We’re no closer to knowing when soccer might return to action given the global reaction to slowing the coronavirus outbreak, but there’s still a lot happening in the broader soccer world. Gab Marcotti reacts to the main talking points in the latest Monday Musings.
Latest idea to finish season shows elite soccer isn’t for fans
It was just a matter time before somebody floated the idea. After all, if we’re willing to play behind closed doors, why not this?
The Independent reports that the Premier League has discussed the possibility of playing out the remainder of the season in June and July — not under normal circumstances, with packed stadiums, not even behind closed doors — but in some sort of quarantined, controlled, coronavirus-free environment. They would test players, staff, officials and referees (but also cameramen, producers and commentators, because let’s face it, that’s what this is about) and as long as they’re negative, sequester them away somewhere with lots of football pitches. Keep them away from COVID-19 and the general population, let them play, train, sleep, eat and play their video games together and put the whole shebang on TV.
Heck, while they’re at it, they can also turn it into a 24/7 reality show, “Big Brother”-style: Why cede the fly-on-the-wall market entirely to Amazon and Spurs when you have 25 professional footballers shacked up together for six to eight weeks? And since big, cavernous empty stadiums are depressing to watch, why not play on training pitches with giant green screens simulating fans?
Think of the benefits. You could wrap up the season without lawsuits or recrimination in time for next season. You’d fulfil your TV contracts, which means most of your income would be secure. You would also, as the article notes, provide a welcome distraction and a psychological boost to a self-quarantining population who, by that stage, will have had their fill of the Netflix back catalog. Not to mention the economic boost to sponsors and bookmakers, who have largely gone dark since the lockdown. Win-win-win-win.
Or is it? Because doing so would definitively confirm the notion that football — at least elite football — is above all televised entertainment for the masses, and that keeping production going is the sport’s top priority.
To some traditionalists, for whom match-going fans are some kind of exalted class, that’s anathema. They’ll point out that football has already bent every which way — mostly backwards and over — to accommodate broadcasters and sponsors. Any solution that excludes supporters is not a solution, they’ll say. I get their point, but the reality is that when it comes to the elite competitions, that ship sailed a long time ago.
Most owners see themselves as part of the entertainment industry. Broadcast media is merely a delivery method. Sponsorship deals are a form of brand placement. The money they bring in goes to pay for the players who, in turn, strengthen the brand, making it more valuable and thereby increasing the bottom line gain for the owners. In many cases, those gains are cash (or capital appreciation), in some they take the form of political clout or soft power, and in a few others, it’s ego. With a few exceptions, like FC United of Manchester, most match-going supporters accepted the change, at least in England.
The reality is that at the highest levels, match-going fans matter less and less to the bottom line. These are global brands who deliver their product around the world. All that would change to most observers in the above scenario is the set: instead of a teeming Anfield, we’ll get a training-ground pitch (or maybe, if we’re looking, some digitised version of Anfield).
Conceptually, I’m seriously in two minds about it. I wouldn’t ever want it to become a permanent fixture on the landscape, but these are unusual, uncharted times in which we live. If it’s what it takes to wrap things up and move on with the least possible disruption, so be it.
Practically, I’m dead-set against it for three reasons. One is that the above does absolutely nothing for the rest of the football pyramid. If the only football that can be safely played is on a reality show set, it won’t help resolve anything in terms of the rest of English football. It won’t provide a neat ending in terms of promotion and relegation and unless they’re going to write a big cheque to the lower leagues, it won’t solve their cash-flow problems. Clubs below the Premier League don’t live off media and commercial income; they rely on gate receipts.
Second is that I’m simply not sure about the legality of sequestering players for two months. They’re paid handsomely to entertain for our chosen teams, but nobody signed up to being away from their homes and their families for two months, just so the billionaires who own their clubs can get paid. Not to mention the fact that if there is still a public health emergency, I don’t see how you can trust a bunch of 20-something young men to observe their quarantine.
Third, I can’t imagine that all 500 Premier League players would willingly sign up to this for the reasons cited above. Nor can I imagine that they’d all test negative. The minute there are guys ruling themselves out, you’re no longer completing the 2019-20 season. Because, for example, Liverpool without Virgil Van Dijk or Leicester without Jamie Vardy is no longer the team that began the campaign.
Maybe there are solutions to all the above. Maybe they’ll allay lower league concerns by sharing some of the TV money. Maybe the risk of players escaping from the sausage factory will be mitigating by the fact that COVID-19 will be largely under control. Maybe we’ll just accept the fact that not everybody will be on board.
Maybe we’ll be happy with this made-for-TV fantasy. We’ve never faced anything like the current crisis; who knows what we’ll be ready to accept come June?
Juve’s salary cut only a short-term fix
Gab Marcotti explains how much money Juventus will save after the players accepted a four-month wage cut.
Coronavirus a lesson for soccer fans
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin stated the obvious last week when he said that UEFA have all sorts of plans for different restarts, ranging from mid-May, early June, late June and maybe even “at the start of next season,” but it’s all academic right now, since “Nobody knows then the pandemic will end.”
“If we wouldn’t be able to do any of these, the season would probably be lost,” he added.
This is absolutely correct, of course, but it still chills you to the bone. It also serves as a reminder that, as Jorge Valdano wrote in “El Pais,” that the coronavirus is teaching football some home truths. The virus is in charge, not the people who run our game.
Don’t read into Kane’s comments
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss whether Harry Kane was right to admit that his future could lie elsewhere.
You can read Harry Kane‘s words about wanting to win trophies “sooner rather than later” any way you like. You can conclude that the Tottenham captain saying that if he doesn’t feel the clubs are “progressing as a team or going in the right direction,” he’s not going to stick around “just for the sake of it” is the equivalent of a “come and get me plea.”
Maybe I’m naive but given the timing of his words — let’s face it, nobody is coming for him anytime soon, given we have no clue when the next window will open — and the fact that he has been a model of loyalty thus far, I choose to think he was just being honest. And, perhaps because we’re unused to this from our star athletes, we tend to search for ulterior motives.
I don’t think Kane has anything to prove, and I think he knows full well that if he wins trophies at Tottenham it will be as a protagonist, whereas elsewhere it might be as a passenger on the sort of mega-club that might have won without him anyway.
Xavi knows the power he holds regarding Barca’s future
Gab Marcotti explains why the circumstances must be right at Barcelona if Xavi is to return.
Nothing Xavi said about a return to Barcelona in his interview with La Vanguardia surprised me. It’s obvious he would like to manage the club he joined at 11 years of age and where he spent 24 seasons as a player. It’s obvious, too, that if he returns, he wants to have as much control as possible. It’s obvious he wants to to work with people he trusts, and as for “toxic” figures around the dressing room, who wants those?
Equally, it’s still significant that he reminded us of all this and kept his name in the headlines. He knows better than most that Barcelona’s next presidential elections are scheduled in the next 15 months. And that such is his popularity and legacy that he could help anoint the next president, particularly if he gets Lionel Messi on board. Given Barcelona’s situation, Xavi’s voice should be in the conversation come election time, in some capacity. Other than Pep Guardiola, there is no Barca alum out there who wields more power than he does.