Has money fundamentally changed football?

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By Mike Tuckerman, Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    World FootballFlicking 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
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • November 1st 2010 @ 7:59am
      JottingsOnRugby.com said | November 1st 2010 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      Interesting Mike. Not refuting what those players from the 1950s said, and you can tell me to stick to rugby if you want, but money and football (socccer) have been hand in hand since the 1880s when the last of the amateur clubs enjoyed success.

      There have been men earning their fulltime living from football since the end of the 19th century. Fearing what had happened to soccer (basically amateurs having no hope/say) would befall rugby was what triggered the great split in the rugby world in 1895.

      Money was there in football in the 1890s, 1950s and now. Their lament for the loss of the style of game and the local game over the global game is fair enough, and many from then would agree, but I wouldn’t say that the game of the 1950s was “little more than a pleasant pastime” for the top rank of footballers. It was serious business on and off the field.

      I don’t think what I am saying is contradicting what those footballers of the 1950s said. It seems to me that the difference from then (the 1950s) to now isn’t money per se, they were paid good money then, but today’s players are getting (arguably) obscene amounts of money.

    • November 1st 2010 @ 8:00am
      Phil Osopher said | November 1st 2010 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      It’s still just a game. It just involves a lot of money. Full entertainment product is the mad but so popular pro wrestling show, and football is nothing like that, never will be. You can’t stop people making money out of it, and there’s no point. The game is still the game in its pure form, unlike cricket which has had to jazz it up and water it down for money, so there’s relatively little to get upset about. The only down side may be the dominance of a small group of clubs, which generally annoys me, but it’s kind of the nature of things anyway. The new entertainment may be seeing these clubs burst when things go wrong, and the stable ones surviving. And its not as stable as we all think anyway, look at Liverpool, fighting relegation, a year ago considered as the top four forever. As for style of play, I’d have to say it’s actually improved if anything. You don’t tend to get George Best type players much anymore, but there’s much more quality all over the park, just take a look at Chelsea, who are very easy to watch. Football is generally in pretty good shape. We’ll never be happy, nothing is perfect.

    • November 1st 2010 @ 9:25am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | November 1st 2010 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      I’m not sure to which extent money played a role in the transition of the game towards as a faster paced, team orientated game. Hockey had the same transition in the 80’s, much of which was due to the introduction of artificial pitches. It was soon found that teams that passed the ball quickly and played ‘power hockey’ dominated. Happily for Australia this won us a few gold medals before the rest of the world caught on. If hockey is any example to go by then the change in the game of football is primarily evolutionary.

      Money allows clubs to purchase players suited for this game, and to have the sports science to keep them on the park, but from afar it appears the transition itself isn’t primarily money driven, but evolutionary.

    • November 1st 2010 @ 9:40am
      True Tah said | November 1st 2010 @ 9:40am | ! Report


      interesting article…futbol has been the worlds most popular sport since the start of the 20th century and maybe before.

      One argument you can run is that by having the top talent in a handful of clubs means that comps like the EPL, La Liga are less competitive, and that weaker clubs will lose supporters to these clubs.

      However the counter argument to this is that by having teams full of superstars allows the game to be played at the highest possible level it can be and are a glowing advertisment for the game…Manchester United are a global brand, 350m fans in China alone…this probably makes the game more popular overall, but unfortunately one of the casualties seems to be the local comps in several nations.

    • November 1st 2010 @ 10:42am
      JR said | November 1st 2010 @ 10:42am | ! Report

      It’s changed football, but it’s ruined cricket.

    • Roar Guru

      November 1st 2010 @ 11:04am
      Fussball ist unser leben said | November 1st 2010 @ 11:04am | ! Report

      Former England football star, Gary Lineker is alleged to have said:

      “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

      After the “nightmare of Durban” … not much seemed to have changed in that regard.

      For me football is still the same “beautiful game” that captured my heart and mind many many years ago. I can think of only 2 rule changes to the game in the past 40 years: change to the “the back pass to the GK” and introduction of “passive off-side”; so, essentially, the game has been unchanged for generations.

      The Game is universal and I know I can go to any corner of the planet and, without knowing the local language, simply assimilate by joining in a game being played in a park, on a beach, in a car park.

      At the professional level, yes, football is big business. But, all sport is big business. I’m sure if you talk to Olympians of bygone eras, they will lament that the “spirit of the Olympics” is not what it used to be.

      Good or bad? Perhaps, each generation has its bias and generally will claim “their time” produced the best – the best music, the best art, the best movies, the best sports?

      There is little that I would complain about in the modern game of Football … but, then again, there was little I would complain about in the football of the 70s, 80s or 90s (although, the hair styles of the 70s and the shorts of the 80s do make me wince!).

      • November 1st 2010 @ 11:12am
        Ben of Phnom Penh said | November 1st 2010 @ 11:12am | ! Report

        bring back the spew shirt 🙂

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