool FC is where it belongs in the world game. In short, I want my daddy to collect me in a helicopter, because in this game, as in life, money talks.