Martin, Samuel

MARTIN SAMUEL: Money wasn’t killing football, it’s what made it so much fun – Daily Mail



September 18, 2020
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Macclesfield have gone. There are boarded-up shops and empty pubs on the way to Moss Rose, and now the football club will pass the same way.

Southend have 42 days to find the £493,000 needed to survive. Rick Parry reckons his Football League clubs require £250million to stay afloat. Can we now admit: the boom was better.

All those reckonings that were wished for are with us now. And those crimes laid at football’s door — the rising wages, the enormous transfer fees, the vaunting ambition — it turns out they were signs of health, signs of life. What we have now, is our alternate reality.

Timo Werner was brought in by Chelsea as part of a massive summer spending spree

Everyone’s skint, everyone’s frightened, yet the desperation is such that even as swathes of the country are placed in lockdown amid fear of a pandemic resurgence, it is still being argued that fans must return to stadiums or our entire sporting edifice will fall. 

So the next time someone begins lecturing on the obscenity of Chelsea’s spending, or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s new contract, or loudly explains how many nurses can be employed with Gareth Bale’s salary, save your sanity and just tell them to shut up. The money spent by football was not evil. It was fun.

It brightened the day, kept the nation amused. What Manchester City paid for Kevin De Bruyne did not stop hospitals being built; it helped rejuvenate a dead part of town. The money Real Madrid lavished on Gareth Bale passed via trickle down economics to upwards of 500 football clubs across at least four continents, and counting.

All of those clubs employ people, serve communities. That money worked hard. Take one player who Tottenham bought, Paulinho from Corinthians in Brazil.

Corinthians then bought players from Cerro Porteno, Coimbra, Botafogo, Penapolense and Ponte Preta. And Cerro Porteno, from Paraguay, appear to have then recruited players from 14 different clubs. Those 14 clubs would subsequently do transfer business, too.

Get the idea? That is preferable to austerity. Money wasn’t killing football. It was making football, all across the world, in its own sweet way. Not a perfect system, far from it. But better than this, which must only bring joy to those hair shirts who resented the thought of young, working class men earning like bankers.

Turns out, it wasn’t so bad. Turns out Wayne Rooney signing for Derby wasn’t the coming of the Apocalypse.

Before coronavirus, very rich folk still fancied an ego trip on the coat-tails of a football club. They wanted to invest, to build, to buy their way in, to have a bang for their buck. And that’s good; or certainly it’s better than this. Better than redundancies, closures, the tightening of belts, the grim fight for survival. And this is not the payback for football’s economic incontinence either. Restaurants haven’t been recruiting £100m chefs, airlines weren’t paying pilots £200,000 a week, but they all as good as went skint overnight the moment customers were banned.

Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signed a bumper new contract with Arsenal

Football has done rather well to get this far actually, propped up by another despised entity, that it now transpires was a positive: the Premier League’s inflated television deal. Everything it was said was ruining football was actually doing the opposite: television money, big transfers, the wages that attracted global talent.

These were signs of vibrancy, not decay. Those who looked forward to the day the bubble burst, well now you’ve got it. Not much fun, is it? Turns out depression, recession, misery and fear doesn’t build hospitals, doesn’t increase the gaiety of nations, doesn’t deliver more nurses to the ward.

Turns out if those very rich folk are cutting back on their football clubs, they are cutting back on everything else, too: jobs, investment, ideas, ambition.

So if the day ever arrives when Manchester United do want to spend £100m on Jadon Sancho, it may be an idea to put out bunting.

For it will mean this is ending and people are ready to be daft, to be frivolous, to be ambitious, to be bold again. And, from here, perhaps be careful what you wish for. For we have seen both sides of the economic argument now: and austerity sucks.

Jadon Sancho has been a big-money target for Manchester United in the summer window

LIONEL OF LAW SAW TOON MESS COMING

Nick De Marco is the ‘Lionel Messi of sports law’, according to his Twitter feed. No doubt this is why Mike Ashley has engaged him in his fight against the Premier League over the aborted Newcastle takeover. Unfortunately, in May, De Marco gave an interview to Al Jazeera in which he set out exactly why the Saudi-led consortium may have encountered difficulty.

‘Somebody could fail the test if they don’t provide full information, or provide misleading or inaccurate information,’ he said. ‘The Premier League might ask some questions about this.’

Indeed they might. Indeed they did. At which point, the consortium announced it was no longer interested in going ahead. The interminable delay in the process came about because the Premier League were unconvinced by the details of who would own Newcastle. They believe the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund is an arm of the Saudi Arabian government, and wish for that link to be made clear.

And De Marco was, of course, very careful with his words. He is a QC, after all. He even confirmed he spoke cautiously as he could one day be engaged by one of the parties. Yet his interview, which he happily publicised and which remains on his Twitter page, suggests he knows exactly why a takeover might hit a brick wall. This could be the first time the prosecution lawyer is called as a witness for the defence.

CAN SCOTT CAPTAIN BOTH TEAMS, TOO? 

Alex Scott is going to be the new presenter of A Question of Sport. Apparently, she was considered the best person for the job. The best person for every job these days it seems. Maybe she could be both captains and answer her own questions, too.

Alex Scott was announced as the new presenter of BBC show A Question of Sport

CHANGE IS FINE BUT MASS CULL IMPLIES IT’S A POLITICAL MOVE

Matt Le Tissier played his last game for Southampton on January 30, 2002, coming on as an 82nd minute substitute for Kevin Davies against West Ham. Sky may think this makes him yesterday’s man, along with Charlie Nicholas and Phil Thompson — all three have been stood down from their jobs on the excellent Soccer Saturday programme, replaced by fresher faces.

Yet is Clinton Morrison or Tim Sherwood, Tony Pulis or Glen Johnson really more relevant to the modern generation than Le Tissier? His legend endures, beyond that of much younger players, because his highlights reel is extraordinary. And the way young people consume media these days, it is only a matter of time before a YouTube clip of Le Tissier, or a video lasting 30 minutes showing goal after spectacular goal, is discovered. 

My boys were five and four when Le Tissier quit. They all know him, though. They can all relate individual moments from his career, too. It’s not the same with the rest of the Sky panel. More than any of the Soccer Saturday pundits, Le Tissier’s feats live in the present.

Equally, wholesale culls diminish general worth. By far the best match reporter on Soccer Saturday is Michelle Owen, who, for some reason, appears to be permanently stationed at Bristol City. Meanwhile, at the weekend, Doncaster Rovers manager Darren Moore was an excellent studio guest for the first Sunday of the season.

Yet the rush to jettison the old has meant the promotion or presence of any new face, certainly a woman or a BAME individual, is dismissed as part of a politically-driven agenda. The excellent Micah Richards has suffered from this, too. Change is inevitable. But it could have been handled considerably better.

Matt Le Tissier’s legend endures, beyond that of much younger players, because his highlights reel is extraordinary

WHY SHOULDN’T VILLA LOOK UP?

No sooner had Aston Villa secured Jack Grealish for the next five years, manager Dean Smith started talking about qualifying for Europe. You’ve got to love him for thinking big — and them, too. Villa spent a fortune in an attempt to retain their Premier League status, and did so on the last day of the season. They were much mocked, but ultimately it worked. 

Smith, a Villa fan, feels he is in charge of a big club, not one making up the numbers or grateful to survive, and that is positive, too. He knows Villa’s history and understands their supporters do not wish to hear the club pitched as also-rans. Whatever Villa’s recent travails, this is the biggest team in the country’s second city. Villa have been European champions, have won more titles than Chelsea, Manchester City or Tottenham. They should not be thinking small.

To that end, Smith’s employers have backed him once more: £33million for Ollie Watkins from Brentford, £16m for Matty Cash of Nottingham Forest, £17m for Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez. They remain in the market for Lyon forward Bertrand Traore, too.

So why shouldn’t Villa look upwards? Some clubs cling to Premier League status in quiet desperation. Villa, like Wolves, like Leicester, are aspiring to more. For optimism alone, they deserve a fair wind.

BIELSA CLAIMS ARE EXTRAORDINARY 

Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino both cite Marcelo Bielsa as one of football’s greatest and most innovative coaches, and that is endorsement enough. Even so, despite playing well and bravely at Liverpool on Saturday, his team conceded four goals and lost. Now Leeds have been removed from the Carabao Cup by Hull City.

Chris Wilder took Sheffield United to ninth in his first Premier League season, Steve Coppell came eighth riding on Reading’s promotion momentum. If Bielsa can equal either of those performances, he will have done extremely well. Some of the claims being made on his behalf right now are extraordinary.

THIAGO AND TSIMIKAS ARE SHREWD SIGNINGS 

Remember when Jurgen Klopp was insistent that Liverpool were not going to strengthen this season? That was always unlikely. A squad that wins the league as comfortably as Liverpool did is not in need of a drastic overhaul, but there are always areas requiring improvement. 

Liverpool have now bolstered midfield with the recruitment of the classy Thiago Alcantara, and have secured an understudy for Andrew Robertson at left back in Konstantinos Tsimikas. Neither signing breaks the bank, but Liverpool did not need to spend extravagantly. They just needed to tinker, a little. This is smart business.

The signing of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich is smart business for Liverpool

KHAWAJA’S CLAIM RUNS ON THIN ICE

Usman Khawaja, The Australia batsman, believes criticism of him as a lazy player comes from racial stereotyping. Cricket Australia have asked him to join a working group aimed at increasing diversity in the game and Khawaja says his own career was blighted by prejudice.

‘I always had that lazy undertone,’ he reported. ‘Part of that was my relaxed nature and part was because I was Pakistani and subcontinent people were seen as lazy and not doing the hard yards. Running has never been natural to me…’

Pardon? Let’s hold it right there. Does Khawaja mean he was not fast, not fit or not keen? They’re very different. And running is natural to everybody. All kids run. Everywhere, if you let them. It’s only when they grow into adults that some run more than others — and that is down to application not ability. Khawaja no doubt did suffer racial prejudice as the first muslim to play for Australia, but if he wasn’t up for running that is another matter and race is irrelevant. A cricketer who cannot run, or is not fit enough, will become a point of weakness in any team.

61 GOALS IN 36 GAMES… ARSENAL’S NEW KEEPER!

Arsenal are buying Dijon goalkeeper Runar Alex Runarsson for £1.6m. So good they named him twice, as the song goes, except Runarsson has let in 61 goals in 36 Ligue 1 games. Why would Arsenal be interested in a player like that, it was asked. No idea, but doubtless somewhere there’s a chap with a computer, a spreadsheet and a big hat who could tell us.  

SIR DAVID BRAILSFORD DID NOT RECEIVE NECESSARY VINDICATION 

Would this year’s dismal Tour de France have worked out differently for Team Ineos had they chosen Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas? Almost certainly not, but Sir David Brailsford is in a results game and did not receive the necessary vindication. ‘I didn’t gamble with selection,’ he insisted. ‘People have a lot to say, but they’re not privy to the facts.’ He’s right there. Brailsford’s record is such that his judgement merits trust, and few dissented the day the call was made. Even so, this cannot happen a second time.

Sir David Brailsford is in a results game and did not receive the necessary vindication

SURELY THERE’S A BETTER NICKNAME THAN ALEX ‘ALEX’ McKEEKIN? 

You will know Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns, certainly Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor. Wonderful sportsmen, with names that spoke of their greatness.

Now meet Alex ‘ALEX’ McMeekin, a well-known gamer, recently transferred from Vitality to Cloud9. Look, there is big money in gaming. This was always going to happen. Even so, Alex ‘ALEX’ McMeekin? As in: ‘My name’s Alex but I’m better known as, er, ALEX.’

Sure, gaming is time-consuming, but you’ve got to do better than that.

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