Football's slave millionaires
Thursday 10 July ~
Like Prince Charles, Sepp Blatter is prone to saying the first thing that comes into his head, with every expressed thought then being duly reported, analysed and in some cases indignantly responded to. This week the FIFA president has seemingly been thinking about slavery. Asked for his view on Cristiano Ronaldo's proposed move to Real Madrid, Blatter suggested the player ought to be able to decide where he plays and that in football: “There's too much modern slavery, in transferring players or buying players here and there and putting them somewhere. We are trying now to intervene in such cases.”
FIFA are not, of course, proposing to adjudicate on the tussle between Man Utd and Real Madrid over a “slave’” who will earn at least £10 million a year. The equivalent to slavery that is taking place in football relates to the many instances of young players from the developing world who are lured away from home, mostly to Europe, by agents making false promises, then mistreated and dumped if they don't make the grade. Blatter sought to make a connection, in his customary ham-fisted way, between this sort of exploitation and Ronaldo's situation because it's a way of scoring a point in FIFA's never-ending battle against their principal enemy – the major clubs.
Star players like Ronaldo are immensely useful to FIFA as marketing figureheads who promote the products pedalled by international football's major sponsors. Their usefulness continues after they've stopped playing. Cristiano Ronaldo could opt to spend his post football career as Pelé has done, on one global promotional tour, hawking Mastercard, Nike and Coca-Cola. But while the major clubs themselves are inextricably tied up with global capital, they also impinge on FIFA business simply by requiring players to play a lot.
Blatter has often said that he wants the number of clubs permitted in domestic leagues to be cut to 16, supposedly because he is concerned about player burnout. However, this hasn't stopped FIFA from created new international competitions, such as the Confederations Cup and the Club World Championship, while Blatter occasionally gives a public airing to his pipedream of staging a World Cup every two years. These FIFA tournaments rake in sponsorship money, which is apparently spent on grassroots development around the world once the various intermediaries – marketing agencies and so on – have taken their cut.
The war between FIFA and the major clubs (with UEFA vacillating between the two rival camps) will never be conclusively won because the two sides are locked in a nuclear balance, but skirmishes will continue as long there is money to be made.
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