Football has come a long way since the days of black and white television, terrace chants and the W-M formation. We now have internet streaming, match day turnstiles and long-drawn pre-match build-ups to attract a larger set of audience. With the advent of technology, there has also been a massive change in the mindset of the fans watching the game across the world. Previously, the outfits were by and large restricted to people residing from their region of origin, but nowadays most of them have a global fan base. Modern football clubs are now internationally followed brand names, thanks mainly to their resounding on-field success and also, the internet.
The modern day football club
A football club today not only has coaches, managers, players, therapists and stadium staff but also employ a host of technical and sales teams to function properly. As such, you are guaranteed an experience, not only on match days but also during the entire week through social media. The players are subjected to a high level of exposure, and many find it hard to cope with. The internet may have brought people closer, but it has also generated hate and ridicule like no other.
Fuelled by the desire of tapping into unchartered audiences, clubs these days leave no stone unturned to market the daylights out of their players or products. While it is good to be able to connect to the players on a more personal basis, sometimes it gets borderline irritating to watch the extent of commercialization in the game these days. Like a week ago, a friend showed me Manchester United selling coffee cups, stationery items and scarfs with the (frankly lousy) hashtag 250NEY. This was done minutes after Wayne Rooney netted a record-breaking 250th goal away to Stoke, which helped save United’s blushes at the Britannia Stadium. However, the goal, which was something truly worth celebrating, did not matter much in the end as the club are still stuck in the 6th position and are 3 points of from the top 4 and are missing chances by the truckload. However, judging Manchester United’s Facebook page, you would think that the Englishman’s goal had decided the fate of the title race.
While clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal function on money from sponsors, subscriptions, merchandise sales and gate tickets, those like Manchester City and RB Leipzig are funded by billionaires who rarely care for rules and structure and try to buy their way to glory. This has resulted in inflated market rates, over expectations and unrealistic pressure on players. If I had to sum it up, football as a game may have come a long way from the 1900s, but as a sport, it has become a globalized spectacle where the masses pay thousands, players rake in Hollywood wages and sponsor post profits of millions.
The modern day football fan
There is an old adage that says, “ You can’t clap with just one hand” and that is exactly the scenario in the modern game. Fans these days have a better access to the media and an array of resources which provides them with detailed statistics of each and every player. As such, anyone who kicks a ball 5 yards or makes 2 dribbles in a game are labeled as the next Messi or next Ronaldo, while poor performances are rewarded with abuses and unrequired rants. The likes of Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale, and Neymar are hailed in one match and virtually castrated in another, depending on their showings, while there are relentless, unending fights on who is the better player, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The rise of the internet has given birth to a host of websites and blogs to cater to the needs of an impatient audience. All of them are jostling for two minutes under the sun, and so end up coming up with useless, click bait articles just to get more reads and engagement. In fact, such is the extent of false information and allegations that respected newspapers like The Sun have been banned from attending matches for making fallacious and derogatory remarks on certain players. The Daily Star and The Mirror were also placed under the scanner recently, as they tried to promote fake and unrelated stories regarding Ryan Mason’s skull fracture, which is just about as damning as it gets.
So what is the world footballing body doing, you ask? Well, unfortunately, it has fallen prey to the same rut that is haunting the sport. FIFA has slowly sold itself to the business class and their friends, to the extent that officials now take bribes to award World Cup bids and presidents are investigated on corruption and money laundering charges. They have even gone to the extent of awarding players with a ‘FIFA Best Player’ trophy every year, which is laughable because of the fact that football is not only a team game and requires contribution from almost everyone in it but also the fact that it is awarded less on merit and more on popular opinions and corporate interests. With degradation being this deep, one can easily understand why banners like ‘Against Mod€rn Football’ are bought to stadiums.
If you ever ask the older generation what they feel about the game today, they will inadvertently roll their eyes and tell you what they hate: the excessive use of social media, the prima-donna treatment the players get, the sell outs that the administration has become and the tetchy fans who change their opinions every now and then . Sure, the money has given better infrastructure and has done away with the hooliganism on a large basis, but it has given severely affected the spirit of the beautiful game. The pressure of delivering every game has got to the players as well, who make use of simulation and histrionics to tilt referee decisions in their favour, and managers chalk down short term goals instead of trying to build a long-term establishment. While Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho are all great coaches, the fact that they have never built a dynasty at a club like Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger just about sums up the mentality of those who engage in the game in the 21st century.
All said and done, the trajectory seems set for now and looks unlikely to change. So we will have more players shutting down their twitter accounts due to abject racial abuses after a stinker, or clubs signing up with Noodle companies to promote their logos in the far-east. With Gianni Infantino (the current FIFA president) passing the bill to increase the number of sides in the World Cup to 48 from 32, and Marco van Basten (the current FIFA Technical Director) proposing the set of the most incredulous rules I have ever read, I just wonder how worse things will get from here. Fans in England and Germany have voiced their discontent over and over again, but is there anyone to hear it?