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The best always win? Ah, cheating. Winning is all that matters. The ideal of sport that is whoever is better at the skill would win does not apply to football. And yet it is hard to say which sports that applies to, nowadays. Golf, darts and snooker spring to mind. What else? Let’s take athletics. At least you have to be over the line by yourself to win. It is clear who has won. But drugs are a serious problem in so many sports where at least the winner is clear. Cristiano Ronaldo - always cheating Soccer is no longer a sport where the winner is clear nor probably has it ever been. There have been many apologies since VAR has appeared where teams have lost or drawn matches they should have won. And prior to VAR a referee could cost you the game. But you never get it back. Last season Arsenal had a few VAR decisions go against them, Man Utd, Brighton and Brentford spring to mind. We were a short few points off Man City and getting the correct decisions could have won us the league. What is cheating? That is the starting point of this discussion. Football is not about sportspeople playing better than the other team but rather those who use every trick in the book and are writing new ones up to gain an advantage that wins the match. What are those advantages? I probably can’t list them all, but let’s give it a go, in the order they come into my head: Calling for everything Surrounding the ref Verbals – abusing players to try and put them off their game Diving and tricking refs by screaming Going down with little contact A new one, since the introduction of almost universal handball, is hammering the ball into a crowded box in the hope that it hits an arm when there is no sight of goal. Is the use of excess money cheating? Most of these things did not happen in English football when I started watching. Dirty Leeds in the Sixties, with a truly top squad of players, started a lot of gamesmanship and fouls. The most notorious being Jack Charlton standing on top of the keeper at corners. But all the other things mentioned above were starting to appear. Of course, football was never clean Now, it has to be said that football was never really clean. There have been many instances of the dark arts since soccer appeared in its present form around 150 years ago. The problem is, if it is not clean, is it truly a sport? I say no. The definition of a sport has to be that the best at the discipline wins. And only golf, darts and snooker comes to mind where that applies. This is the sign that football is clean In this modern era, you would have to be a genius to figure out the blurry lines between what is acceptable and what is not. Money? The big teams spend egregious amounts to gain advantage so that they have at least two top players for every position. They have also campaigned strongly to allow more and more subs giving them another big advantage over poorer clubs. In the old days you had one sub which was normally only used late in the game, if at all. And yet I rarely remember teams being down to ten because of injury. But subs were originally supposed to be only for injury, not for tactics. I say 5 subs are cheating as the advantage is to the big clubs. Will anything be done? Yes, when you see a member of the porcine species use its wings to fly past your window. Just give me one million of that and I will delete this piece, Sheik Money allows you to buy players that other teams want just to stop them having them. Chelsea and Man City are possibly the worst at this but all big teams are guilty. Is it cheating? I can’t see any reason to say it is not. Analysing ways to cheat What about analysts? Is that cheating? There are teams of guys with laptops spread around the grounds relaying information to the bench and the manager is stood on the pitch bellowing instructions. Why are they allowed do that? We would laugh if at an athletics event if there was 20 managers screaming at the runners. In the past, the manager sat on the bench and I see no reason for anyone on the bench to be allowed give instructions. It should be the best sportsmen win. They should be talented enough to use their own ability, brain and reason to be able to play. A guy is free on the edge of the box at the corner? Get out and cover him, how do you need to be told to do that? Educating young people to cheat is good, is it? Will we see the days of hidden earpieces on the captains or all players? Is it already happening? I suspect the technology is already there so it could well be. Is it cheating? I say yes. I covered drugs already here and you will see that my belief is that drugs are endemic in football. We do, most of us, see drugs as clearly cheating but the world of pharmacy is very clever. They are like Hydra, you cut off one head and 2 more grow in its place. A putrid sport ready to collapse? The problem is, that if one big team cheats, then they all will, to try to stop them having an advantage. We have gone so far down this rabbithole that we can’t see any possibility of anything getting better, we keep accepting the new ways to cheat and the new charlatans, the Chelseas, the Man Citys, the PSG’s, etc., will continue to use their money to whitewash the cheating and the old big clubs will scramble to catch up on their cheating and surpass them if they can. And so here we are. A rotten sport without much semblance of fairness. Where anything at all, no matter how outrageous, is acceptable. Cristiano Ronaldo is perhaps the biggest single example, always diving, harassing the ref, waving for cards and so on, yet he was still one of the most popular players of his time and not castigated and banned for being a lowly cheat. In golf, also a huge money sport, he would have been cast into the darkness long ago. Tiger Woods would have been with a tiny amount of cheating. For all golfers, being a true sport is what matters, especially Tiger Woods You must call foul on yourself and a sport has to be about the better person or team winning. Soccer has left that ideal far behind. Is it the right road that it has taken or will there be a sudden, dramatic, realization that cheating and sport are incompatible? The most dramatic event of my lifetime, the collapse of the Soviet Union, was inconceivable to me until it happened. But people then realized how rotten it was and didn’t want to go back. Could it happen in football? I will say a definite maybe.
Is it necessary to be mugs? This is Lionel Messi. When we talk about his position in world football it is generally in 3 categories: The greatest shirtseller of all time? 1. He is the greatest of all time, an idea held by some fans 2. He is the greatest current player during his time at the top, again a view held by some fans 3. He is one of the greatest players ever, this time probably everyone would agree It is not, usually, except for the marketing experts at his clubs, about what he can generate in shirt sales and so on. But what he, and that other elite band of top players have, is an ability to create astounding sales for their clubs and their kit maker for their shirts and other merchandise. Messi has sold many, many millions of shirts for Barcelona, PSG and Argentina and will now do the same for Inter Miami. Generally the star players make more money for their clubs than the rest of the team combined. This is certainly true of both Messi and Ronaldo, the iconic duo that splits fans as to who is the GOAT. I am not getting into the argument here of which of them is the best footballer but I will talk mostly about Messi to make my argument. Or maybe Ronaldo is the greatest shirtseller of all time? It is difficult to get exact figures of how many shirts they have sold but it is certainly many millions each. My research reckons something like 10 million for Messi. Now, there is a counterpoint of fake shirts which could well also reach the same figures or more but they are not quite as relevant to my thesis as the money doesn’t go into the clubs. We need the fickle fans to buy, buy, buy What it means is that we, as fans, buy, and buy big, to hand over money to our chosen teams. It is strange to me that when Messi signed for PSG something like 1 million shirts were sold in his first season. It indicates that fans follow players rather than clubs, just as fans follow winners rather than teams. Take Man City and Chelsea, for example, both in the top ten brands of football clubs worldwide now, purely due to fans switching and young kids wanting to follow winners. As you go up the sporting ladder you can sell more merchandise. It seems to me that the instant fans are in the majority and they are buyers. Only a mug would buy a mug But let’s take the “real fans” for a moment. Someone who hasn’t switched clubs and takes the chance to see their team whenever they can and add to that the season ticket holders and regular attenders. For Arsenal there are 180,000 official fans in the club membership in the various categories. But Arsenal has an estimated 125 million fans worldwide as well. I basically pay to get into matches and normally buy a programme. I don’t buy merchandise unless asked to. Most of my Arsenal stuff are personal presents or freebies from ASCB or Arsenal Red membership. I have no real idea whether “real fans” also normally big buyers but I suspect maybe not too much, though for sure some of them are. Handing over ludicrous sums to attend matches is enough for me, I am not going to start handing them way over the odds for shirts, etc. Real Madrid: The kings of branding at the moment The winners take it all But that 125 million followers are a strong base to sell to. The other big clubs would have similar or even more. The thing is, it is those big teams which win nearly everything Man City, Man Utd, Barcelona, Real Madrid, etc., are also the biggest merchandise sellers. It is a crucial part of their branding. Vast numbers of people want to be associated with the brand of their team. Real Madrid were ranked first in brands at $1,636.56m in 2022, Arsenal tenth with $815.01m. That’s just the brand value if you were to make an offer for it to make money from selling official produce, not anything else. The Kroenke's paid $777m for all of Arsenal. It’s looking good for them, isn’t it? Ah, the branding is becoming essential to making money My point is, and apologies for taking so long to get to it, is, that as the other top teams make a fortune out of merchandise sales, Arsenal have to do so too. And so all the mug punters out there are helping to keep their team near the top by buying, at prices over the odds, as much merchandise as they can afford. Now, paying more than you should for something is regarded as a mugs game. Only stupid people do so. And yet your team needs you to do so. I am a bit of a mug by paying what, not too long ago, would have been seen as crazy money to see a football match. But I don’t normally buy produce except programmes. Programmes are not too overpriced, anyway. You need to buy a Declan Rice shirt quickly, it's your Arsenal duty Can I feel superior to those that are addicted to buying all the strips, home, away, alternative, special ones, cups, glasses, flags, banners, boots, shoes, etc that you can buy online or in your Arsenal store? It seems not as without them my team would go backwards. And so, I am left with only one conclusion. Yes it is necessary to be a mug to support a top football team. Welcome to stupidville, Gus, and don’t forget to keep paying big bucks. We have come a long way since shirt sales appeared in the late 1970's to small sales, mostly as presents for kids and with little enthusiasm to adults.