LARRY RYAN: Excesses of modern football pulling on the fans’ elastic

It is back. But we should pause to consider those we have lost. The latest defectors. Those who have seen enough. Who have, as they will tell you often, “lost interest now”.

Turns out €200 million was their personal trigger, the specific amount they regard as obscene. Too obscene.

They had hung in there. Stayed strong. Turned a deaf ear, 22 years ago, when Stuart Pearce decried the “huge waste” at Arsenal, where Dennis Bergkamp would get £25,000 per week.

Even when that prudent Peter Ridsdale warned, in 2000, that “obscene fees” were ruining football, they stuck with it, while others baulked.

Didn’t budge when Roy Keane became English football’s first £100,000 per week player and triggered another batch of objectors, including the Guardian, who warned he represented the last generation of footballers who’d bank such bloated wages.

And even when vigilant voice of reason Emmanuel Adebayor shouted stop nine years ago, insisting money was “killing the spirit of the game,” our resilient friends stayed loyal, sticking around to see Ade take City’s £170,000 per week offer the following summer.

Somehow, they battled past transfer fees of €90m for Ronaldo and €100m for Pogba but now the purchase of Neymar for PSG by Qatar has proved a deal too far. Football is dead to them. And there was too much diving anyway.

There must surely be some economics terminology for this phenomenon, this finite tolerance for the earning power of an individual you admire. Fanlasticity?

For any survivors feeling stretched, thankfully Cadbury were in town this week.

Now official snack partners of the Premier League, presumably the chief mission was to educate that Tiffin and Golden Crisp are the food of kings. But it was also a reminder that Irene Rosenfeld, the boss of Cadbury’s parent company Mondelez International, earned €18m per year last we heard. While Neymar was making ends meet on €15m at Barcelona.

On one hand, we wonder how hard Mondelez searched for Irene, or somebody who could do the job as well as Irene. 

Was it as thorough as the process that eventually brought Neymar to Barcelona? 

Did the headhunters scour every outpost and village and favela on the globe for Irene, or for someone who had the magic?

 Or might there be one or two undiscovered gems out there, as good as Irene, who didn’t go to the right school, or maybe didn’t go to school at all?

We must assume that Irene is good enough, and is likely busy with a lot of matters, but when we rack our brains for signs of the genius, for contributions she might have made, on the face of things, to Cadbury, we think of the demise of the twisty Roses wrappers, and we remember the slight shrinkage of the eight-square bar, and the retirement of the pink snack and the redundancies and the cost-cutting and the walking away from the Fair Trade agreement.

And we might come round to thinking that a great injustice has been undone, now the folk from Qatar have ensured Neymar has leapfrogged Irene on the pay scale.

Arsene Wenger might warn us that once a country controls a club, “everything is possible”, not necessarily meaning it in the “impossible is nothing” sense favoured by PSG sponsors adidas.

We could fret about geopolitics and soft power and all the rest of it. Or we could note Qatar’s ranking as the world’s third largest importer of weapons. We could speculate as to where else it is sending its money and we might conclude that a half billion or so thrown at Neymar is among their transactions we should fret least about.

And whatever portion ends up in Neymar’s bank account to spend on cars or bling or maybe even his foundation for poor kids might be as efficient a means of wealth redistribution as the Qataris will tolerate, while they watch poor people die building their stadiums.

Those are the kind of thoughts that keep fans inelastic, keep us admiring men who have no shortcut to their obscene wealth.

Perhaps more obscene was the Daily Telegraph’s finding this week that many Premier League clubs are still paying employees less than England’s National Living Wage.

Are paying them wages that would likely make them quite price elastic as far as attending Premier League games is concerned. To the point where their elastic snapped long ago.

But, as former Premier League boss Rick Parry put it nearly 20 years ago: “I don’t think clubs will be depressed about their increasing numbers of affluent supporters.” That’s the kind of philosophy they pay the big bucks for in the circles where Irene mingles.

If the Premier League remains resolute in the face of objections to lavish spending, it has finally buckled to the whining of those who have crusaded against the notional scourge of diving; an essential art in the psychological battle between attacker and defender.

From this weekend, dives missed by the referee can be retrospectively punished with a two-match ban if they have earned a penalty or a red card for an opponent.

Oddly, in a business where the holy grail is consistency, dives detected by the referee will still earn just a yellow card.There has been no mention of retrospective bans for all the penalty box fouls that go unpunished. And much like the GAA blundered into the black card fiasco amid a clamour about cynicism, this one has unintended consequences written all over it.

How long before a wily tumbler, having copped he has secured his man an early bath, and fearing reprisals once the video is watched, approaches the ref waving an imaginary yellow card? That he wants brandished at himself.

And how many, after that magnificent spectacle, will tell you they have lost interest now?


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