This is a teachable moment. It can educate us about life, about ploughing full-speed down incorrect avenues, about being organic versus the inability to buy the intangible.
It can teach us about the circularity of events coupled with the sinking feeling that the world does not evolve but rather just repeats despite deaths, wars, mass movements and sacrifice. And the subject is merely the English Premier League’s two Manchester clubs, City and United.
One year ago Manchester City were killing time waiting for new coach Pep Guardiola to arrive. They were playing uncaring football and in fourth place, far below where their money theoretically dictated they should be. Their last mission of season 2015-16, once everything else had fallen away, was to ensure they held off Manchester United from taking fourth place in the last month of the season.
Manchester City spent £174 million over the off-season, as well as spending money to acquire the coach they had been targeting for half a decade, one of the best in the world, Guardiola.
Manchester United spent £105 million on recouping one single player, Paul Pogba, and a total of £149 million over the summer. They were also welcoming a new coach who would put everything right again, the best over the last decade, Jose Mourinho.
Newspaper predictions of the new English Premier League season in August 2016 routinely had the two teams, reinforced, easily sweeping first and second positions in the EPL. Yet a year later, City’s last mission of season 2016-17, now that everything else has fallen away, is to ensure they hold off Manchester United from taking fourth place in the last month of the season.
Think that through and think about how many football industries have been proven irrelevant by this turn of events.
The player transfer industry, for one. The £323 million spent by the two teams to remain on the same hamster wheel a year later – plus salaries – is the yearly GDP of some of our island nations.
You suspect, as often alluded, the numbers don’t matter, they are simply buying cachet for these clubs. A sizeable amount of the money (maybe 20 per cent) simply goes to player agents. The industry exists simply to exist, rather than being for a purpose. The hype of the #Pogback internet campaign is quite possibly what United purchased all along, nothing less.
Manchester United bought #Pogback for £105 million to show that they could buy a player for £105 million. In the same way, a journalist speculating on the Eliot Spitzer prostitute scandal imagined that he would not pay $55,000 to have his wildest sexual fantasies come true, but that Spitzer had paid that much for a run-of-the-mill experience. The service cost that much simply because it had been dictated that it cost that much. The economy has simply been an idea in our heads all along.
Moving on, this tale of the two Manchester clubs has proven sports journalism irrelevant, experts falling for the former big names of coaching when it seems Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino were building something more real.
And the coaching industry was proven irrelevant too, as City and United have achieved the same numbers with a theoretical massive upgrade of coaches.
Ultimately the gist of this article could have been expressed in a 160-character tweet, and I suspect both teams will reach the 2018 Champions League at Liverpool’s expense. But the point is: it is unbelievable that those huge wheels – and the entire worlds they involve – have turned for nothing.