Issue 37: Editor's Note
Jonathan Wilson's Editor's Note from Issue Thirty Seven
Over the past few years, as the superclubs stretched further and further away from the rest, mahy of those considering how the game could be made fairer reached the unfortunate conclusion that it couldn’t. Too many vested interests – clubs, managers, players, agents, media companies, even fans – preferred the game as it was. The sense that football clubs at the highest level could somehow represent their community was increasingly tenuous and because the product was so good – and it is good; the football currently played in the knockout stages of the Champions League, whatever quibbles there may be about some of the defending, is probably the best football ever played in terms of drama, skill, attacking, pace and intensity – the majority seemed not to care. Several domestic leagues were turning into processions, and even in the Premier League we’d reached a point where one in six matches featured one side having less than 30% of the ball, but nothing would change, we reasoned, barring some sort of major disaster and/or economic crash.
Well, that crash is here now.
At the time of writing, football in South Korea and Germany is up and running again; France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scotland have ended 2019-20; and Spain, Italy and England are planning a return. All will suffer a substantial financial hit and will continue to do so for some time, and not just because there is no immediate prospect of fans returning to stadiums. As the wider economy goes into recession, advertising, sponsorship and commercial revenue will be hit, and that in turn will reduce future television deals. The £198m transfer of Neymar in 2017 is likely to stand for years as a totem of the days of plenty.
What happens next is unclear. The assumption had been that if the television bubble burst, the playing field would be levelled, but with the disappearance of matchday revenue that may not be the case. As it turns out, the rich will be better equipped to ride out the crisis and will probably benefit from fire sales at stricken clubs. When football returns, it is the global brands that will be least affected.
This break could have been a moment for football to recognise that the game as a whole is an ecosystem, for fairer structures to have been put in place, for the rich to acknowledge they have a duty to help the poor (and, while they’re at it, to subsidise women’s football in the short-medium term). As it is, amid the chaos, nobody seems to have looked beyond self-interest.
The result is that the position of the rich will probably become even more powerful. The crash that might have ended the era of the superclubs looks, paradoxically, like hastening a super league.