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B Baskar

The crazy world of football transfers

| Updated on September 09, 2013 Published on September 09, 2013

After a couple of lacklustre years, the transfer market this season lit up again with some big ticket deals involving crazy sums of money. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

If there’s one area which has remained completely untouched by the ongoing economic slowdown in Europe, it is football. After a couple of lacklustre years, the transfer market this season lit up again with some big ticket deals involving crazy sums of money.

Last week, the sports pages were agog with Gareth Bale's jaw-dropping 100-million-euro transfer from England's Totenham Hotspur to Spain's Real Madrid. That this broke the previous record in the transfer market, also held by Real Madrid, was hardly news. After Barcelona acquired Neymar for 56 million euros, Real had to do something in the transfer market which would dwarf that.

Bale, who has a trademark for his post-goal celebration, is reported to have said that he would have gone to Real even for a penny. Well, he’s getting a lot more than that – 3,00,000 pounds (353,865 euros) a week, in fact. His agent has pocketed a cool 5 million pounds for brokering the deal.

And it’s not happening just in Spain. English Premier League clubs have spent a record 630 million pounds this summer, with even the usually-frugal Arsenal splurging 42.5 million pounds for Mesut Ozil. And this at a time when UEFA has been trying hard to impose the Financial Fair Play regulations to level the playing field between the rich and not-so-rich clubs.

Keeping aside the footballing logic behind this move, does all this make commercial sense? Especially at a time when the whole world and Europe in particular is in the grips of the worst economic crisis in the post-War period? The obvious answer would be no. As an analyst on BBC remarked – how many more jerseys would Real have to sell to justify this deal? But football, and sport in general, often works in a logic of its own.

Real Madrid, the richest club in the world, earned 415 million pounds last year, by selling TV rights, ticket sales, merchandising, advertising, etc. Bale’s signing can also be seen purely on commercial aspects. Barcelona landed a lucrative sponsorship deal with Panasonic after signing Neymar. Real will be hoping to leverage Bale’s image to wangle a similar deal with a global corporate major. Italy’s legendary coach Arrigho Sacchi, who coached the famous AC Milan team of the 1980s and later Italy, has already dubbed this deal as “a commercial operation”.

But these deals also hide the fact that Spanish football is in a state of turmoil, just like its economy. Despite the big-ticket Bale-Neymar transfers, this season has also seen a record number of Spanish players leaving Spain for clubs in France, England and Italy. Many of these players belong to the lower-ranked clubs, having just a fraction of the financial clout of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Most of these transfers can be seen as ‘distress-sale’, with clubs, under acute financial stress, forced into selling their ‘assets’ at lower prices.

With other ‘Galacticos’ like Cristiano Ronaldo in the team, Carlo Ancelotti, the Real Madrid coach, will have a real headache fitting Bale into the team tactically. Real Madrid can be a very difficult team for an outsider, given the giant-sized egos of the players as well as the officials. Michael Owen spent a very difficult season there, despite scoring 13 goals, many of them as a substitute, though Beckham had a better time.

Whether this mega-bucks transfer makes sense or not will be known next May. If Real Madrid win their elusive 10th Champions League Trophy then it’ll all be worth it. Real last won this trophy more than 11 summers ago at Hampden Park, thanks to Zidane’s magical volley. In the interim period arch-rivals Barcelona won it thrice and that must be sticking in Real’s throat.

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Published on September 09, 2013
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