The history of football can be traced to about 4500 years ago, the obscure origins of the sport makes for fascinating reading given its glowing popularity. The inability to pin football to one name is a mystery in itself with many other sports accountable for. However, historians believe Ancient Egyptians did play the sport with balls made of linen spotted in Egyptian tombs dating back to 2500 BC.
It was however in ancient China around 476 BC to 221 BC when a sport called ‘cuju’ was played in a rectangular playing field with a piece of cloth hung n between two poles serving as the goal posts. The game was so popular, it was seen as a means of keeping soldiers fit. It was however in the nineteenth century, football gained ascent with the English and in 1863, the Football Association was formed. With this came the rules and the sport we have come to love today.
I tell my friends this daily: football is an entity and like every entity or personality, it has phases. Take for instance, in the 1860s, it was more about getting to grips with the game, a kick-about of some sort with clubs been gradually formed and the birth of the FA Cup, it was all for passion.
By 1930, the FIFA World Cup had begun and the pride of wearing one’s national team shirt had become an extra incentive. By the ‘50s, Football had begun to take wider significance with the birth of the European Champions Cup and the 1960 launch of the Henri Delauney European Championship.
Brands were built as far back as the ‘70s when Pele became the face of the North American Soccer League of then, with the World Cup having been televised in 1966, football’s appeal became a global thing and come the late ‘70s into early ‘80s, 1million pound players had become a norm with Trevor Francis leading the way. Diego Maradona became the most expensive in the late ‘80s following his move to Napoli and then there were the disasters; Heysel and Hillsborough both in the ‘80s; which would go on to explain the dangers of extremism in football till today.
By the early 90s, merchandising had become the in-thing with clubs possessing branded sponsors and even national teams! Albeit for training purposes. This far reach of football had made it the ultimate market for everybody; young and old even the rich and the poor. The tag of loyalty had become an essential feature as rivalries were built over the years, some caused by geography, others by pure constant clashes and tussles for the biggest prizes.
Players came and went, coaches became Managers as the scope of the game widened and even they came and went, presidents came and went but two things still remain constant; the allure of the fans and the game itself. No matter the number of balls used both past and present, from the linen balls, to the rubber balls, the hard plain tango balls, the gravity-defying Jabulani, the famous Brazuca, football still remains football. It is this allure that has seen the face of the game change with politicking at the highest level becoming a sort of regularity.
Take for instance, Florentino Perez, rich construction magnate who has everything the world has to offer but still longs to be President of Real Madrid and looks set to stay for a long time yet; or look at the trouble that Sandro Rosell went through to become President of Barcelona, only to be told he couldn’t last long because he was involved in a transfer deal that is shrouded in mystery conducted for the club, adding salt to injury?
The allegations were levied against him by his club socios. Maybe this would fascinate you; the fact that Borussia Dortmund chiefs, Hans Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc chose to fire Thomas Tuchel (who handed them their most successful season since 2013-14) because he disagreed with them on the scheduling of a Champions League Fixture.
I wouldn’t know what Luciano Spalleti’s sacking at Roma would count as either with the board choosing to hand him his P45 after leading the side to their best Serie A points tally in more than a decade. That may not hurt, but this should, PSG’s ultimate firing of Laurent Blanc for failing to bring them European success despite dominating the scene on home front.
If these don’t count then maybe we could talk about some 50shades of crazy on behalf of club owners all a sign of politicking; case in point; the Pozzo family; who have fired the last three Watford coaches despite granting a club of their stature Premier League survival; what about the man who sold Palermo this year, Maurizio Zamparini, who made at least twenty coaching appointments since he bought the club; Massimo Cellino (former owners of Leeds United) who hired seven managers in three years; the list goes on and on. It’s amazing what football has become.
The years of ‘Hustle, Loyalty and respect’ are long gone with many footballers interested in only enriching their pockets and getting the best pay checks possible. Imagine the reality that Kelechi Iheanacho has rejected a move to PSG and Dortmund because he wants to get a British passport? What happened to more playing time? A better career trajectory?
It’s no surprise players who think like that end up in mediocrity. Take the instance of a 25-year old Oscar who has moved to China but will get double the amount he earned at Chelsea. His is not even as painful as that of a certain Hulk, who oozed class but has let his prodigious talent go to waste by making moves that only lace his pockets. One may not blame these players, the determination to never become poor again has played a role. Emmanuel Adebayor once said; he would only move to where he’s got a paycheck. Why? Because that’s why he plays football.
If the hustle is real, the loyalty and respect art is dwindling terribly. Francesco Totti, Andres Iniesta and Phillip Lahm are a dying breed. In fact, the former and the latter are now retired while Iniesta is a threatened species at Barcelona. Reason? He is considered old.
The board believe he is a liability, a stress on the wage bill. Just ask Dani Alves, Raúl Gonzalez and Andrea Pirlo how it feels. Their service has been forgotten. The mantra has changed to ‘thank you for your service, we think it’s best for you to go now.’ A subtle yet polite way of giving a player his matching orders.
The players aren’t alone in this quagmire, the managers share in it too; P45s are now cheap to acquire, mainly because the ‘business’ that is football needs to be kept up with.
A manager who fails to deliver earns that sack faster than he earned his job. Take this for an example: Zinedine Zidane might have just won the Champions League and La Liga double, but just over a month ago, he could have been fired. Why? Real lost to Barcelona. Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri won league titles for their clubs only to be handed P45s six months later for poor performance.
In reality, how we see what we see is what we see, what do we see? The manner of politicking even in the boardrooms among the board members are off the hook. Take the Jordi Cases v Sandro Rosell issue at Barcelona, The Ramon Calderon v Florentino Perez situation at Real Madrid, the factionalization that took place at Ajax in 2011 when Johann Cruyff returned, Silvio Berlusconi’s wily old tricks at Milan, even on the national front; the sport is seen as some sort of trump card, a bargain tool to some and an inheritance to others.
Issa Hayatou spent twenty eight years in power in CAF swatting aside every wind of progress that came with several men either feeling the wrath of his mighty hand or been rewarded with other positions of office. He wasn’t alone, Sepp Blatter & Michel Platini are paying the price for a game gone wrong after the former monopolized FIFA and intended to hand over to the latter in what was an obvious arrangement. Even government of nations now interfere. With poor performances raising questions of capability and systems.
Football is not a perfect sport. In fact, it is the most imperfect there is but while technology, marketability and merchandising are all good. It would be best if we rid ourselves of this vice of politicking from our sport. We stand to lose more than we would gain.
Yours thoughts? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.
Author: Rotimi “Papi the Great” Daramola
Rotimi Daramola aka Papi the Great is the owner of ForTheGoal.
A freelance sports writer who focuses on football, Rotimi is also a freelance writer, a copywriter and a football analyst who regularly appears on radio and television to talk football. You can follow him on twitter @papi_thegreat to keep up with his writings, engage him and also find out about how you can secure his writing services.