To many fans, money is once again destroying football.
The infinite riches of the sugar daddies have distorted the transfer market, driven up wages and, and for some supporters, irrevocably damaged the competitive integrity of the sport. Looking at it from a purely football focused perspective though, is it really all that bad?
My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is the album that bankrupted a record label. If financial fair play rules existed within the myths and legends of the shoegaze sub-genre, Loveless might never have been released. It might never have been allowed to happen.
The demise of Creation Records is, more often than not, blamed on Kevin Shields, the band’s enigmatic creative genius and recording studio dictator. His ruthlessly obsessive (and irresponsibly expensive) pursuit for perfection led him to hire and fire whole ranks of techies and producers while burning through hours upon hours of mixing and remixing at various high-end, high-cost studios.
Strangely though, Kevin Shields is not viewed as some David Murray figure whose disastrous, and perhaps wilful, mismanagement destroyed a popular institution. Instead, My Bloody Valentine are lauded by many for their dedication and commitment to their creative vision, uncompromised by the distractions of budgets and money.
As an added insult (or the ultimate validation of their artistry, depending on your viewpoint) Loveless was a commercial flop. Thankfully, it was at least a major hit with critics, and to this day the record is widely regarded as one of the finest studio album of its genre.
It’s worth wondering how the actions and attitudes of Shields and co. would have been perceived had their over budget and delayed second record been a failure on both fronts, critically and financially. In the modern game, can financial irregularities be excused by beautiful football in a similar fashion?
Although rather dominant in their own niche sub-genre, the Scottish Premier League, the Rangers that ended with Craig Whyte were not known for expansive, attacking or attractive football. Instead, to foreign fans at least, Rangers FC had become a byword for cowardly anti-football based on ultra-defensive attrition, especially on European nights.
However, their overspending meltdown did not come from chasing some glorious footballing ideal on par with Johan, Louis, Frank and Pep’s Barcelona. Rangers weighted the Scottish Premier League through financial doping for reasons of greed. They didn’t have the vision to be a footballing Loveless.
Heading south, and the implosion of Leeds United stands out as another easy parallel as football’s answer to the Creation Records fiasco – an ever spiralling tale of over reaching ambition, mismanagement and pure greed. Peter Ridsdale even works as a half-decent stand in to Creation’s owner Alan McGee, although the Peter Reid/Kevin Shields connection is tenuous at best and downright dodgy at worst.
Leeds fell apart having gambled away their future Champions League money on short-term gains, money that they had no guarantee of securing in the future. As with Rangers, Leeds lacked the required vision to sate our analogy. Vision is important in modern football.
It has become expected, if not accepted, that in a manager’s first press conference at a new club, big or small, they will be talk up their “project”. Team building, transfer and tactics are myopic and outdated concerns. Now teams are ruled and managed through the all-encompassing visions of their managers, the training ground dictator.
Paradoxically, we must instead turn our minds in the opposite direction – to the clubs buffeted by their owner’s near limitless fortunes – to discover the true Loveless of modern football.
Leeds and perhaps even Rangers, are creatures of their environment. Fans demand success, yet in an environment where rivals and big clubs block off your routes to glory and progress, both competitively and financially, short-sighted greedy ambition can overtake a football club rather than a sound, aspirational vision. Under the promise of stellar signings and European football, greedy men use the pretence of ambition to make their money and drive a club into the ground.
Chelsea and Manchester City have only recently circumvented this problem by being taken over by men with unbelievable amounts of money.
Perhaps if Shields were a football manager, the age of the corruptive sugar daddy would be his golden era, especially in the post-Mourinho period.
Now, even for Roman Abramovich, vision is important. He doesn’t just want to win, but for his immense investment, he wants to win with exuberance and style, qualities his club are yet to be known for.
Last season however, modern football met its answer to Loveless in Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City.
The distortive effect of City’s financial advantage, an advantage it mustn’t be forgotten that was previously enjoyed by Chelsea and Manchester United before them, has increased the pressure on football clubs outside the very top-end of the game.
If, as many people claim, having a sugar daddy is the only way to compete, surely upping the financial stakes in the manner City have is effectively pulling up the ladder for clubs not lucky enough to have a Sheikh Mansour, and closing football up for good?
Their unprecedented pursuit of glory however has constructed a squad of players who at times can produce exquisite football. Perhaps their on-the-field panache excuses their extraordinary investment off it? That’s certainly the excuse many hold onto when it comes to the tax bills and debts of La Liga’s big two.
If Man City are the Loveless of modern football though, then Creation Records is the inevitable bubble burst of player wages, transfer fees and club debts that will explode across the game if the financial arms race isn’t dealt with soon.
Manchester City aren’t the bad guys here, just the latest front runners in a game that’s long been rigged.