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Vincent Hogan: Net gains prove irresistible in world of instant appeal

Here at Luddite Central, it's been a week brightened by a little torch of idealism. Facebook came into our lives. Twitter too. We're still not the better for it, frankly. You see, we've long viewed this whole 'social networking' business as a lazy generation's attempt to phase out human speech. Soon our voice boxes will be obsolete, we fear. We'll be communicating in the modern equivalent of Morse Code.

Joe Duffy might even have to get a job.

Sportswriters are pretty much index-linked to the volume of cynicism they can muster. And little more than a week ago, this column was snorting with derision at Ryan Babel's delinquent temper tantrum to an invisible Twitter audience. It brought to mind Kenny Egan's odd little breakdown in New York.

A team of genetically modified Sherpas couldn't have crossed the jagged peaks of our disdain for this practice of chatting to the ether.

Then Ronan Kenny emailed. A student at UCC, he'd read last week's column and, specifically, the suggestion that billions could be raised for Haiti if every professional footballer in the world donated just a single day's pay to the rescue effort. Ronan liked the idea and did what young people do. He networked.

And, well, something remarkable began to happen. With the help of fellow Roscrea man, and DCU student, Edward Leamy, a Facebook group page called 'Soccer Stars for Haiti' was set up and, by lunchtime yesterday, it had almost 15,000 global members. Better still, it was beginning to reach into important places.


It seems that Diego Forlan, the former Manchester United striker now playing with Atletico Madrid, has indicated enthusiasm for the idea (one day's salary in his case would be an estimated E4,800) and there have also been positive expressions from a number of players in the English Premier League.

Suddenly, the canyon that exists between professional footballers and the outside world seems almost bridgeable.

Yet, clearly, what it needs now is for one internationally prominent player to volunteer himself as the face of 'Soccer Stars for Haiti'. That would take cojones, of course. A willingness to run the gauntlet of the kind of juvenile chorus that assailed Niall Quinn when he donated the entire proceeds of his testimonial to charity.

A dressing-room can be a pretty immature place for anyone inclined to stretch beyond the philosophical demands of zig-zagging between training cones and practising set-pieces. Yet it remains the ultimate dominion of grown-up wages.

Put it this way. Is it not sobering to reflect that in his time spent fixing his pony-tail on the Liverpool bench, Andriy Voronin would have been paid multiples of what Brian O'Driscoll receives for routine greatness on the rugby field?

Professional football is in a strange place right now. It is an industry in which all sanity has been subsumed by market forces, in which some of the most famous clubs in the world have become so fat on conceit, they've neglected to do any proper house-keeping.

Premier League clubs are currently an estimated E3.5bn in debt.

Yet I read at the weekend that Arsenal, virtual paragons of restraint in this Disney world, will see their salary bill rise by 14pc this year to E204m, "to compensate players for tax changes and a number of step-ups in wages for individuals".

This, remember, is a club that has been trophy-less for five years.

Salaries are the great, enduring belly-laugh of professional football. Manchester United, for example, have already indicated their opposition to a UEFA initiative looking to impose greater financial rigour on all European clubs by 2012. In other words, they are opposed to the imposition of fiscal sanity on the game.

This is intriguing, given that they lie cheek to jowl with a club for whom there is not even the remotest pretence of a serious business model. Manchester City can, essentially, operate as they please because of the Abu Dhabi millions.

Yet United, currently trying to raise over £500m in "junk bonds", appear to find this existence preferable to one in which a club's salary outlay should have some kind of relationship with its income.

When this is so, should we really wonder that players seem impervious to what's happening in the outside world? My 12-year-old enquired recently if footballers' salaries were "recession-proof". I thought it a remarkably prescient question.

Because something's got to give. The days of journeymen professionals taking home £30,000 a week surely cannot be sustainable much longer. Actually, it seems to me that footballers should count their blessings and see these as the last days of the Roman Empire.

We know they visit hospital wards and, occasionally, have whip-arounds for worthy causes. We know, too, that nothing quite gets under their skin like exposure to the considered pieties of media folk. Fair enough.

But just think of that little boy, Kiki, arms out-stretched -- as if in celebration of a goal -- as he was lifted from the rubble last week. Think of him now sleeping under the stars.

'Soccer Stars for Haiti' is looking for one day's salary from every professional footballer to give kids like Kiki a future. Yes, it's idealistic to the point of innocence. No, I don't imagine there's a big-name player out there ready to take it on.

But a week ago, I didn't believe in Facebook. And I've since found 15,000 reasons to reconsider.

Irish Independent