One of the main questions that linger over modern day football and put its integrity in question is this: Is top-level football a sport, or a business?
A top football club like Real Madrid generates about $600 million of revenue every year. In the modern day, money talks. Big clubs splash out billions of dollars every year to sign exciting, phenomenal players to conquer the football world. However, there is a dark underlying secret to all these big money deals.
Real Madrid, as is all too familiar, broke the bank, quite literally, to sign 24 year old Gareth Bale this summer. The transfer fee – A ludicrous $138 million. But what didn’t meet the eye, is the fact that Bale repaid most of his astronomical transfer fee, not through his on-field heroics, but mainly through his shirt sales, which topped $90 million. So in hindsight, Real Madrid have already recovered most of the money they spent! This raises the question as to whether Bale was bought to build Real’s legacy, or increase their bank balance?
Football is a sport that generates revenue. Lots of it. Mighty clubs attract the eye of wealthy businessmen, who recognize the financial benefits of success at club level. One such case is the record breaking takeover of Manchester United by the Glazers’ family for more than $800 million. A popular line of criticism for the Glazers is that they were more interested in the drop in United’s share price in the NY Stock Exchange than the club’s miserable shortcomings this season!
Then comes the issue of corruption, not just in multi-billion dollar governing bodies like UEFA and FIFA, but also from the grassroots level. Football is being invaded by corruption both on-field as well as off the field. FC Barcelona, one of the most successful clubs of all-time, are believed to have offered a whopping $50 million as a sweetener for the deal to add young Brazilian hotshot and footballing sensation Neymar to their already power-packed side.
(The total amount is believed to be closer to $94 million)
One issue that has been thrust into the limelight recently has been the evasion of taxes. Global superstar and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi was taken to court over alleged non payment of taxes, whereas mighty Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness spectacularly confessed to unpaid taxes of up to $30 million.
But the issue that grieves the football faithful is that governing bodies UEFA and FIFA do nothing worthwhile whatsoever.
The feeling among the general public is that UEFA and FIFA may be apprehensive about tarnishing forever the reputations of mighty clubs like FC Barcelona.
FIFA have willingly brought the chopping block on its own head when it announced that the 2022 FIFA World Cup would be awarded to oil-rich Qatar, ill equipped to handle such a major football tournament. Once again money was the all-important factor in the negotiations as FIFA overlooked medical and safety concerns of players and workers in inhuman working and playing conditions. Tragically to this day, workers continue to sacrifice their lives due to the intense heat during stadium constructions. It’s tough to play football in the middle of the Arabian Desert or the Amazon forests of Brazil as will be the case at this summer’s World Cup.
One issue usually dominating the back pages is bribery of referees and match-fixing. On a weekly basis, clubs and referees come under the scanner for their involvement in suspicious activity.
The most famous incident of match fixing, the Calciopoli scandal,
when Serie A champions Juventus were stripped of their winners’ medal and relegated to the second tier of Italian football, made shockwaves throughout the football world.
However not all hope is lost. Certain guidelines are coming into place to ensure that clubs stick to the rulebook, while big clubs like PSG and Manchester City were fined for using their financial might to conquer Europe under the new Financial Fair Play rule to give smaller clubs a lifeline. This is a fresh lease of life and makes an important contribution to preserving the religion that is football.
Football is not all about the game, the glamour and the flair. There is a darker side to it too.