25 Jul 2008
Peak Football and waving goodbye to Ronaldo
I spent a couple of days last week attending the Green New Deal think-tank type event in London, and at one point we were asked to speak about what we thought we would see in the world in 50 months from now (late 2012). One of the things I came up with was “the first World Cup Finals to be cancelled because no-one could get to them”. While football isn’t a subject often touched on here at Transition Culture, I have to confess I love it, and am fascinated by what we might come to call ‘peak football’. Football is not immune to the credit crunch nor to rising fuel prices, and in this age of ridiculous salaries being given to top players and insane transfer fees, something, at some point, has to give, and it looks like it might be starting to happen as we speak.
I have to say that I am a great admirer of Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes he can be cocky, arrogant, in love with himself and so on, but he is the most extraordinary player I have ever watched, able to do things with a football that defy belief and which keep you on the edge of your seat whenever he gets the ball. For those of you who live outside the world of the English Premier League, Ronaldo (there was another Ronaldo who was famous when this one first appeared, no-one remembers him anymore) is a Portugese player, plays for Manchester United, scored 40 something goals last season, but at the end of this season declared that he wanted to leave United and move to play for Real Madrid, although it is not yet clear if he will actually be going or not. Although to lose his footballing wizardry will be a grave loss, I think he should go, and that there is a lesson here for us all in these rapidly changing times.
The advice often given to people when they encounter peak oil is to get out of debt. To be entering this current time of peak oil and economic meltdown saddled with a high amount of credit and debt is really not very sensible. Most of us aren’t in the position to completely scale back to that extent, but if someone were to point out that a piece of furniture or an original signed vinyl pressing LP we had was especially valuable, we might be tempted to cash it in and use it to lighten our debt load.
Similarly, if Madrid want to pay a reported £75 million for him (I mean, for heavens sake), then given that he is widely regarded as being the best player in the world at the moment, now would appear to be a good time to cash him in and use the money to greatly reduce United’s debts (which are considerable). More and more people in football are starting to flag up the precarious situation football is now in. Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger recently told the BBC “the increase of TV money looks to have reached the maximum and it cannot go further – it can only go down and all the clubs have reached a limit”.
There are interesting trends afoot in the world at the moment, as high oil prices focus people’s minds and what was unthinkable 6 months ago becomes common sense now. Some big companies such as Proctor and Gamble are looking towards more localised approaches, breaking their centralised operations down into more decentralised operations. In the same way, Wenger (who has often been criticised for fielding teams with not a single British player) is starting to look more towards focusing on the production of local talent, saying “a big club like ours must rely first of all on youth development as we want to bring the core strength of the club through the youth system”.
As the time arrives for being more frugal, for preparing for a new world of economic contraction and energy scarcity, football clubs will need to beat a retreat from the ridiculous spending and wages that recent years have seen, eventually returning to teams of local people representing the local community they purport to represent (what a quaint notion). As Wenger concludes in the BBC piece, “I recently met the chairman of a Brazilian club who told me they are negotiating all their contracts down by 50% as the TV company cannot pay the money. All over the world, TV money has gone short and there will be consequences on football.”
I will miss the dazzling, twinkling footwork of Ronaldo, the match-making brilliance that could turn a game in a moment of brilliance, but times are changing and like the rest of us, it is time to cut our cloth to suit the times. In the same way that our degree of oil dependence equates to our degree of oil vulnerability, the degree of indebtedness for our football clubs will, over the next few seasons, become their vulnerability. Some have already gone out out of business and many others can’t be far from it. We need to start seeing any valuable possessions we have as offering potential ways out of indebtedness, something in a year or two we may turn out to have been very grateful for. We may come to kick ourselves for having missed the opportunity.