The media has developed a set of non-standard units of measurement over the years. Things like ‘this pool of sewage waste is the size of 15 football pitches’ or ‘the Amazon rainforest is shrinking by the equivalent of the size of Wales every year’. To this pantheon of not-very-helpful units of measurement, we should surely add the Gareth Bale.
Thanks to the Welsh wizard becoming the world’s most expensive footballer, for whom Real Madrid have paid Spurs £86million, we now have a suitable embodiment of a large amount of money. So, for example, when Nokia’s mobile phones division was bought by Microsoft this week, the price was £4.6 billion, or 53 GBs. Welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith has had to explain to parliament why almost 0.5 GBs has been wasted in implementing his Universal Credit scheme. I’m waiting for the Euromillions man to declare that the next lottery jackpot is a WHOLE GARETH BALE. ‘Make your dreams come true! You can afford a talented footballer with exquisitely bad dress sense!’
Indeed, there has been much handwringing about the scale of money changing hands for footballers during the summer transfer window. This year’s sum total spent on transfers was a whopping 7.33 GBs (or £630million in old money). Even Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger shooed the moths away from the club’s rarely opened wallet to blow £42.4million on Mesut Ozil. When money is flying around like that, how can the little clubs compete? It’s neoliberalism gone mad, etc.
Well, some people tend to find neoliberalism wherever they look for it. In reality, football’s finances are an odd mix of new money, old politics and globalised business - and it’s probably a lot better for having a few quid thrown at it.
The new money is coming from billionaires looking for somewhere to spend all the money they have made from digging stuff up. Over the past few years, football has moved into the same realm as skyscrapers and fine art as a way for stupendously rich people to bury some cash - people like Roman Abramovich (Chelsea), Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s Abu Dhabi group (Manchester City), Qatar Investment Authority (Paris Saint-Germain) and Dmitry Rybolovlev (AS Monaco) have bought big. Our beautiful game has just been turned into a plaything for the rich and powerful, right?