Jonathan Wilson's Editor's Note from Issue Thirty Six
A consistent theme over the nine years The Blizzard has now been running has been the intersection between football and politics or football and culture, how football has been used as a tool of authority or resistance, or how it has been shaped wider trends. Increasingly, football has come to seem central to the two greatest – related – themes of the age: the tension between community identity and globalisation, and the growing inequality brought about by untrammelled capitalism.
David Goldblatt’s latest book, The Age of Football, is testament to that. As he points out, there has never been a cultural mode as universal as football is now, and so of course it feels ever more important both as a mirror in which wider trends are reflected, and as an agent of power.
The case of Uefa and Manchester City brings that to a head. Nobody, surely, doubts that Sheikh Mansour invested in the club for a love of the game or because he thought it would make him money. He bought City and embarked on a redevelopment of east Manchester to promote Abu Dhabi, so that it became synonymous with the goals of Sergio Agüero and the passing of Kevin De Bruyne rather than with human rights abuses. Uefa’s initial finding suggests the club breached Financial Fair play regulations in doing so – and so the hare was set running.
City would like to portray themselves as heroic renegades fighting a corrupt system, which is simultaneously nonsense and slightly true (although the fundamental fact appears to be that City signed up to regulations and then broke them; it’s hard to construct a defence if that is true). FFP was introduced with good intentions but there can be little doubt that it has helped reify existing class divisions within football. In its present form, it ensures a tier of superclubs remains. But City are part of that, and their CEO Ferran Soriano made clear in his 2011 book Goal: The Ball Doesn’t Go in By Chance that he wants to attack the role of Uefa and Fifa as simultaneously regulators of the game and competitors for its wealth. City have been as forthright as any superclub in demanding a greater share of the pie for the elite.
And so the war begins: a superclub chafing at the restrictions placed on it by Uefa, which is now left to fight its battle against an emirate. Notionally the other superclubs back Uefa in this but as they seek extraordinary returns for involvement in Fifa’s expanded Club World Cup, they will be keeping a careful eye on City’s battle. For this isn’t just about City: it’s about the future of the game, and whether it is run by the richest clubs, or by the existing confederations.
And that, of course, is itself a reflection of the way the super-rich seem to be seizing power in every sphere.