Monday 23 September 2019

Declan Lynch: 'An 'ethics bonus' to ensure you applaud your fans has got the ring of twisted authenticity'

Neymar denied the report. Photo: Getty
Neymar denied the report. Photo: Getty
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Albert Camus said that "everything I know about morality and the obligations of men I owe to football". But if you want to know about amorality, the game of ball is quite good for that too. And of course when we talk of such things, usually we are talking about money.

In the early years of the century, football people were among the first to realise how Wall Street was working its voodoo, when we realised that you didn't need to have money, as such, to buy a Premier League football club. You just had to persuade some institution to give you, say, 500 million quid, and then you could get the club to pay back the money, over time.

Thus the "leveraged buyout" - which was one of those things which became quite notorious when the money men eventually destroyed the world in 2008 - was just a regular day at the office for fans of Liverpool or Manchester United.

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And the business model of Leeds United in the early 2000s had shades of our old friend "securitisation", with lots of money being received upfront to buy players, in anticipation of the success which seemed inevitable - it had shades of other things too, a lot of shades really, and in the end, all the securitisation in the world couldn't stop Leeds going down.

Now the "bonus culture" is so embedded in the game, we are seeing stories which seem fantastical and even hilarious, such as the one about Neymar at Paris St Germain getting a €375,000 "ethical bonus" which requires him to behave himself to a certain standard up to and including the obligation to applaud the fans.

"Fake news!" he cried, though for anyone wise in the ways of the financial world, calling it an "ethical" bonus has that ring of twisted authenticity you last heard in some story about an out-of-control hedge fund manager.

Likewise the story involving Richard Scudamore, executive chairman of the Premier League, who was said last week to be embarrassed about reports that the clubs had been asked to contribute £250,000 each to a golden handshake which would amount to £5m - again there is that dark humour you might find in the City, whereby they organise a "whip-around" for some departing millionaire, like he was the retiring janitor receiving a One4all voucher.

On Scudamore's watch (his gold watch perhaps) the Premier League has become a massive, massive, massive global phenomenon, but now there is so much money gushing into the clubs at the top end - and into the top club Manchester City in particular - there are fears for the continuing richness of the league, because again the financial model of football is too closely resembling that of life itself.

In life, as we know, about seven people have most of the money in the world, which is leading to all sorts of disorder and dysfunction. And likewise the normal energies of competitiveness in the Premier League are breaking down, essentially because City have so much money, they are too good.

And naturally, in football as in life, there are many questions about the provenance of that money, with recent stories in Der Spiegel about the owners, the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, being enabled to get past the amusingly titled Financial Fair Play rules - and being advised on this by the man who is now the president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino.

Ah yes, we are reminded of the way that governments now see themselves essentially as facilitators of the movements of corporations.

But there is at least one major sport out there which has never allowed itself to be consumed by the imperatives of hyper-capitalism. That would be American Football, where the system is rigged to ensure that weaker teams can sign good players in the annual NFL "Draft" - thus avoiding the danger of the winning franchises winning for ever. "To each according to his needs", as Marx might quip.

No oligarch with a dubious human rights record will feel unwelcome in America… but for the really important stuff, they choose socialism.

Sunday Independent

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