Football’s a funny old game. On any given day you can never tell which issue is going to take off and burn through press offices the world over. Last year, Platini and Bleater were all a twitter about the 6+5 rule and the issue of debt in football. Those stories burned through the newsrooms with the usual mixture of hysteria, hyperbole, and a smattering of level-headed analysis and then… nothing happened.
Well, not “nothing” but almost nothing. The 6+5 rule was firmly swatted away by the European Commission saying that
Our position is clear: FIFA’s ‘6+5’ Rule is based on direct discrimination on the grounds of nationality, and is thus against one of the fundamental principles of EU law.
Meanwhile, debt in the various leagues seems to have been swept under the carpet. Insane plans like installing an MLB style salary “cap” and other reforms have been exposed as unworkable solutions owing to the multi-various league rules and national laws which govern sports. Sure, they are still looking at the issue, what with UEFA trying to flex some muscle over big spenders even as recently as a few weeks ago, but it seems to me to be a half-hearted attempt to control the problem. What else could I think when I see that Platini is suddenly embracing Roman Abramovich as the model of fiscal responsibility?
No, the story du jour is not debt, or 6+5, or really even the Eduardo ban. The Story of this international break is FIFA’s two window ban on Chelsea’s transfer dealings for signing Gael Kakuta away from Lens. Suddenly, like Florida shark attack stories in the summer, everyone and their brother is being fined or taken to court over the transfer of young men from one club to another. Leeds United alone are involved in three claims against Manchester City and Everton, meanwhile the aforementioned City are also involved in three claims, all going against them at the moment and their city rivals are involved in no less than two paper stories.
Funnily enough, Arsenal, the club that supposedly started this all with the transfer of Cesc from Barcelona, has been left out of this mess. It seems likely that they learned a lesson after the Fran Merida ruling (which is still under appeal) and have instead opted to just pay transfer fees such as in the cases of Theo Walcott and King Ramsey I.
The thing is, we don’t know what’s really going on. I’m sure some of these moves for these youngsters have been problematic, in which case the courts will sort them out. Frankly, I don’t know how a country like Spain can have a law that says that a player cannot sign a contract until they are 18 and yet at the same time award a club £2m because they had a “pre-contract” with the player.
The worst part of all this is it seems like what we’re seeing is a hysteria start to arise at a time when what’s most needed is an honest look into what’s really going on. When the CEO of the South African Football Association describes Ian Wright, Alex Song, and George Eastham’s joint venture, Cape United FC, as “raping the country” just because they have a profit motive at the end of their business plan. Then I think we may be in danger of stepping off the edge just a bit and need to back up.
It looks to me as if there’s a sort of power struggle going on here, between player’s rights and club’s rights. That struggle needs to be balanced by the courts and rules need to be put in place which make sense and which are legally binding. At the moment the courts, and governing bodies, are siding with the academies and I think that’s dangerous. It seem like the academies have all the power with these “pre-contracts” whereby they can hold onto and basically do what they want with these kids (footballistically) and where the kid has no power in this situation. Labor (and make no mistake, these children are labor or at least they are being treated like “pre-labor”) has only two means of power: either through contractual obligation of the corporation or by moving on to another company that pays them better, treats them better etc. So, with the courts seemingly ruling strictly in favor of the companies, I think we’re doing a disservice to the kids in this equation.
There needs to be a better system in place to protect both the players and give them the maximum amount of opportunity possible while also making sure that we protect the investment of the companies who can spend years developing these kids talent. Without that balance we will see exploitation and corruption and all the other ills that the courts protect each party from.
And maybe that’s the saddest part of all this; that there’s no way to get around the fact that we’ve commodified these children and put a value on something that most of them would do for free. Unfortunately, I can’t see a way back.