MONEY DOESN’T NECESSARILY CHANGE EVERYTHING FOR THE BETTER

Not as far as New World soccer is concerned at any rate. “If only we had more money…” is a commonly uttered lamentation among New World soccer speculators. The crux of their argument being, with a boatload of extra cash to splash about, New World domestic soccer franchises could lure the finest Old World players to run roughshod in front of New World audiences, rather than in their own Old World backyards. With all the shiniest new bells and whistles chromed to the hilt and granted license to run amuck in the New World’s domestic leagues, soccer would have to blow up within their borders. With the pick of the athletic crop in their own backyard, folk in the New World would feel compelled to flock in unprecedented numbers to support the world game, at the expense of the established sports of their native lands. The sports media would trample over one another to throw copious quantities of cash at New World soccer for the rights to broadcast the finest soccer played anywhere on the globe to this newly acquired audience. With other potential sponsorship providers hot on their heels to write unhealthily fat checks in exchange for affiliation. The premise appears tight in theory. Unfortunately, in practice, there’s more holes in this particular line of thought than the average kitchen colander.

To begin with the statement “If only we had more money…” in respect to New World soccer makes about as much sense as a pride of lions wishing there were more fat, slow antelope available or that having less gravity would negate the need for a ladder to grab the Christmas ornaments from the attic. If a golden egg laying goose is an intrinsic part of a lucrative long term business plan, New World soccer is in for a long wait.

The money solution assumption as a panacea to New World soccer’s woes overlooks the “Glory” part of the notion of “Fortune and Glory.” Athletes, irrespective of their chosen sport, pursue their profession for reasons other than strictly financial. The ego behind the wheel of the best soccer players’ motivation to compete at the highest possible level will not be bought out on the cheap. Fame and glory, and all the notoriety and hero worship built into the deal, prove an allure few who are attracted to such notions find difficult to resist. Soccer’s brightest stars are not about to abandon the Old World’s grandest competitions, at the height of their powers, in favor of lesser regarded New World alternatives any sooner than the New World’s sporting elite, at their peak in their respective established sports, are ready to follow a pay packet abroad, no matter how swollen it may be, at the expense of their public profile.

Prestige can’t be bought, it has to be built. Provided Old World competitions continue to be held in higher regard by the athletes and their supporters, for the New World to persist to pay through the nose for high profile Old World soccer players is a difficult concept to justify. In order to attract the best Old World soccer players, those at their athletic best, the New World will more than likely have to spend much higher than market value to retain their services.

The finest athletes in the most popular sports in their countries are revered as deities. The likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Pele and Maradona are titans in the eyes of billions. They, and those who wish to follow in their footsteps, will continue to look to establish their authority in the most prestigious arenas at their disposal before they seriously consider semi-retirement in a New World domestic competition. Athletic careers are short under the best of circumstances. A ton of Benjamins will neither elevate the prestige of New World trophies in the opinion of the most sought after soccer players on the planet, nor convince those athletes to cash in their opportunity to tattoo the legacy of their feats and accomplishments onto the sport’s history. The nature of the market demands the best soccer players are well compensated to play for the most sought after trophies up for grabs in the Old World.

Another reason to harbor serious doubts about the money as a solution position is, historically, no one in the New World has managed to make it work. The “If you build it, they will come.” standpoint has never panned out for any New World soccer nation with the moola to attempt to purchase the best soccer has to offer. There’s a fantastic documentary, titled ‘Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos,’ that highlights the repercussions of trying to buy soccer legitimacy. It chronicles the most spectacular example of the folly of this idea, when the New York Cosmos signed Pele as their brightest beacon of awesomeness in the North American Soccer League (NASL), for what was regarded at the time as a Fort Knox amount of money for any soccer player. The arrival of Brazil’s finest ever to the USA in 1975 opened the levy through which soccer players from across Europe and the Americas flooded into North American professional soccer. It turned out to be a tremendous gamble many of the league’s clubs couldn’t afford to have not pay out. To remain viable the clubs needed the general public to fall hard for their imports. When they didn’t, the clubs folded like card tables across the country and the league with it.

Even if the possibility exists to suggest this may be the most viable option for the promotion of soccer in New World countries, would it be the most beneficial use of the funds? Whether or not wealthy club owners are prepared to concede as much, a nation’s domestic soccer league owes a duty of care to their sport’s national representative. Beyond its responsibilities as an additional stream of revenue for the über rich, who seek to profit from the success of the sport, domestic competitions are supposed to provide a nursery to encourage their country’s most promising athletes to develop their potential. New World soccer competitions have consistently failed to create such an environment. Soccer within their borders has suffered because of it, and the introduction of imported Old World athletes has played a part in that shortcoming.

The positions on the field occupied by those shipped in from offshore must come at the expense of homegrown New World soccer players. These recruitment practices force local soccer players who would otherwise occupy those positions to either abandon the sport in favor of other professions, or it drives them abroad to try their luck in foreign competitions. The imported players also tend to play in the most influential positions. Positions the New World national team coach will have fewer experienced players to select from because the role is predominantly occupied within their nation’s domestic competition by foreign-born soccer players.

When the World Cup rolls around, for the most part, a nation must still draw its representatives from within its own rank and file. (FIFA has tinkered heavily with the rules governing a player’s national eligibility, but that is a different matter altogether). Rather than source the necessary personnel from their own domestic competition, New World national team coaches must scour the globe for players to occupy their squad from wherever they can be found. This undermines the phenomenal promotional vehicle the World Cup offers soccer in New World nations present at the tournament because the vast swaths of New World soccer fans who rally to support their national side have received little if any exposure to the athletes selected to play for their own country. This athletic ambiguity reflects poorly on the domestic competition and the sport in their country in general.

There’s a case to be argued that New World domestic competitions already partake in these and other questionable behaviors, albeit with access limited to Old World superstars whose best days are behind them. Given the quality of New World leagues across the globe today, when compared to the standard of play over the course of those same leagues’ 20-year history, has the relatively recent presence of the Old World’s athletes made all that significant an impact on proceedings? They may have sold some jerseys and raised the profile of the game domestically, but the ramifications of their contribution has been far more financial than it has been athletic.

Money is a key ingredient to the success of any professional athletic organization. Money spent in this manner, however, does more harm than good. With every Old World soccer player the New World spends a fortune on to occupy a place in their domestic competition, they undermine the potential of their own pool of athletes, the likelihood of success for the national team and the confidence of potential soccer fans in the domestic competition they have worked hard to promote. New World soccer’s problems can’t be solved with money alone.