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04 September 2013

Where has all of the money gone? Transfers in the age of recession and protest

Last week, the world's wealthiest football club, Real Madrid, paid a world record one-hundred million Euro for an unproven Welsh footballer, albeit one coming off of a standout season in the British Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur.

For the fifth time in the history of professional football (more times than any other team), Real Madrid broke the world record transfer fee for a single player. Madridistas may be celebrating that the long protracted transfer is over, but the rest of the world should be gravely concerned by what this means; and not just to football.

Gareth Bale, left, alongside Real Madrid owner Florentino Perez at his official unveiling Monday, September 2, 2013. Bale became the world's most expensive signing of all time when Madrid paid Tottenham 100 million Euro for his services. Photo: Getty Images

 Like so many young talents before him, Gareth Bale, a speedy Welsh winger who has developed into one of the world's most promising players, dreamed of the big time. And who can blame him? To achieve great things we must possess ambition, especially in football. The only problem is that Real Madrid's ability to pay for the "big time" is not only creating an enormous disparity in talent between clubs in Spain's La Liga, creates an inequity in television rights, and frankly, is an embarrassment for a country mired in a half-decade long economic slump.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators stage a protest against austerity, near the Spanish Parliament in Madrid, February 23, 2013. Photo: Juan Medina/REUTERS/

In an era where recessions, austerity measures, unemployment, anger and massive protests threaten the old pillars of capitalist democracies, the mega rich see fit to continue slapping everyone else in the face with astounding nonchalance. In this sense, Real Madrid's Midas touch gives them the biggest hand with which to slap everyone else in what has become an irreversibly bloated transfer market in club football.

To spend one-hundred million Euro on one player (and 188.761 million Euro on summer transfers) should be seen as a middle finger to everyone notwithstanding the owner and inner administrative circle of Real Madrid. Singling out Real Madrid, however, would be wrong.

Madrid are joined in the highest peaks of financial muscle by other mega-rich clubs, such as:

-Paris St. Germain (who on July 16, spent 64 million Euros on one player--Edinson Cavani);

Striker Edinson Cavani at his official unveiling in Paris after Paris St. Germain paid 64 million Euro to Napoli for his transfer. Photo: Jacques Brinon/The Associated Press

 -Barcelona (who paid 57 million Euros for the 21 year-old Brazilian prodigy, Neymar);

The 57 million Euro man, Neymar, waves at a packed Camp Nou in Barcelona at his official unveiling.

-Chelsea (63.5 million Euros in summer transfers);

-Manchester City (88.9 million in major summer transfers); and

-Monaco (165 million Euro)

Combine the summer transfer spending of all of those clubs and you come out with a staggering 627.16 million Euro spent on the transfers of just over a dozen players in little under three months. While that may not be enough to fix Greece's economic woes, it highlights how little empathy wealthy football clubs have for the suffering of the economies (and indeed in many cases their own fans) in their home countries.

The ultimate goal of a profession sports team is to win. And in theory, how they manage to do so is their own business. Yet the problem with these clubs is not that they have money, but the way in which they so arrogantly spend it while millions of people (often their own fans) suffer.

At a certain point forking over hundreds of millions of Euros in the face of parlous economic conditions becomes symbolic. It should even make us think about the role of sport in society and the reasons why we turn to sport for entertainment.

While professional football is not necessarily "the opiate of the people," we should not rightfully stand by and let neoliberal economic logic turn the game into a completely lopsided reincarnation of World War II. The summer transfer market shows just how much of a farce club football has become. Hopefully UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rules (which come into effect this year) can rectify these shortcomings, but considering the corruption which has mired football's world governing body over the past half-decade, one cannot be so sure.

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