Has money fundamentally changed football?
Flicking through the 50th anniversary edition of World Soccer magazine, I was struck by just how many former players said football was a more enjoyable game in the past. Many ex-pros lamented the fact football has become a global industry, even if most accepted it was just natural market progression.
Most of the greats spoke of the game once representing little more than a pleasant pastime, one which existed for the entertainment of local communities before it was turned into the multi-billion dollar industry we know today.
I pondered that fact when perusing an article on Queens Park Rangers vice-chairman Amit Bhatia, who says money is no object in the west London club’s quest to reach the Champions League.
Of course, they’ll have to escape the clutches of the Championship first – something they’ve not been able to do despite becoming one of the richest clubs in England back in 2007.
But Bhatia’s blustering is nothing if not predictable – his father-in-law Lakshmi Mittal is one of the world’s richest men – and it demonstrates the usual disdain most new owners have for the method of nurturing young talent through to the first team.
It’s a formula which has worked down the road at Chelsea, so you can hardly blame QPR for employing a tried-and-tested method, even if it invariably squeezes out local talent.
Unfortunately it’s also a method which brought near financial ruin to clubs like Leeds United and Portsmouth, and which has turned the English Premier League into the exclusive domain of four or five clubs jockeying for the same position every season.
Love it or loath it, at least the salary cap in Australia gives A-League clubs an equal chance of success – even if not all clubs utilise it to its full extent.
It begs the question of whether money has helped or hindered the so-called ‘beautiful game,’ which is now accessible to virtually every corner of the globe thanks to satellite TV and the internet.
That access has helped pump more money into the game, but whether the influx of cash results in better quality players is open to debate.
Certainly, players today enjoy far more luxuries than the generations before them, and sports science and training facilities are now second to none.
But are players as individually talented as they once were, or are they just mass-produced automatons – as many of those in the World Soccer special claim?
Moreover, is it not the relentless chase for European riches which has seen the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool seduced by those who would exploit fan loyalty to line their own pockets?
UEFA chief Michel Platini is trying hard to address the imbalance among Europe’s football elite, with the Frenchman desperate to scale back some of the power acquired by clubs from Europe’s three biggest leagues.
Whether that appeases fans who have grown accustomed to watching the same clubs go around in the Champions League every season remains to be seen, particularly when the standard of football is as high as it’s ever been.
But whether that standard is as good as the football played in years gone by is the question at hand, and if the anecdotal evidence from former players is anything to go by, the modern game is a fast-paced endurance test largely devoid of individual talent.
Lionel Messi is the player many former stars pinpoint as the most exciting to watch, but otherwise it seems team-work has triumphed over individual skill.
Is that necessarily a bad thing? Would football be a more enjoyable game if players dribbled as much as they once did, or is it essentially still just a contest of eleven versus eleven?
Money has no doubt changed the landscape of world football, but is it still just a game, a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry, or somewhere in between?
That’s the question before us, and I’m keen to hear your thoughts.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman