My mother hated football. God tested her patience with a husband who did enjoy the game (he enjoyed everything in reality) and two sons and a daughter raised in Madrid during the era of Alfredo di Stéfano, Ferenç Puskas and Paco Gento. Football invaded lunch and dinner, to her dismay. When the television arrived the weekly game that was shown in those days seemed to her like an aggressive takeover of the intimacy of her home. She always said that football made no sense, that it was out of touch and that it would be a passing fad. If she was alive today, with football on the television at all times of day and taking up half of the daily news, I don’t know what she’d do. At least she passed away when football wasn’t quite as out of touch.
I have been remembering her these past few days as Neymar moved to PSG for 222 million euros, smashing the transfer record set by Paul Pogba, which only lasted a year. The France international beat the mark set by Gareth Bale, which lasted two, with the Welshman exceeding Cristiano Ronaldo’s 96 million euros by a whisker after the Portuguese had been the world’s most expensive player for six years. That 222 million euros paid by Nasser Al-Khelaifi (and not Nasser Al Thani, as was stated in this column in Saturday’s print edition in an unforgivable error) has more than doubled the fee paid for Pogba. As my mother used to say, where will it all end? Nobody knows. Football has taken over the panorama and acquired an economic and social importance that nobody foresaw.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris, the stage chosen to reassert Europe and its way of life in the face of barbarism was not an opera, or a rock concert, or a huge religious or political event: it was a friendly match between France and England, where the Marseillaise rang out and Prince William made a floral offering to the victims with the managers of both sides, Roy Hodgson and Didier Deschamps. Now PSG have paid 222 million euros for Neymar because a small but very rich country, Qatar, has chosen football as a means to be recognised and respected globally. And the USA invited Real Madrid and Barcelona to play a Clásico there. The social importance of football cannot be ignored. And I am pleased about it, now that my mother can’t hear me.