There are two possible reactions to the news of Gareth Bale’s transfer from Tottenham to Real Madrid for £86 million which will see him net £300,000 a week salary. The first is how did we get here? When did it become anyone’s idea of a good investment to throw a total of £176 million, in transfer and salary, at a 24 year old to kick a ball? There’s no sillier money than that chucked out the transfer window and this summer the circus really was in town.
Purists bemoan the state of our national sport – players being paid more in a week that many receive in a lifetime, refusing to train and holding their manager and fans to ransom. Their antics seem childish and at times the whole shebang looks more like a crèche for egomaniacs that the pinnacle of professional sportsmanship. But as anyone who has seen Stephen Ireland’s taste in cars will know, football is unique.
Fuelled by billions from advertising and coverage rights, football’s free market has gone ballistic. (Perhaps, like the free market, it too suffers from short-termism.)
A shrewd investor will have seen that anyone who can grab that much of the public’s attention ought to reward their cash. As Spear’s has written before, there are profits to be had from putting your money into them.
Money becomes the media’s measure: the media make sagas out of players moving clubs and rate their WAGS by decadence. Fans want clubs both to spend big to attract stars and to acquire young players cheaply who can then be sold on for millions. They don’t see winning and being profit-making as mutually exclusive: money needs money. At a recent Arsenal game a fan held a placard that simply read: ‘Spend! Spend! Spend!’
Therefore I support the second reaction to Bale’s transfer: embrace it. If it proves anything it’s that markets can make anything profitable, even ball kicking. He’s one of the best in the world hence the big bucks.
A generation ago there was a tipping point when football could have remained a sport in the traditional sense; now it’s the sport of business, competitive and crazy. The recent big American investments in Premiership clubs is no coincidence. If we can accept the mandate of markets and media to blow everything out of all reasonable proportion then it won’t make it any less entertaining. Maybe then we can just sit down and enjoy the game.