Football Is Eating Itself

I think it’s fair to say that my feelings on Jordan Henderson moving to Saudi Arabia have been made very clear in recent days. The Liverpool captain has chosen to betray the people that he claimed to stand up for, which is what makes it different from the likes of Robert Firmino, Fabinho Tavares and Steven Gerrard. That being said, I have a problem with any player choosing to move to a country in which LGBTQ+ people are not allowed to exist and women are treated as second-class citizens. Of course Saudi Arabia should be allowed a football league and they have as much right as any country to attempt to attract players to play in it and managers to take control of the teams. Except, I don’t think you should be allowed to host football matches if those that might wish to watch it, such as gay people or women, aren’t allowed to. For the record, I include western countries that have equally as appalling attitudes towards minorities.

The United States of America isn’t really one country, but if the disgraceful attitudes towards members of the LGBTQ+ community continues in the likes of Florida then I would personally be in favour in not allowing football to go ahead in the state. Let me be clear: LGBTQ+ people are people and their rights are human rights. This is, in my eyes, no different to if a country was saying that black people couldn’t exist there or if Jewish people were denied the right to watch football. It is a black and white issue in my eyes and, whilst the United Kingdom is far from perfect and I’d have a major problem with the British state owning a football club or setting up a league, at least LGBTQ+ people are allowed to exist here. We have a hell of a long way to go in terms of them being accepted in every day life and I know plenty of people within the community who feel far from safe, but they can exist and marry and start a family and that is exactly how it should be in a civilised world.

Dual Ownership Is A Problem

The recent news linking Allan Saint-Maximin with a move to the Saudi Pro League are a neat summation of the extent to which football is in the process of eating itself. It is rumoured that the Frenchman will be departing St. James’ Park in order to sign for Al-Ahli in a deal worth around £30 million, which is significantly more than most sensible people think the winger is worth. It just so happens that Newcastle United and Al-Ahli are both owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, meaning that they can strike a deal between each other and shift funds from one place to the other in order to ensure that everyone is meeting any Financial Fair Play requirements that are nominally in place. Similar moves were made at Chelsea, where PIF are one of the main investors of Clearlake Capital, the company behind Todd Boehly’s takeover of the London club last year. It is all working out very nicely for the clubs that are able to take advantage of Saudi Arabia’s move to establish itself as a serious footballing nation.

For those that don’t have a link to the country, however, it all stinks. It is blatantly unfair for a club with the same owners to be selling players to each other for inflated fees, just as it is a nonsense for Newcastle United’s sponsorship deal to have gone up several fold, all on account of the fact that the club is now being sponsored by a company owned by PIF. It isn’t competitive, it isn’t fair and it is making football entirely redundant as a sport worth watching. It is difficult to envision a world in which any clubs other than those owned by sports-washing nations win things in the future. The various clubs owned by PIF will just move their assets from one place to another, ensuring that they comply with the already neutered FFP rules that have been put in place, whilst the rest of us are doomed to spend eternity listening to virgins on the internet complain that our club isn’t spending £300 million to buy Kylian Mbappé so the owners should be shot.

The Rich Getting Richer

One of the things that I least understand about the Jordan Henderson situation is people saying that the money that he is being offered is ‘life-changing’. What about his life will change as a result of the money he’s going to be paid? He is already richer than most people can ever hope to be. The only difference is that he’ll have even more of it. The news that Kylian Mbappé is being offered €700 million a year to play in Saudi Arabia is as disgusting as it is mind-boggling. Even if we weren’t experiencing a cost of living crisis right now, this is a time when the world is, quite literally, on fire and there are more food banks in the United Kingdom than there are branches of McDonald’s, but a single person can be paid €700 million a year simply because they’re good at football. In recent times, one of the most stolen things from supermarkets has been baby food. People are putting their lives and the lives of their loved ones at risk to cross the sea in order to make better lives for themselves. It is grotesque.

Where do we draw the line? It is clear that Saudi Arabia is gearing up to host the World Cup in a few years, whilst FIFA and UEFA are doing everything they can to make it is as easy as possible for such oppressive countries to do just that. I didn’t watch a minute of the World Cup in Qatar for precisely the reasons of oppression outlined here, but most people I know did. What is the point at which sensible people say, “Enough is enough”? Nate Silver, the famed US pollster, got pelters on social media for suggesting that ‘US franchises’ should have access to the Premier League, but not many people seem to be all that bothered by far worse things happening in football. People pick and choose what they’re bothered about and if you happen to land on something that they don’t care about then you’re just being ‘woke’. Football isn’t that far from completely destroying itself as a meaningful competition and I think that that is a real shame. We’re at the brink, so it won’t take much to push us over.

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