As I made my way through Ragsdale around 4:45 on January 25th, I caught approximately 30 people sitting around the television watching the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinal match between Barcelona-Real Madrid. The popularity of both teams has grown since the introduction of Champions League football to basic cable packages and the availability of European football elsewhere. It is easy to see why Americans would become enamored with the style of Barcelona and the panache of Real Madrid. Also, they win, and America loves winners. Posters of Messi and Ronaldo are plastered in local sporting goods stores encouraging people to drop two bills on a pair of neon yellow cleats. Messi and Ronaldo have been commodified as icons of clubs considered the magistrates of virtuous, beautiful, and victorious football.
What people fail to discuss is the way that these two clubs operate in the most self-destructive and misanthropic manner this side of the Danube. Television rights, deficit spending, control of media, unfair revenue sharing, the swooping in for young talent, the colonization of other talent pools [Barcelona in Surrey], and the unfettered greed perpetrated by both organizations make them less clubs and more American political parties. On the shoulders of the meek, Barcelona and Real Madrid suffocate opportunity and opposition. The inequality in revenue and lack of competition is thought to only exist in third world countries and the Scottish Premier League, but that isn’t the case at all. The model for exploitation in the United States, banana republics, and underdeveloped nations, can be seen in the workings of the Spanish Primera.
Perhaps the worst offender is Barcelona who hide behind the altruistic act of sponsoring UNICEF, the Qatar Foundation, or showing the world how the sport was meant to be played. The amount of debt and ill will accumulated is something only seen in Washington DC. Social issues obscure the greedy and exploitative practices of FC Barcelona.
Barcelona are the Democrats to the Real Madrid Republicans. Real Madrid bury themselves in debt to fill their war chest for their culture war against Barcelona. Real also have some of the most caustic and uncharismatic people running their organization (Mourinho, Perez), yet they somehow manage to lure in the mouth-breathing soccer fan who wants to watch Ronaldo do step overs until the JNCOs come into style again. The shameful part is that these fans couldn’t tell you who Gheorghe Hagi was the same way most Republicans couldn’t tell the difference between Barry Goldwater or Roger Sterling.
To me, Barcelona and Real Madrid embody everything that is wrong with football and a symbolic representation of the collapse of democracy, the severe flaws of a free market, and the suffocation of human expression. And, sure, everyone would love for their clubs to reach these levels of success and brilliant play, but the cost is too great for the rest of the game.
The heads of of these clubs discuss the formation of an exclusionary continental league which would spell the end for historic clubs, traditions, and rivalries. Success doesn’t mean killing everything in your path.
Too little, too late, responsible regulation and financial control is being pursued by UEFA, but big money clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona and leagues like the English Premier League will find ways around those obstacles. They, like our politicians and lobbyist friends, always do. So, what do we do? We wear the badges and labels given to us by this two-party system that decides for us what’s best. We lose our identity and agency in support of corporate structures that react less to our daily needs and more to our access to our wallets. What do we do?
Excuse me while I wear my Chelsea shirt and wave my tiny American flag.