Spectator sport

Football’s still the big boy in the playground – even when the big boys aren’t playing

10 August 2013

9:00 AM

10 August 2013

9:00 AM

It’s been a long, hot, soccerless holiday. There has been football about — the women’s European Championship, for example, and various age-group tournaments, all of which England departed with undue haste — but not the proper stuff. There hasn’t been a tournament where players can ‘put themselves in the shop window’ or prove that they have what it takes ‘at the highest level’ for any club with a fat chequebook and a friendly press.

Youth football, even women’s, is all very well but it doesn’t pay the bills. Men’s professional football is, sadly, the big kid in the playground of sport. When it’s not there we miss it and make up for its absence by talking about it like kids in the run-up to Christmas with a long wishlist who see no reason why we can’t have it all.

So the buzz around the bar and the water-cooler is transfer speculation, a relatively new industry, complete with its own glossary of terms, and  busy even when nothing is happening. Wayne Rooney doesn’t want to stay at Manchester United and Chelsea are in for him. Nothing doing, say United, as Chelsea ‘step up’ interest in the ‘want-away’ striker. United want Cesc Fabregas, but Barcelona say he’s going nowhere, which leaves United with one option: to ‘step up’ their interest in order to ‘test the resolve’ of the Catalan giants. Real Madrid are looking to sign Gareth Bale, but Tottenham say the Welshman is not for sale. Real are said to be prepared to cough up £105 million, which would ‘test the resolve’ of Spurs and potentially give André Villas-Boas a ‘war chest’ to ‘test the resolve’ of Liverpool when it comes to their ‘want-away’ striker, Luis Suarez.

Phew. Well, if Gareth Bale really is worth the £100-odd million that Real are said to have offered, then all the spinach that has been shelled out over the years for assorted Premier League bums seems like a bargain. £35 million from Liverpool for Andy Carroll? Chump change. At these prices you would pay £5 million for his ponytail. £33 million from Manchester City  for Robinho? A snip. £51 million from Chelsea for Fernando Torres? A steal.

Still, good old Gareth. He can have a hopeful belt from 28 yards with a few minutes to go, and given a bit of a dip it could go in. That must be worth a hundred mill or so. It’s only three years since Harry Redknapp put Bale on the market for £3 million, which may say more about ’Arry than anything else.

You’ve got to feel sorry for poor old Arsène Wenger, of course. All those years of spending nothing — a fascinating survey in the Observer the other day showed that the Gunners’ average spend on a player, at £13 million, was about a third of Real Madrid’s, at £38 million — and now he’s committed to spending £50 million on a snarling, biting, psychopathic Uruguayan, who’s also a pretty good player.

And nothing has yet actually happened. Big clubs want to sign big players as a ‘statement of intent’ and those big players want to be the big kid on campus at whichever club signs them… if they sign them, which they haven’t.

It was almost tragic that Lewis Hamilton chose to dedicate his victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix to his ex-girlfriend. Slightly less high-profile, but no less tragic, was his tweet last week which read, ‘Yo, I used to wake up to the most beautiful woman in the world & now look what I wake up to… balls…’ This was accompanied by a photo of Roscoe, his overexposed bulldog, overexposing himself on Hamilton’s bed. Roscoe has his own pass to all the grands prix, travels by private jet and has had more written about him than some Formula One drivers. While I’m not an expert relationship counsellor, Hamilton might want to consider the link between the absence of Nicole Scherzinger in his life and the presence of a shameless and overpampered dog in his bed.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments