Football’s excesses reaching fever pitch

If I were Spurs manager Juande Ramos I’d have been tempted to give long-time Newcastle United supporter and Manchester United fetishist Dimitar Berbatov the sack months ago. Unfortunately for Spurs that would have potentially meant shelling out millions of pounds in ‘compensation’. Berbatov’s unwillingness to muck in and do his bit for the club that plucked him from the German league in 2006 has been one of many increasingly sour episodes in English football this summer – the other notable case being Cristiano Ronaldo’s slavish tantrums at not being allowed to break free of his bondage at Old Trafford and join Real Madrid. The only mildly amusing aspect to the ongoing Berbatov and Ronaldo controversies was being able to watch Alex Ferguson’s face turn a different shade of crimson and purple each day as he bemoaned the bullying tactics of Real Madrid who, once intent on getting their man, are as persistent and obsessive as Robert Graysmith was in his pursuit of the ‘Zodiac’ killer.

Berbatov spent the summer prowling the perimeter fence of White Hart Lane, dreaming of an escape to pastures anew in Manchester where the likes of Garry Birtles and Neil Webb carved out a niche as also-rans after leaving fine careers behind them. Both of course furthered their profiles (more in terms of girth than stock) at Old Trafford, but hardly set the footballing world alight. Things have changed now and Berbatov’s addition to Manchester United’s electrifying array of talent is enough to make any neutral fan salivate.

Yet it is the attitude of these players – Ronaldo and Berbatov – that typify the excesses of the English game in the first decade of the ‘noughties’. Indeed it is telling that a major football publication only this month predicted that the long-term impact of this era will be fondly remembered only marginally more than the 1970s which was rather surprisingly judged to be English football’s darkest era.

While there are still a few stragglers who seem to realise how privileged they are to be getting paid astronomical wages for playing the sport they profess to love, there are many more players who are fanatically gorging on the bulging pots of gold that clubs such as Manchester United and Real Madrid can put in front of their snouts.

Something of the Corinthian spirit of football as a sport that can be enjoyed both by the spectator and the player has disappeared. Ticket prices increase as supporter’s wages remain static or fall. While the FA may celebrate the contribution of Manchester United to the rich legacy of English football, they might do well to remember that it was that very club, during its heading days in the late 1990s and early millennia that disrespected the FA Cup in order to do a whistle-stop promotional tour.

As things stand, the top-heavy top four in the English league continue to feed off the lower Premier league teams. In turn teams such as Spurs harvest youthful talents from Football League teams for paltry amounts of compensation at tribunals – just ask Crystal Palace fans – and the whole repetitive cycle depressingly continues.

Source: Belfast News Letter, August 2008

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