Suits are rattled as economic reality bites

WATCHING Ingerlund’s footballers blunder about unconvincingly for much of their match last Saturday, one wondered whether their minds were elsewhere – on their bank accounts and investments, for example.

As Tony Cascarino cheerfully related in his weekend ‘Times’ column, his phone had been burning hot all week with footballers suddenly panicking about the status of their stashed-away loot, much of which we assume to be in questionable private banks and greedy equity-based ventures.

The thought of that collective fretting certainly cheered me up, anyway: for once, we poor working stiffs in the UK are the lucky ones, wholly protected by the Government’s 50K compo scheme, whilst the night-sweating rich have visions of their millions vanishing at the click of a trader’s keystroke. I was also impressed that our heroes had sufficient intelligence to know how serious it all was: you’d half-expect some players to assume that a CreditCrunch was a new chocolate bar.

Still, the time for chuckling schadenfraude will soon be over, when the mother of all recessions arrives on these islands. But have no fear, Red lads. According to the gullible lickspittles at the Manchester local paper, we are assured that Manchester United FC will be the one institution in the world to be left completely untouched by the incoming economic tsunami. It would thus appear that being a United fan will even protect you from unemployment. You can tell that the suits at United are rattled, because this sewage was being pumped out by their propaganda department last week.

Of course, the truth is that United are more vulnerable to what is about to hit the world economy than any other PL club, with the possible exception of Liverpool. And it’s no coincidence that it was last week I received a call from one of the game’s movers ‘n’ shakers suggesting that MUFC might be ‘in play’ again come June. I haven’t had that kind of indication from anyone serious in three years: what it tells you is that the game has been plunged into a redhot melting pot.

I certainly get the impression that the stunning speech by the FA’s newish top bod Lord Triesman last Tuesday may, in retrospect, come to be seen as a watershed moment. That the FA now finally feels emboldened enough to turn against the Premier League, with whom it disgracefully and disastrously entered a Faustian bargain back in 1992, is not just due to people like Michel Platini, Andy Burnham and Gerry Sutcliffe entering the top echelons of sport politics. It is because the shattering overnight ideological rout of post-Friedman capitalism has let loose every demon the likes of Gill, Kenyon and Scudamore thought they had long exorcised.

So open any broadsheet and you’ll see the tell-tale phrases scattered about: salary cap, closed markets, player drafts, ownership control, redistribution, quotas. And most alarming of all for some, what sportbiz types dub The French Model, which nicely combines both an underlying national economic philosophy to do with popular sovereign supremacy over unruly market forces and, in football specifics, an elimination of private sector debt from the clubs. Football intellectuals will be talking about this for the rest of the season now, so you might as well get used to it.

* By Richard Kurt, whose classic ‘Red Army Years’ is only available via redissuebooks@hotmail.co.uk

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