Early Doors

Prosperous in the Bosphorus

Early Doors

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Football does strange things to people.

Take the way it helps us builds bridges with other countries, while simultaneous torching them with white-hot vitriol.

Football is a great lingua franca when talking to locals on holiday. Alone in a bar in north-west Spain? No problem! Ingratiate yourself by waxing lyrical about Diego Tristan and Juan Carlos Valeron! Charm Hungarians with memories of the time your team faced Zalaegerszegi in the Cup Winners' Cup qualifying rounds!

But the game also gives us false impressions of people and places.

Consider the puzzled reaction to Galatasaray's signing of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba.

First off, we dismiss the players as mercenaries - as though none of the players lured to the Premier League over the decades were in it for the money.

Then we shake our heads and wonder what would possess a footballer to go to Istanbul.

English football fans view Turkey through a fog of red flare smoke and 'Welcome To Hell' signs. Turkish football is violence, stabbings and that chairman who called Kevin Campbell "a cannibal".

Football colours our view of other countries - almost always in a negative way. Italians are racists in puffa jackets; Russians are racists in balaclavas; Spaniards are racists with white hankies.

Basically, the whole world racist except us. Not us. We tolerate everyone. Except all those racists. Which is everyone. But if everyone would just stop being racist for a minute, we might stop hating them.

Fortunately, these impressions are almost entirely wrong.

Istanbul is a beautiful, diverse, exciting city - as anyone who has been there for more than 24 hours of Irish pubs and hostile stadia will tell you.

And even if it were not, it wouldn't matter.

Footballers exist in a strange cocoon of luxury.

Last season, on a rare venture outside, Early Doors encountered Drogba and his then-Chelsea team-mates at a five-star hotel not far from Stamford Bridge.

It was the morning of a game, and the players lolled about in tracksuits, looking bored and texting a lot.

The hotel itself was extremely plush; ED sat in an achingly modern bar with funky, angular fixtures and chrome polished to within an inch of its life - four cups of coffee came to £20.

It was probably the most 'expensive' hotel ED has ever been to, but at the same time it was utterly soulless. A sterile vacuum for well-heeled visitors who measure quality of life in Swarovski crystals alone.

No atmosphere, no history, no romance. Just money. It's hard to believe that Chelsea would choose it as their pre-match hangout.

But Early Doors digresses.

The point is - Istanbul no doubt has these kind of places. Equally palatial, equally soulless, equally divorced from the world outside.

The football bubble has gone even further at Anzhi Makachkala. Given players' reluctance to live in strife-torn Dagestan, the squad trains in Moscow and flies down to Makachkala on match days.

The point is - wherever footballers live or play, they remain swaddled in wealth.

The Premier League finds itself facing down challenges from across the continent. Not just from traditional adversaries in Munich, Madrid and Barcelona, but from France, Turkey, Russia - everywhere you look, rich clubs are chucking cash at footballers.

When your league's success is built on little more than money, all anyone needs to bring it down is even more money.

Now this is the bit where people start bandying the phrase 'Financial Fair Play' around.

This, of course, is UEFA's scheme whereby clubs are meant to balance their books without huge cash injections from sugar daddies.

But all the signs point to the FFP revolution being little more than a device for bean-counters to dream up creative new ways to present the accounts.

For example, PSG's massive sponsorship deal with a bank that happens, like the club, to be owned by the Qatari royal family (Manchester City did something similar with their stadium naming rights).

Or it might just come in the form of UEFA turning a blind eye or handing out derisory fines - in effect treating FFP violations a bit like it does racism.

Now it's true that last year UEFA handed out the first punishments of the FFP era, withholding prize money from 23 clubs.

But all of the offenders were not guilty of having too much money - quite the opposite. Instead they were collared for failing to pay their bills (wages, transfer fees and the like).

Until UEFA takes action against clubs running at a loss while funded by wealthy owners, we should probably park FFP as a live issue.

Still, it has come to something when the Premier League - formerly the thrusting, entrepreneurial leaders of football's money age - want the regulations enforced more strongly.

English football is under siege, and in denial.

However much we might bleat about Sneijder and Drogba going to Turkey or Pep going to Bayern, these decisions aren't strange. They're totally logical.

During the decades of importing players with our cash, we somehow convinced ourselves that England was special for non-financial reasons. We're the cradle of the game. We have the most exciting league. London's a great city for footballers and their families. There's no racism here.

We were a world away from those violent, decaying outposts on the continent. Or so we told ourselves.

But as the red mist lifts, reality bites - £150,000-a-week says Istanbul looks like a pretty great place to live if you're Didier Drogba.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: The tiff between Marco Materazzi and Rafa Benitez has taken a pleasingly childish turn Rafa accused Marco of lying about his regime at Inter. Marco's response: "So I'm a liar? He's thin then, so that gives reason to call me a liar. It pains me to say good luck to Chelsea but I will anyway, I feel sorry for their fans."

HARRY QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I have never seen anything like this transfer window. Every agent seems to be trying to screw each other. It's like gang warfare out there - it's scary. If you're trying to get a player, another agent will try to scupper that deal if he's not involved in it to try to get you to have one of his instead. It's unreal. Unbelievable."

COMING UP: Midweek Premier League madness! Well, when Early Doors says 'madness', it really means 'matches' - Stoke v Wigan, Aston Villa v Newcastle, QPR v Manchester City and Sunderland v Swansea - all kicking off at 19:45 UK time!

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