Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Harsh Realities of Modern Football

        The transfer window has slammed shut and across Europe, many supporters are probably angry. Angry that their club didn't sign the player they had their eyes locked to, angry that their club didn't sign anyone to begin with, or spend enough money... supporters are angry. They are really angry in North London, no matter if you wear red or blue. Or at least it seems that way, if one uses the official supporters trusts as evidence.

       The Gunners Supporters Trust is angry because of the lack of transfer activity. The Tottenham Supporters Trust is angry because of the lack of cover in certain areas of the squad due to presumed penny pinching. It is wonderful that these groups exist to provide a bridge between clubs and fans because those bridges had worn down and fallen into the river of cash below long ago. But while they provide a useful service, both of these public bouts of whining seem like they are missing the point.

      Football is a global game now; one flush with cash that means Tottenham kits are not only seen in N17 but New Delhi, New York and New Zealand, and someone in Helsinki can be just as big of an Arsenal supporter as someone at Highbury. And even if it seems forgotten, football is a game directly affected by money, and whoever has more of it is likely to win. Even in the hyper-competitive Premier League where even sides like Stoke City can sign established internationals, money talks. These supporters groups act as if it doesn't.

     With the scares of Leeds United and Portsmouth well entrenched in the minds of football executives around, and even in Europe with FFP, chairmen and boards have even more of a job to do than they used to. With the playing field in England as level as any because of TV cash, money can be spent almost freely because more clubs are swimming Scrooge McDuck style in pools of gold. Clubs aren't just what their name suggests anymore. They're multi-billion dollar enterprises with global brands to maintain and financial status to cling on to. The race for the Champions League is so important because cash, specifically player wages, drive outcomes. Sure, clubs like Southampton and Crystal Palace can punch above their weight, and Sunderland and the QPR's of the world can fail despite their wage bills, but the order of how much a club pays its players is likely how the table will likely crystallize.

  Spurs were sixth in the wage table last season, Arsenal were fourth. Accepting for deviations, that is likely the ballpark where these clubs will finish this season. And the next, and the one following that. The Gunners Supporters Trust wrote, "Arsenal have built a strong squad and just one or two more good additions would have strengthened the chances of winning a first title in 11 years. No one wants Arsenal to buy players just for the sake of it, but we do want to see money invested to make the club stronger." But isn't that exactly what you're asking for? Sign players to make the club better, no matter the cost because we know you're sitting on piles of cash?

   Clubs are finding new ways to invest money, particularly on facilities and academies in order to compete with the cash that every club now possesses. It's not as sexy as spending 55 million pounds to sign Edinson Cavani, but it is arguably more sustainable, and a sounder business practice. But naturally, fans don't want to hear that. Are these supporters trusts acting then in the best interest of fans, or as a sounding board for the loudest, angriest and most vocal of them, even if they just want to be heard?

   Tottenham are a great example of how a big club can be financially sound and still compete on the highest level year in and year out. However, Daniel Levy and the board know the club cannot take the next step until the play in a larger stadium, which they are building towards. Until then, the club cannot spend on wages in the same way their Top 4 rivals can, and therefore they will not make the Champions League unless someone above them screws up in a catastrophic way. But in the heat of the moment on transfer deadline day, fans don't want to hear that. They want to hear why Saido Berahino isn't holding up a Spurs kit at Spurs Lodge, and why another midfielder wasn't bought. The average fan doesn't want to hear about how wages drive outcomes, they want to believe in the individual glory of their club.

   That's not in their best interests. Educated supporters are the best kind of supporters. They understand the realities of modern football while not forgetting why football is where it is to begin with. It is the game of the working class hero; escapism from the dregs of the day-to-day life of the common man, which is how the foundations of today's global behemoth were built. Would White Hart Lane be empty, as the Spurs Supporters Trust suggests, if the team wasn't where it is now? Of course not, that's why there is a waiting list thousands of names long.

   Naturally, these groups forget the most important item of all: winning cures all ills. Would these groups be complaining if their clubs started their respective seasons faster? Probably not.

   Supporters Trusts and official supporters groups are critical in today's game in order to maintain the links between clubs and supporters. It is critical that supporters of all ilk understand why the club does its business the way it does. But that doesn't mean the club should beg to the whims of moody fans who just want to see money spent to satisfy their own narcissistic goals of being able to brag in the pub. There is a reason why fans are fans and those in power have it.

   These groups can provide a great service to everyone involved in football, but they should not be empty ears to vent to when a club doesn't sign the right player, or any at all. There is a reason why business was done the way it was, and it probably doesn't jive with what someone with 50 followers on twitter thinks, and for good reasons.

   In sports there is a saying: "If you listen to the fans, you'll likely end up sitting with them." Maybe someone at these supporters trust should take heed of this. The picture will become clearer that way.

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