Thirty years ago, Trevor Francis became the first player in England to be sold for one million pounds. Back in 1979, this fee was a huge milestone in football. So large in fact that Brian Clough actually paid £999,999 up front to ensure that the proposition of holding this record didn’t go to Francis’ head. Fast forward to 2009 and Cristiano Ronaldo has just shatterred the world transfer record with an 80 million pounds switch to Real Madrid.
Such a groundbreaking deal had been threatening to happen for quite a while. Ten years ago, Christian Vieri was the first player in the world to be worth a sum of over 30 million pounds beginning a trend of obscene transfer fees in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s culminating with Zinedine Zidane’s 45 million pounds switch to Real Madrid. Perhaps the strangest occurance was the fact that it has taken eight years to actually break Zidane’s record, especially considering the millions that Roman Abramovich and several other wealthy chairmen have pumped into the game. However, Abramovich’s money has failed to make as much of an impact in the transfer window in the last few years as it did when he first took over from Ken Bates as Chelsea chairman. Perhaps the Russian billionaire has realised that you can’t buy a healthy team spirit?
What Abramovich has done during his five years at Stamford Bridge is show other wealthy businessmen that a football club can be an expensive but enjoyable toy. As Florentina Perez begins the second Gallactico era in Spain, new Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayid Al Nahyan has been attempting to buy every world class football icon going. It was only back in January that Sheikh Mansour launched an outrageous bid of over one hundred million pounds for Kaka, who ironically moved to Real Madrid for half of that fee in the end. New Portsmouth owner in waiting Sulaiman Al Fahim will be sure to soon get in on the act and attempt to persuade a number of extremely good footballers to come to Portsmouth, an area he probably had never visited before in his life prior to the takeover.
But why does this matter? Surely it’s great for the game that more and more football clubs are ploughing substantial sums of money into the game? But how long until the fun, passion and enjoyment of football merely turns into a corperate competition of who can buy the most trophies? Will we soon be seeing the first player to earn one million pounds per week or maybe there will soon be the world’s first five hundred million pound player. It sounds absurd but only this week have Notts County, the oldest club in the Football League, been taken over by a middle eastern consortium in a multi million pound deal and they play in the 4th tier of English football.
Unfortunately, the days of a promising sixteen year old making his first team debut and going on to become a star for that club are long gone for the majority of clubs. For the last decade, the game has lived right on the edge of becoming completely dictated by money. With clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester City seemingly able to buy whoever they want regardless of whether or not the player stated is under contract, it seems that the word “loyalty” is quickly exiting the football dictionary. It will be interesting to see if Cristiano Ronaldo’s unbelievable price tag takes the beautiful game into a new era of uncomprehensible transfer fees.
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