Photo Credit: REAL MADRID
FOOTBALL AND POLITICS - PART 2
Continue from part 1, click here to read part 1
Communism, in its purest form, may have proved itself redundant as a functioning political ideology but the extreme sacrifice of the individual’s wants and needs, regardless of their ability level, for the greater good of the community has rendered it incredibly effective in the football arena. The most beautiful football teams of all time have been built on communist foundations, including the Magic Magyars and the Total Footballing Dutch Team of the 1970’s. Tactically these are very centralised regimes expected all players to be able to play in any position, press as a collective and to pass and move, trusting in each other’s ability rather than focus on serving the needs of a gifted individual. Paradoxically, just like the communist political regimes ended up having notable cult figures who in effect became dictators so did Puskas and Cruyff defy the principle of ‘All animals are equal’.
The most successful teams in British football, the likes of Liverpool and Celtic were built on socialist principles. In some ways, these sides were more true to ‘communist’ principles than the Hungarians or the Dutch in the sense that they were genuinely built on togetherness and didn’t revolve around the talents of an all-time level genius (no disrespect intended to Jimmy Johnstone or Dalglish who were key components of their respective sides). However what differentiated these sides was the fact that everyone did their own particular job to the best of their ability, with each job afforded the same level of importance. Players weren’t seen as faceless entities serving a greater cause, but each player was respected, allowed to master their trade and by bringing the best out of all of them as a collective, the greater good was still achieved.
CAPITALISM AND NEOLIBERALISM
Since the eighties, the United Kingdom, like many economies following the lead of the United States endorsed a policy of equal opportunity for all, calling for deregulation of the national economy and the extension of marketplace ideas to many domains of life, including education, healthcare, and sport. A process that was designed to reward merit and punish inefficiency, pushed the ‘greed is good’ mantra and magnified inequalities, bringing about unprecedented levels of globalisation to the extent to which clubs are struggling to field any local players and failing to connect with local fanbases. Sports such as cricket are completely absent from free-to-air television and football is increasingly following this path.
CREATION OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE
The creation of the Premier League and the Champions League would not have been possible without this ideological revolution that caught fire in the preceding decade. Both were borne out of a desire to make football uniformly “consumable” to people across continents by making it more marketable – with the idea that the best should face the best and receive all the financial spoils accordingly. In the Premier League, money would only be divided between the clubs active in that division whilst in the previous arrangement it was shared between all Football League clubs across all divisions.
Photo Credit: premierleague.com
REVAMP OF THE EUROPEAN CUP
The Champions League was the brainchild of Silvio Berlusconi who sought new income streams for AC Milan and satellite television station Canale5. The key to profitability was overhauling the European Cup. Berlusconi had been horrified when the champions of Italy and Spain, Napoli and Real Madrid, met in the first round of the 1987/88 competition. Having the European Cup as a straight knockout competition was exciting, but it made no commercial sense. Berlusconi wanted more games for the big teams from Europe’s biggest leagues and the best way to guarantee this was a league format, without knockout rounds, to guarantee a steady income.
Just like the Premier League, the obsession for profit paved the way for the creation of super-clubs who were able to exponentially distance themselves from the other clubs in their own domestic league. Such is their insatiable lust for even higher revenue, there has even been talk of a breakaway European Super League in which access would be cut off to a select few - so much for greater competitiveness and opportunity for all.
PUTTING THE SPOTLIGHT ON THE INDIVIDUAL
Tactically, Liberalism and Socialism have gone head to head from the very start of the professional game. The Scottish teams promoted a more collective game based on pass and move, whilst the Liberal game favoured by the elites favoured more of a running game. Jimmy Hogan was an Englishman who was greatly influenced by his Scottish teammates and set about spreading the gospel of the passing game across the continent. Whilst teams underpinned by socialist principles were and are heavily ‘coached’ and play in a very collective, structured way - teams such as Real Madrid and Manchester United have historically been built on more liberal tactical principles and have been no less successful. There is a reason why the likes of players such as Cristiano Ronaldo have gravitated towards these clubs rather than Barcelona or Liverpool. Furthermore, on the international stage, it could be said that Brazil has also thrived using a ‘liberal’ philosophy founded upon allowing everyone the artistic licence to express their football ability as they see fit. What these teams have done so successfully is celebrate and harness the power of the individual, sell the power of achievement and create the sense that football is entertaining theatre and spectacle of an incomparable scale. It is also interesting to note that these team’s greatest successes tended to come during periods of unprecedented economic growth… the mid to late 1950’s, the 1960’s and the 1990’s to early 2000’s.
In conclusion, there are very stark parallels between football and politics. Football by its very nature is a political beast, more so than any other sport. Why? Well, it is the ‘people’s game’ and it is a truly global sport, one which is accessible to all ages, sizes, classes, cultures, and races. This in combination with its open-minded, rapidly evolving nature and sheer depth of tactical and philosophical range means it absorbs more ideas from the world around us compared to Basketball, Cricket, Rugby, or Tennis. Most of the leading teams in the sport incorporate a variety of political philosophies into their footballing ideologies and practices but at times throughout history, just as we see in the political arena, teams which symbolise an extreme variant of a particular philosophy. This can lead to ugly football and ugly behavior, but it can also at times create football of breathtaking beauty. The 'Beautiful Game' without the influence of politics would be a poorer sport for it.