Going ga-ga over the Kaká deal
If Manchester City’s Arab owners want to pay silly money for the Brazilian star, what’s morality got to do with it?
What is obscenity? In olden days it might have been a glimpse of stocking. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was once considered obscene. So too the porn flick Deep Throat. We’re much more permissive these days. Or so we’d like to think.
But not when it comes to the ungodly coupling of money with football. All it took was for Manchester City to make an audacious £100million bid for AC Milan star Kaká for the nation’s inner Mary Whitehouse to stir. Arab oil sheikhs spunking silly money on footballers? Now that’s proper filthy.
‘Various reports suggest that Manchester City intends to spend more than £100million on a player, and that, quite frankly, is obscene’, said Labour MP Jim Devine in a House of Commons debate (1). ‘Out in phone-in land… “obscene” was definitely the word of choice for the Kaká deal’, observed the Guardian’s Martin Kelner (2). Daily Mail columnist Des Kelly was feeling righteously queasy: ‘It is ostentation beyond comprehension. The concept of value has been so horribly distorted as to become unrecognisable. It’s not entertaining. It’s nauseating’, wrote Kelly (3).
Probably the only person who didn’t think that City’s bid was obscene was Adriano Galliano. The AC Milan vice-president thought the offer wasn’t nearly obscene enough. ‘We would not consider selling Kaka for £100m’, Galliano reportedly said. ‘It would have to be an obscene amount more.’
Some have argued that lavishing huge sums of money is particularly vulgar and tasteless during a credit crunch. ‘I’m sorry, but that sort of money to buy a footballer is immoral, wrong and just plain crazy’, thundered Mark Lawrenson in his Mirror column. ‘It would be bad enough during a boom time, but during these tough economic times it is sick and could be very harmful for football in the long term.’ (4) The message to football from Lawro was loud and clear: ‘We’re all in this recession together, so please tighten your belts.’
Wigan chairman Dave Whelan was in full Nostradamus mode. ‘If this kind of deal is the kind of deal which is about to take place, it will ruin the heart and soul of football’, Whelan told Sky Sports News. The ruin of football has been widely predicted before hasn’t it? Whether it was the latest astronomical transfer fee, the Bosman ruling, players trousering £100,000 a week, or foreign tycoons buying English clubs; each new development supposedly sounded the death knell of football. Yet somehow, football survives.
Arsene Wenger thinks that City’s exceptional wealth is immoral because it was not generated by success on the pitch. He also believes that the deal would have distorted the transfer market. ‘City’s money will be a disturbance in the market, an inflationary trend in a deflationary world’, said the Arsenal manager. Certainly the increased investment in the game from foreign owners and the new Sky TV deal has driven up Premiership spending in recent years. Accountancy firm Deloitte says that Premiership transfer expenditure during the summer transfer window has doubled since 2003 (5). However, while City might be willing to pay over the odds for players like Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bridge, no-one’s forcing other club chairmen to follow suit. If other Premiership clubs refuse to pay inflated fees for players, then selling clubs and agents will be forced to lower their asking prices.
Just as City’s bid has been branded immoral, Kaká’s decision to stay at the San Siro has been praised as an ethical act. ‘Hats off to Kaká’, wrote former sports minister David Mellor in the London Evening Standard. ‘He may be a bit weird, but his decision to snub £500,000 a week in order to stay loyal to the club that made him is a shining beacon of hope in the amoral darkness of professional football.’ (5) The real reasons for the collapse of the deal are not clear, but I wouldn’t necessarily take Kaká’s badge-kissing act at face value.
City’s bid for Kaká isn’t the first transfer deal to cause a furore. There was a similar public outcry in 1905 when Alf Common joined Middlesbrough from Sunderland for £1,000, the first four-figure transfer deal. Hunter Davies documented the public reaction in his book Boots, Ball and Haircuts: ‘Football purists were aghast, saying it was the end of football as they had known it. Money was ruining the game, players had become mercenaries with no loyalties, a new form of white slave trade had now been introduced, where will it end – will we soon have £2,000 transfers or even, perish the thought, will there one of these days be a £10,000 transfer fee?’ One sports writer described the transfer as ‘flesh and blood for sale’. The collective handwringing over the bid for Kaká is uncannily reminiscent of the scandalised reaction to Alf Common’s transfer. Plus ça change!
Yes, £100million is, without a doubt, a breathtaking sum of money to spend on one player. But if City owner Sheikh Mansour has that sort of cash at his disposal, then what’s the problem? He isn’t borrowing the money as Malcolm Glazer did to fund the takeover of Manchester United. This guy has seriously deep pockets.
Amidst all the moralising and doom-mongering, the only sensible contribution to the debate was made by Oasis star and City fan Noel Gallagher. ‘Bring it on, I say. Fuck morals’, he wrote on his blog. ‘Fuck Arsene Wenger and his socialist football nonsense. Fuck all that bollocks about the club losing its identity. What identity? The fact that we’ve been skint for 30 years?’
The Kaká deal might not have been a good piece of business for City. It might not have been the right career move for Kaká. It might not have transformed City’s fortunes on the pitch. We can argue the toss about these issues all night. But Noel Gallagher is right; let’s leave morals out of it.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.
(1) House of Commons Hansard, 19 January 2009, column 475
(2) Obscenity is for bad jokes: this is just football, Guardian, 19 January 2009
(3) Here’s the god, the mad… and the ugly, Daily Mail, 17 January 2009
(4) Credit crunch suffering means Kaka transfer fee is just immoral, Daily Mirror, 17 January 2009
(5) Nouveau riche City prove you can’t buy class, Evening Standard, 21 January 2009
(6) Premier League clubs £500m transfer spending beats the credit crunch, Deloitte press release, 3 September 2008