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Lean times reach football


I remember my mother, who hated football, always said she was behind the times, particularly because of the money that moved around. I’m talking about the early sixties, a time when Barça sold Luis Suárez to Inter for 25 million pesetas — a sum she viewed as obscene. That whole business occupied more than one ‘page three’ in Spanish newspaper ABC, a space which at that time was seen as an expression of Spain’s intellectual collective. In today’s money such a fee would be the equivalent of, roughly, 3.3 million euros. That calibre of player today (a current Ballon d’Or winner about to turn 26) couldn’t be bought for less than 200 euros, and these days we don’t even bat an eyelid.

Football's soaring revenues

Not long ago, with Roures, I worked out how much Spanish football rights were worth in the 1990s, when there was a joint contract between the regional channels and Canal +, compared with today’s value. The outcome was almost fifty times greater. Nothing has multiplied in price as much in thirty years; football has earned money on a rising scale which not even the 2008 financial crisis could touch, and out of the other side came players who were pocketing more and also herded around more. The recent premiere of the series The English Game, on the origins of the professional game, is well put together, if not a little simplistic, and does a good job of considering the whole theme of football as escapism.

Unprecedented cutbacks

Now all of sudden there is talk of cutbacks in football for the first time, with players asked to do their bit in that regard. It started with Barça, where Bartomeu has walked down a blind alley with successive contract renewals for Messi, leaving him and the club drained and having to reduce its squad. The talk is of a 30% reduction, to be agreed among everyone, at the heart of LaLiga and to work alongside the players. There remains no other option because cancelled competitions means revenues grinding to a halt. For the first time, at least to my knowledge, and apart from world wars and other major events, lean times have reached football, not just here but everywhere.