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Stories Served, One Cup at a Time.

The Money Behind the Ball

The business of football goes beyond the big names and joys of the game. Value can put you on either side of the coin.

Photo by Alex / Unsplash

Lionel Messi won the World Cup last year and sealed a glory that was already ripe for him. Cristiano Ronaldo, during the span of this World Cup, lost all favor with Manchester United, was made a free agent, and later claimed by Saudi Pro League team, Al Nassar. These are two sides of the same coin.

But Messi too will be a free agent this June. His ‘upcoming’ contract has only been a verbal entity, with no formal confirmation from either his end or PSG’s. There are hushed whispers of all sorts — is Newell's Old Boys his next stop? a return to Barcelona? A long leap to Miami? Speculations are plenty but with no conclusive evidence. Be it Marca or DailyMail, the fervor with which the transfer talks are observed goes on to show how big a ‘trade’ this business of football is. In fact, all sports can be seen through this decisive lens of profit-making. Millions — even billions — of dollars are thrown into the pool with every transfer window that opens up, and news about this has, in a way, desensitized fans and non-fans alike.

For Sale, Keep Your Value Intact

A 433 post shows the transfer value of the FIFPro Men’s World XI chosen this year: the defense lineup is worth €250M, the midfield, €140M, and finally, €435M for the attack. This was a team of The Bests. But this value can dip any moment — that is the market that football works within. This is the uncertainty that drapes, cradles, and tugs at the fraction of life that a sportsperson spends playing the sport they love.

The FIFPro Men's World XI in 2015 included Angel Di Maria. A remarkable player, Di Maria, was almost omnipresent in all of Argentina's matches that he played in Qatar. He could tackle, he could assist, he could score beautifully! The championship wasn't Messi's alone to rejoice. It was Di Maria's too, in every sense — and so was it that of every Albiceleste. But, 8 years back, just a year before he won a spot in the World XI, Di Maria was waiting for another World Cup final. This was far from the colored picture that 2022 painted for the team and its fans.

“If I break, then let me keep breaking. I don’t care. I just want to be able to play.” Di Maria was in a fix. Before him were two options: one, play with his injury and give his all to lift the world cup, and two, stay benched and make sure his value stays intact when Real Madrid opens him up for transfer. The letter from Madrid had come in and the words were strong. As he notes in the Player's Tribune piece, "they didn’t want their asset to be damaged. It was that simple. That’s the business of football that people do not always see." Sure, Manchester United bagged Di Maria in what was a record signing then. But it still does not eclipse the absolute predicament that the player had to push himself through.

Lucky — Or Not?

In this pitch, fame is as slippery as a freshly mopped futsal square. And luck becomes a determinant in more ways that one could count. At one point you may be in the list of every high-ranking club's must-have accounts, and at the next, you're in the other list of must-gos. Whether you're being sold or bought is a narrative that gets scripted by everybody else but you — especially when 'form' emerges fidgety. For now, when you look at the World XI, you see the Nike-s and the Adidas-es standing pumped with pride at the sight of their shooting revenue. And you'll see the same later too — the faces, however, would have changed. As long as you're backed by the big brand, and your value is backing the brand, there is little to worry.

You need to be consistent in your art when you have luck on your side.

You cannot blame a player when he ties a red band on his left ankle and steps out of the field victorious. You cannot blame him when he thinks, this may have brought me luck. You cannot blame him when he taps into every resort left for one last dance that can reclaim the dream ride for him.



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