Don’t hate the playa, hate the game

My wife is weird.

At her last full-time job, every year she would decline her annual pay rise in favor of another week of vacation. She had 10 or 12 weeks by the time she left. Most of us would do no such thing. We would take every raise, and look for ways in which we can maximize our earning power.

So why does it bother us so when some players do the same?

Even more interesting is that our views on players doing it are not only malleable, but based on what we are fed by various sources. Two Barça players right now in negotiation with the club are Ousmane Dembele and Ilaix Moriba. Both want to make as much as they can. Now, with a club that is wrestling with a ship of state foundering on the fiscal rocks, the notion of “as much as they can” deserves a rethink. But the rage!

And media outlets feed it with stories about how greedy a player is, or leaks that someone wants to double their salary. And in a world where salaries are outsized we are then faced with a weird parsing of what we find acceptable. One player making 50m per is fine, because look at what they have done. Another player seeking 10 is a wastrel, because what have they done. And in a game that has become hopelessly corrupted by money, we take sides in a situation in which everything is pretty much goofy.

Every transfer negotiation or salary discussion that we approach should start with the concept, “It isn’t my money.” Another notion to stack atop that is to ask, “What do I gain from the transaction?”

That question is worth asking because we bring different currency to every transaction, even when the discussion is of dizzying sums in our worlds, yet are a pittance in land of football lucre. Messi is just one example. Like Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, it would be impossible for Barça to pay Messi what he’s worth to the club. Messi knows it and the club knows it. But what if, instead of choosing to negotiate a lesser salary to stay at his boyhood club, Messi dug in his heels and demanded a raise. How would we react to that? It’s safe to say it wouldn’t be with the same ire that greets every histrionic description of twists and turns in negotiations with lesser players.

Messi is different because he’s an icon, and the greatest player in the history of the game. But he would still be a player looking to maximize his earning potential. We joke about Thiago Silva looking to “feed his kids” but hey, aren’t they all, even if they don’t have kids? In a career that could be cut short by a single wrong step or foot plant, where’s the harm in a player deciding that this is the contract where he wants the most he can get? What’s the harm for us? All the club can do is say yes or no. If Moriba can work his way to 5 or 6m per annum for his still-developing skills, well good on him. It isn’t my money, and I’m a soci.

We fold our arms and decide that X or Y player isn’t “worth it.” By what measure? In salary negotiations, the only measure is how much can you convince someone to pay you. All the rest is narrative.

Two “reports” came out this week, one that Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto refused to negotiate a lower salary to help the club. Okay, cool. Messi did it, but if you want to roll like that, rock on. And if true, they are perfectly within their rights to want the maximum. They don’t have endorsements like Messi, don’t have anything like Messi. His half-wages still leave him with a Croesus-like pile of wealth, so why not? And what’s the value of the rage for us? It’s worth thinking about. Is FC Barcelona going to be relegated because of excessive debt? We all know that isn’t going to happen, even with all the bluster that Tebas might manage. The club will eventually be allowed to register players, whatever happens, and the season will commence because it has to. Too big to fail is a very real concept that applies in the case of La Liga, which has just signed a TV deal with ESPN. Barça and Messi are a big part of that deal so don’t expect anything to impede that situation.

The season will start, fans will fill the seats, a bit at first, then increasingly. And matchday revenues will help bridge some of those budget gaps, along with new sponsors and revenue streams. Money keeps on flowing, and really there’s no shame in the game of players wanting some of it to flow to them. We love clubs, devote ourselves to them. To most players, a club is just a boss. A paymaster. Where’s my money, and all of it that I can possibly squeeze out of it.

Umtiti was greedy. Dembele is greedy. Moriba is greedy. Why? Well, because we’re told they are. But where’s Isaac Cuenca now? A bad foot plant leads to a trivia question. Victor Valdes made a play he had made thousands of times before. That last time he landed wrong and that was it. If I am a player, I want everything I can possibly get. In my job as a journalist, in my home office the most dangerous thing likely to happen to me is carpal tunnel. In the official office? Maybe COVID, or stepping on a roach (Don’t laugh. It happened.) And I still want to maximize my buckage. So getting mad at a player for shooting their shot? Nah. Not when there is so much to be legitimately vexed about.

The men who brought the club to this state? Sure. But even they couldn’t have foretold a thing such as a pandemic that would completely obliterate matchday revenues. The club was a fiscal house of cards, but like the worker whose direct deposit lands just before the bills they just paid did, it was life on the edge. It’s only now, without those millions and the related revenues that we understand how precarious it all was, now that it has collapsed. And now Laporta is doing what he can, up to and including sending players who seek the max out the door and good on him for doing that. That’s also part of the game.

FC Barcelona is going to be fine. And a fanbase will quickly find something else to be angry about. In the meantime, resist the rage addiction. Sports media outlets feed on it, the clicks rage generates thrive on it. It’s a challenge, but put yourself in the shoes of a player such as Dembele, or Ilaix, or even Umtiti, who has a cush, high-paying job in one of the greatest cities in the world.

“Find a new home.”

“Why? It’s amazing here.”

Categorized as Thoughts

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.