Belfast Telegraph

Rampant greed the ugly scar on face of the beautiful game

By Jane Graham

I don’t — like some of my friends — dread the return of the football season. I’m a contented armchair pundit and love the game.

However, since I had kids I’ve also become one of those antsy people, always fretting about ‘the way the world is going’ (a bit like the perpetually anxious Woody Allen in Manhattan, who says: “If one guy is starving someplace, that puts a crimp in my evening.”) And though I’ve defended it to the finger-wagging naysayers for years, I finally have to admit that football — the English Premiership in particular — has become the most potent example of the thuggish materialism which has corrupted so many pockets of UK society.

For any ladies who have failed to keep up, it was reported this week that Manchester City’s £38m signing of striker Sergio Aguero, who will be paid £200,000 a week, has sparked a rebellion inside the club. Nigel de Jong is allegedly ‘frustrated’ with his own crappy £80,000 a week — he can only buy one new house a month at that rate, and they won’t all have balconies. As for Vincent Kompany, he’s (probably) taken to wearing a disguise outdoors, so shamed is he by public knowledge of his pathetic £65,000 a week offer.

We all know that footballers have been paid ludicrous money for years now, and that some have responded by behaving like whining, disrespectful, grabby little divas on and off the park.

But things have got much worse recently, with entire clubs built on a mercenary culture of unapologetic acquisition, one-upmanship (not the sporting kind, between rival clubs, but a bling-based rivalry between team-mates) and casual displays of contemptuous disloyalty to anyone who ever cared about them, protected them or supported them.

We shouldn’t be surprised by such antics — they’re entirely typical of a team which, since a buy-out by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008 made them the world’s richest club, has been comprised of the stroppiest, most covetous players on the planet. Indeed, City’s toxic combination of dizzying riches and a lack of past glories means they’re dependent on players who are motivated entirely by greed and unmoved by romance or loyalty.

Players like Carlos Tevez, who apparently has a clause in his contract stipulating that no other player can be paid more than him (because he is the king) and yet bleats on about hating Manchester and having itchy feet.

As defender Gael Clichy so succinctly put it in July 2009: “I really believe if you are a player who thinks only about money then you could end up at Manchester City.”

It turned out Clichy was exactly that kind of player himself — he signed for City last month on the promise of a near-doubling of his Arsenal wages.

I once had a soft spot for one-time underdogs City (who recently sold the name of their stadium to sponsors Etihad Airways for £150m), but the truth is that the club has become a snake-infested cesspit which symbolises the modern mindset at the heart of this week’s lootings in England.

A total lack of empathy and conscience-free disconnect with the people who live around you, a rejection of community and embracing of self-focused consumerism — it’s all there in the Man City dressing-room, embodied by the football stars so many young men envy and admire.

Has it come to the point where I’ll be discouraging my son from following the game? I’m not sure, but it’s a sad possibility.

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