No sooner had the inevitable record-breaking departure of Gareth Bale from Spurs to Real Madrid been announced than the equally inevitable denunciations of his reported weekly wage began on social media. It followed the usual emotive and specious thread seeing Bale cast as some kind of materialistic pariah who should be ashamed of the vast sums of cash swelling his bank account at (more than likely now) Santander. How dare he accept the riches afforded him by the wealthiest and most illustrious club in world football! Think of the nurses, the teachers and the soldiers who toil every day for little reward. He should be donating his…
Yeah, I lost them there too. Because such comparisons are as laced with histrionic melodrama as making a child squirm with guilt at the dinner table for leaving a few peas on the plate because “there are children starving in Africa, you know”. And of course, let’s not forget every football hater’s sneer of choice; the one that disbelievingly and with a moist scent of exasperation negates a footballer’s earnings because he is merely “kicking a ball around”.
I am one of those public sector workers that have apparently been done a disservice by the machinations of Gareth Bale this week. According to those who claim to speak for my profession, it is an insult that a young man from Wales, blessed with a unique talent and who has provided supporters of my club with a magical highlights package of memories, has taken the decision to realise a boyhood dream. One, that even five years ago, seemed inconceivable for him. We should be marching in the streets and storming the barricades of power in revolt against the disparity in wealth that exists between footballers and the rest of us. Shouldn’t we?
Well, if we have a problem with the inequality that exists in a system that is increasingly unable to call itself a meritocracy, than yes, we probably should. How often have you grumbled with barely audible contempt about the bonuses awarded to bankers and bosses? I have. Often. But once it’s vented, it’s back to work, head down, educating and the like.
As a teacher, I wouldn’t want Gareth Bale’s wages. Imagine how that would work. Teachers up and down the land driving to work in buffed up Bentleys and Ferraris, the coffee stains on exercise books replaced by the sticky rings of champagne flutes. Nurses clicking around in Manolo Blahnik heels as they pump patients’ blood pressure whilst soldiers wouldn’t be seen dead in battle without the latest in Stella McCartney “camou-wear”. If that much money was easily available to all, our society’s depravities and excesses would inevitably congeal into a mutated, dystopian mash-up of Caligula’s Rome and Al Pacino’s Scarface.
When people choose to draw lazy comparisons between footballers and public servants, they forget some very obvious but nevertheless significant factors. Public servants are not in this for the money. Despite the pressures and frustrations that come with working for such integral parts of an economy, we are somehow (and it may not always be obvious) driven by a maddening desire to do exactly what our jobs describe. Serve the public. Often for little reward, whether that is financial or emotional. I cannot speak for others, but money has never been a factor in this for me. I rarely look at my bank statements and I rarely have anything more than ten pounds in my wallet.
A footballer and the club for which he plays however, are not any of those things that I have just described. However much the football romantic might like to think it otherwise, football is a business. Actually, it is more than that. It is showbusiness. Gareth Bale, like all footballers, is paid to play football. That involves not only keeping his body as finely tuned as it can possibly be every day of his life but he is also expected to ensure that he entertains fans to a satisfactory degree on a weekly basis so that the club can fill seats, retain television audiences and thus turn a profit. The footballer will be verbally and sometimes physically abused by his own and rival supporters and his every success and failure will be scrutinised by millions. He is a commodity that can be purchased and discarded at a chairman’s whim or behest.
To state that Real Madrid paid an excessive amount for Bale is a nebulous point. It was a deal that was consented to and executed by two parties with no public funds used within the transaction. How Madrid, Spurs and Bale choose to spend that money therefore is a matter only for them. To suggest otherwise is fanciful as the experiences of Hull and Cardiff City fans in recent times prove.
It’s obvious to all that players’ wages are out of kilter with the rest of society. Nobody is denying that. But to blame the players themselves or the clubs who are so willing to pay these sums merely masks the roots of the problem. Football is beholden to money. Television money, sportswear manufacturers’ money, corporate multinationals’ money. Money. Money. Money. If it wasn’t on offer, football as a sport would not be perennially battling itself for its own soul.
The sad fact is that when somebody is bold enough to spark a debate or attempt to offer a solution they are very often shouted down or their theories are gleefully picked apart or discredited. Greg Dyke found that out this week when he had the temerity to give the England football team targets for success at international tournaments. It would be the same if a party leader suggested we pay 60% taxes in order for to try and forge an equitable society to mirror that of Norway’s. No doubt landslide election defeat would follow soon after.
Something does need to change though. Gareth Bale however, is not and should not be that catalyst for change. Let him enjoy the fruits of his success. He can buy twenty years’ worth of travelcards or swim in a bathtub full of gold coins à la Scrooge McDuck for all I care. Because let’s be honest, if you were offered that much money, every week, for the next six years of your life, wouldn’t you take it?
Interesting fact: a human body, in and of itself, is worth a mere $160. Mull that over next time you look at your gas bill.
Further reading: Arsene Wenger’s Blue And White Army?: Re-branding Football
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