BY GARY HARTLEY
“I don't really look at the fees any more. I see it as kind of like the phone book.”
The words of my mate, prompted by Manchester United's protracted and bafflingly expensive reacquisition of second-tier galactico Paul Pogba.
It was this simple statement that finally opened my eyes to the truth: modern football is trying to undermine and ultimately destroy the money system, with the kind of effortless swagger the anarchists could only dream of.
Assuming that few reading this are buying into the merits of this proclamation at this point, let me set out the devastating case.
Money's strength lies in our collective belief in its value. Shaky ground indeed, and ground that modern football is clearly prepared to give a fair shove in the tectonic plates.
The upper end of Europe's top divisions is now an arms race with no hope of an outright victor, but no-one really losing either. The only thing getting a proper kicking is everyone's sense of money's worth amidst extravagantly-funded games of David Luiz or Paul Pogba ping-pong.
As the funding of the most famous clubs moves beyond money we can relate to - to telephone numbers, lines of digital code, and ultimately white noise - the system begins to crack.
The anti-money revolution is being driven from England, with foreign billionaires entering the fray with childlike abandon, throwing away their money on a £100,000 per week contract for Christopher Samba or such like.
The burden of cash has clearly weighed heavily on these captains of industry, and they just want it all to be over as quickly as possible. Of course, squandering wealth to show how little it all means to you is a time-honoured English tradition – so you could put this down to assimilation more than anarchism.
But monetary meaninglessness is not just a philosophy being pursued in this grey and unpleasant land. They're all at it. For a recent example, Sporting Lisbon have casually loaned out a player with a buy-out clause of €60million (Hadi Sacko) to Championship 14th position place-holders Leeds United.
Set a price that no-one would be willing to pay, then give it away for free—a Situationist stunt if ever there was one, reminding us that commodification is meaningless. If you don't understand the system, feel free to ignore it, let's play.
The systematic destruction of money is mostly an elite game, with football's avant-garde big shots deciding that the world as it stands cannot constrain them – but the movement has a darker, grittier and more nihilistic strand as the standard of on-pitch entertainment drops.
A couple of tiers below the top, in terms of revenue streams, it's just cockroaches fighting for scraps. This leaves owners recklessly routing their harder-earned, less endless money sources towards keeping a few disgruntled locals entertained on a Saturday. Less the much-vaunted 'deep pockets', more vortices of rationality, touched by a revolutionary localism.
Profit is a p-word rarely – if ever - heard in these parts, and such is the inevitability of debt in the lower leagues, the continued bankrolling of inglorious existence also has distinct echoes of anarchists repeatedly maxing out credit cards in pursuit of the eventual fall of the system that created them.
You've probably gathered by now, but this is not another righteous and fruitless scream into the void about football's wage structures as compared to the hard-working salaried email monkey, or how footballers no longer live like common people, doing whatever common people do.
In fact, player wages are another argument for football's radical conspiracy against the financial norm – whether by accident or design. Football is arguably the only profession where power is truly at the mercy of the means of production, with wages allocated more or less according to perceived skill levels. Craft is currency.
If you're going down the route of devaluing all conventional currencies, you'll need a solid backup plan. It's been covered.
The loan system has offered up a new medium of exchange: players as a promissory note of future favour. In England, the lower leagues are paid off for accepting the desultory Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). Their most talented leave for bigger academies while still embryos, with a rich seam of loan players from the bloated hoardings of their supposed superiors coming the other way. Where there's a massive squad, there's an alternative banking system.
Internationally, loans have taken on an even less subtle nudge-nudge wink-wink. Moves like Juan Cuadrado's three-year loan to Juventus from Chelsea seem to be little more than set-ups for future, bigger transfer punchlines – currency in exchange for amicable working relationships. They degrade the meaning of loan itself. Unless, of course, you choose to agree that loaned players might as well have terms and conditions and the queen's head printed on them.
All an alternative system of exchange requires is for enough parties to accept its value – and it seems that plenty are well on board.
Football's trading has slipped further still into the realms of the unconventional with the increase in clubs linked by ownership, giving the term 'insider trading' an altogether new meaning. It's a corporate co-opting of the anarchist preference for keeping things local.
RB Leipzig does much of its transfer business with Red Bull Salzburg, while Watford have to tended to keep things as close to in-house as possible too. Pozzo-to-Pozzo loans and fees are preferred, though exceptions can be made.
Roberto Pereyra's move from Juventus, for example, was fine, because as we've seen with the Cuadrado super-loan, Juve is a club more than in on the conspiracy to strip traditional finance of credibility. The 'fee' was no doubt wired across ironically.
In an age where the edginess of a neighbourhood can add to property values, and traditional manual pursuits are termed 'craft' or 'artisan' for added acceptability to the moneyed classes, it perhaps should come as little surprise that a rebellious cadre of elites are claiming anarchist financial principles for their own.
Football's governing bodies seem at ease with the modern game's undermining of over 2,500 years or so of economic orthodoxy. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that they are part and parcel of a uniquely privileged riff on anarcho-syndicalism, where the power of the state is supplanted by an alternative power structure that knows only football, football and more football, preceded by a three-course gourmet silver service with wine, and entirely televised for the masses. They might nick the state's 'all in it together' marketing line, though. That works.
There's a chance this might all go horribly wrong for football's anarchist financiers. That it's all, in fact, an elaborate ruse-within-a-ruse playing into the hands of a cadre of super agents conspiring to install Jorge Mendes as supreme military dictator of the planet.
Too far, you scream. Where's the official manifesto, you scream. Where's the WikiLeaks expose, the Fake Sheikh getting his claws in, the lax text message exchange with the puzzled stripper football is having an affair with?
Well, just because a war is not formally declared, it does not mean it isn't happening.
Sure, there is a degree of possibility that this theory is complete guff – much like the majority of economic projections.
But for those seeking to protect the brand 'Money', is it worth the risk to assume this conspiracy, now brought into the light of day, isn't based in tangible fact at all; that this is just idle pseudo-intellectual posturing for the football hipsters?
Clearly, no. This is a dossier to be taken at least as seriously as that dodgy one.
It's these kind of threats to the normal way of doing things that lead to a stern reaction; a metaphorical James Bond steaming in to re-assert the status quo through state-sanctioned pandemonium, before signing the health and safety forms later. Your move, The Man, your move.
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