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Reading the football news, I wonder sometimes if I’m trapped in a world that is some sort of collaboration between Orwell and Kafka. This season has provided some astonishing examples of double-speak, misinformation and hypocrisy that make you hope other people have spotted the same thing. It seems to get worse with each season to the extent that there seems be a growing minority, who will hopefully soon be the majority, who can see straight through the giant frauds being perpetrated against us. I live in hope that one day we reprise the denouement of John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ when the human race suddenly discover the master race of aliens amongst us subverting us with subliminal mind control. I’ve always thought that Richard Keys had the look of a shape shifting lizard.
This season, the mind-bending started back in the summer towards the end of the transfer window. In a situation that could have been taken straight from ‘Yes Minister’, Alex Ferguson vented his frustration at the madness of the transfer market, describing it as “kamikaze”. In typically forthright manner, he went on to say “You can’t necessarily achieve all the time by spending”. This was on the very same day that he spoke of signing Bebe for £7.5m without seeing him play, saying “It was a bit of leap into the dark really because we hadn’t seen him play…so we took the gamble… It was one of those instinctive things, you have a smell about something and you take it”. Kamikaze indeed.
Next up are the Liverpool fans and the whole sorry ownership saga which reached epic proportions of tedium for most fans. Whilst many will sympathise with the plight of the situation, their romance fuelled supporter group calls for a fan-owned club, which were led by Dr. Rogan Taylor of Liverpool University, seemed to ignore the basic economics of football which would have seen them plummet even further than they have already.
Fan ownership has worked in Germany and is a wonderful idea in principle but it only works if everyone else is doing it too and your fans are wealthy enough to cough up the funds when you want your manager to spend £50m in the summer. I suspect that even 100,000 Scouse fans would be unable to compete with the budget set aside Sheikh Mansour just for helicopter travel. Couple this with the ‘protest group’, Reclaim The Kop, who want to get rid of the ‘out of towners’ who they claim are ruining the atmosphere inside Anfield and you begin to wonder if a cargo of rose-tinted spectacles has been washed up on the banks of the Mersey. That would be the same ‘out of towners’ who bring in millions of pounds in revenue by filling the stadium to watch dire Europa League fixtures after going wild with their credit cards in the club shop. You really can’t have it both ways. Hypocrisy reigns – and I’m not talking about Hodgson’s new Greek left-back.
Although grounded financially, Arsenal are similarly inflicted when it comes to duplicity. To be fair to Arsene Wenger, when he was banging on about dangerous tackles a couple of weeks ago (and the previous two years), he couldn’t have foreseen the events of the Birmingham game. No sooner had the wise old professor finished saying “We must fight to keep beautiful tackling, and that’s tackling with the desire to get the ball back, rather than jumping in at any cost”, than Emmanuel Eboue and Jack Wilshere set about jumping in at all costs, trying to remove some shinpads with their studs.
Determined to outdo everyone for wackiness though, along came Chelsea and their calls for a salary cap to end the money madness in football. This is akin to Pete Doherty saying that drug abuse is out of control. The club that once spent £100m on transfers in a single season and paid Winston Bogarde £40k a week to not play for 4 years (other than 4 starts and 8 sub appearances), now seems to find the random splurging of cash quite vulgar. “We would need to see it properly implemented” said Chelsea’s Chairman, Bruce Buck. I’m not quite sure whether he was talking about the salary cap, or a project to pull up the drawbridge to the top 4 of the Premier League.
In some fairness to Chelsea, they were reacting to the bizarre week at Old Trafford that saw Rooney waving goodbye, and disparaging the club and his teammates at the start of it – and then signing an enormous new contract at the end of it. Cue a spate of fawning newspaper articles backing Ferguson, and praising his outstanding man management abilities. The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor, gushed even more than most “How can anyone not have at least begrudging admiration for that shrewd, political mind, still as sharp as a tack as we approach the beginning of his 70th year?” under the sub-headline ‘Wayne Rooney has shown staggering self-interest but Sir Alex Ferguson demonstrated his powers of persuasion’. I guess that would be the ‘shrewdness’ and ‘persuasion’ held only by those special managers who can double the salary of an employee who has failed to perform for the last six months. What a genius.