Emerson Royal, delighted to be a player for FC Barcelona, complete with presentation and giddy signing ceremony, was shipped off to Tottenham in the next-to-last day of the transfer window. His career at his dream club lasted some training sessions, two matches and most of a transfer window.
Clubs demand loyalty and set themselves up in the position of aggrieved, jilted lover when they don’t get it. Umtiti is staying because he wants to. So is Pjanic. And Griezmann. And a host of other players. They have a good deal in a great city. What’s the problem. “You want me to do what? Why? To help the club? Does the club care about me?” The club demands salary reductions from them, from the captains, and stories pop up in media outlets about how players should do stuff to help the club, how this or that player is refusing to help the club. It’s all pretty, hearts and flowers.
It’s also business, and a player would be well within their rights to say, “I didn’t screw this up. Why should my lifestyle suffer because you dullards can’t run a railroad? Go get CVC back on the phone.”
And out come the stories. “The club is in trouble, in zillions of Euros in debt. Doom awaits, it could even go bankrupt and is in danger of survival.” As if anything like that is possible.
We fall for it because we’re suckers. Umtiti is whistled even when warming up, because he won’t go, the moneygrubbing wastrel. There were reports of a good offer from Zenit. Umtiti was probably like, “Hmmm … winters, racism, more racism, more winters. That doesn’t sound like a good deal for me.” And another headline blares that Umtiti won’t help the club by leaving. And the narrative goes, for some, that had he gone the club would have been able to keep Messi, blablabla. Even had he gone, Messi was still gone. But we get played every day, every week, every month, every year, and we fall for it because adoration makes us suckers.
Barça chose to let Messi go. It came down to choosing a less-than-ideal deal that the league had brokered, or let Messi go. It was a choice based not on love, but on money. If it was based on love, Messi would still be here and Laporta would be talking about how the CVC deal isn’t ideal, but the club couldn’t let Messi, of all players, go. Impossible. And Florentino Perez would be lighting up his phone, talking about being in this together, etc, etc. In between bidding 180m for a player in the last year of a contract.
Come on. Emerson, Ilaix, Messi are all gone because of money. People have already convinced themselves that Emerson Royal wasn’t any good, and it was an excellent bit of business by their smart, savvy club to flip a never-will-be into ready cash.
Imagine, just for a second, how Emerson must have noticed the vicious booing of Umtiti, how maybe that might have played into his decision to, however, reluctantly, accept the move to Spurs. Suddenly he’s thinking about life as the player that cost the club 30m by being difficult. A few headlines and he’s a greedy bum. Take the deal.
Ilaix Moriba is gone to Salzburg, another “nice bit of business that makes everybody happy.” Moriba was, like Umtiti, considered a greedy piece of crap by supporters. His boyhood club was going to sit him for a year, because how dare a player not take the generous offer that we presented to him? Want to leave on a free? You won’t play a second this season. And we ate it up. “How dare he hurt the club that raised him? It’s his father. They’re greedy. It’s just about the money with him.”
News flash: It’s about the money for everybody. Emerson was sold because the club needs money. Ilaix was sold because Salzburg came close enough to the club’s valuation of the player to make the deal palatable. Messi was jettisoned because the board looked at the numbers and decided it wasn’t worth it to keep him. Players are moved around like so many chess pieces, and the only power they have is to say, “No. I don’t want to leave.”
They do this at their own peril, but it is indeed their only option in the face of a club that sells love, but wants money. When a player treats this ugly game like a business, supporters line up to flay the player alive. When the club treats the life of a player like a transaction, we laud the business aspects of it because we don’t understand what it’s like.
Imagine the place you work trading you for, say, a couple of copiers to a different company. “We really liked the way Jim worked a spreadsheet. None better. We just felt like we could do more with these new 3D printers.” And there you are, settled in with your nice life, and now you have to pick up and move. Done. Friends, school, routines, favorite restaurants. Haha, move on. Done. It’s what we don’t consider with transfers.
We shouldn’t have any illusions about any of it. Money. Players chase it, clubs chase it, everybody wants the most they can get. As the song lyric goes, “How do you spell love / M-O-N-E-Y” It’s real.
Sitting and typing this on the last day of the transfer window, with some time left, who knows what else the club is up to? Or what player has already responded to a phone call of a potential new destination with, “No.” The life of a player is short, the life of a club is long. We come to clubs, most of us, because that club ticks a box in the need for vicarious thrill in our lives — the entertainment. Buy the shirts, go to the matches, live and die with the club.
That’s all lovely, but go into it with eyes open. You’re a cash cow to that big club that you love. And that big club is a paymaster to the player it purports to care about. It’s business. That’s all.