Football's carelessness invites huge problems for Europe's biggest clubs

Wayne Rooney Stock Market

There is a moment in the stock market, and we are seeing it now, where the cycle passes from optimism to euphoria. That is the point BitCoin recently reached, with cryptocurrencies spiking into the sky as people believed that a semi-anonymous digital payment method – used for ordering drugs, killings and pornography – would revolutionise the entire world. Meanwhile, sceptics of the latest run-up in valuations have come up with a succinct description of where analysis is these days: “LOL nothing matters”

It’s not a nuanced phrase, but it is hard to disagree with the sentiment. Brexit is nowhere near resolved, and it looks likely to bring only bad news in the short to medium term, Donald Trump is the most powerful man in the world. The Australians and Canadians have a huge housing bubble. China is supported by a huge mountain of debt. The North Koreans are mucking about with nukes. And yet the British and US stock markets just keep going up. Hurricanes flooding and damaging the fourth biggest metropolitan area in America, a vital part of the chemical supply chain? LOL nothing matters.

This might not appear to have much to do with football, and in a few ways, it doesn’t. But it does illustrate the mindset that many clubs, players and supporters have started to embrace. That would be fine – better to be ignorant and happy than informed and full of despair – if it didn’t foreshadow an inevitable crash back down into reality.

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We can see where ‘LOL nothing matters’ has brought us in football. Philippe Coutinho gave Liverpool vast amounts of shade in his transfer request, and let it be known that he regarded the club as a selling club, and a stepping stone to his next club, Barcelona. That Liverpool had a contract with him was largely immaterial, because he didn’t actually want to be there, he was just happy to use them as the least bad thing available.

Virgil van Dijk made his first appearance for Southampton as they glided past a pointless Crystal Palace. Van Dijk tried to engineer a move to Liverpool. Liverpool, so upset about Coutinho’s distraction from the Barcelona attempts to buy him, weren’t beside themselves with guilt when they attempted to tap up Van Dijk earlier in the summer. Indeed, they were convinced it would secure their man.

Paris Saint-Germain enjoyed Kylian Mbappe’s home debut against Lyon last night. He secured the game when he was instrumental in Jeremy Morel’s late own goal, and he produced a ridiculous scooped pass for Dani Alves to demonstrate just how brilliant he could become over the next decade. He cost, of course, £180m. But they didn’t actually pay Monaco for the striker. Instead they decided to sort out a loan deal where the transfer fee wouldn’t become due until next season.

And they also shelled out a quarter of a billion pounds on Neymar, with more in wages, in order to take him from Barcelona. PSG have been afforded their riches because they are bankrolled by Qatar. Barcelona are outraged, and reported PSG to UEFA for supposed breaches of Financial Fair Play rules. Not, of course, because Qatar is a hotbed of various bigotries, not limited to rampant anti-semitism. And Barcelona didn’t mind taking Qatar’s money for their own ends – nor did their former manager Pep Guardiola. Being the plaything of a country, currently isolated in the region by complex political and religious interests doesn’t seem the most sensible option, but this is where we are. Does anything matter? You bet it doesn’t!

And on a smaller scale, but no less telling, we come to Wayne Rooney. He was greeted warmly at Manchester United, and Jose Mourinho spoke of him one day coming back home in the future. He, presumably, means that Rooney will be added to the roster of ambassadors United parade in front of tourists in the ground and at special events. Launches of paint sponsors and pre-season tours in the Far East. All in return for more money. Money in addition to the millions that the club gave Rooney despite five years of awful performance, regular stories about his poor conditioning, and attempts to traduce the club to force a move away. He is currently facing a drink driving charge. That is the man that United want to pay in order to represent their values. It is either a stunning bit of honesty from the club that they have absolutely no values, or it is more likely a cynical admission that in football, nothing actually matters anymore.

As wages and transfer fees outstrip income by a huge step-up, with Sky and BT wondering if they will ever be able to afford the cost, nobody remembers the collapse of Setanta. As Qatar has its place in the Emirates put at risk, surrounded by potential aggressors, PSG fans like Nicolas Sarkozy carry on as if it is business as usual, not a few years of superficial fortune. As Rooney faces a day in court, United prepare a long-term offer to introduce him to the crowd, like Howard from the Halifax making a celebrity appearance at Freshers’ Week. It might be an easier way to live for now, but ‘LOL nothing matters’ is going to upend someone eventually, and cause grief for us all.

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