20/04/2021

Football and the World to Come

3 min

1. Impact. If, as Manuel Vázquez Montalbán said, Spain is La Liga and the Guardia Civil, it seems to be tottering, after the announcement of a European Super League, with Real Madrid and Barça at the helm. The bet has irritated rulers who await the day when their national team wins something to jump up and down in the stands of the stadium and use metalanguage about national pride. And Macron, fond of Olympique de Marseille, has been particularly belligerent

That football in Spain has always dragged the ballast of its long trajectory within the Franco dictatorship, when the Barça-Madrid rivalry was consecrated, is an evidence. It is enough to see the opaque character and the sinister personalities that have governed it in recent times, with figures like Ángel María Villar (there is no need to talk about the invisible current president of the federation) or the ineffable Javier Tebas. But certainly football has nourished some fictions: that of merit (stylish euphemism for the chequebook), that of the possibility of David beating Goliath and that of the power of fans' word. As we are in the realm of belief, if people buy it, that's enough. Will they continue to buy it if the competition moves away from home and are left with a championship of the leftovers? Will the tension and attention be maintained if the matches of maximum rivalry multiply and lose their exceptional character?

Florentino Pérez, president of Real Madrid and promoter of the Super League, at Romareda stadium in January 2020.

The best thing I've read so far about this episode is Rummenigge's words, brought to these pages by Toni Padilla: “Rather, all clubs in Europe should work in solidarity to ensure that the cost structure, especially players' salaries and agents' fees, is adjusted to the revenue so that the whole of European football becomes more rational”. The current management - FIFA, UEFA and the national federations – were not only unable to avoid the current situation, but are partially responsible for it. Should we expect this to change as a result of this large-scale flight? Only those who believe in the rationality of speculative capitalism can imagine it.

2. Let's take it one step at a time. Certainly there have been structural changes to European societies since football was configured as it has been understood until now. Suddenly we realise that European countries, one by one, are a small thing. The European League as a first step towards a greater cohesion of Europe? This could be an argument for those who believe in the communitarian virtues of football: start with the European League and end with the election of a president by universal suffrage. It seems to me that this is not exactly the aim of its promoters, who are simply looking for a larger economic space to exploit their product. But business is in the low passions. And is Europe a homogeneous enough space to weave powerful transnational rivalries?

A capital problem of football is that with the eagerness to obtain money without reducing costs matches are multiplied endlessly, causing a loss of interest due to the routineness and loss of quality of football which the physical consequences -and injuries-- such a tight schedule entail. Will the Super League solve this?

I have no doubt the European scale is our future in all areas, and that the dynamics that go beyond borders are positive seems obvious to me. But this leap responds in large part to an economic dynamic that is global and brutally selective, which in all areas distances citizens from decisions and the control of things. Some leaders, with power and ambition, are taking part. The signs of the times are in their favour. I am not surprised that some voices, sensitive to a mythologised idea of football but smart enough to see where the world is going, have already opted for melancholy. Short and clear: the loss of weight of the citizenship is the great problem of a world in few hands. And it's interesting that it takes football for some people to realise this.

Josep Ramoneda is a philosopher.

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