Football has become busier. There’s always some match on, some league to follow, some derby to hyperventilate over. Is there a thing like too much football?
On 31 October, I found myself hunching over my laptop, streaming Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey tie against Melilla. In the end, it was a relatively intriguing match, albeit entirely meaningless and forgettable. Santiago Solari made his debut as a caretaker manager, and Vinícius Júnior produced a lively performance.
After the match finished, however, I had a strange feeling in my brain. What I felt, was relief. I was relieved it was all over, and I could aim my focus onto other things. It was as if I had feared I couldn’t miss out on that match. Sometimes, I believe, I don’t consume football so much as it consumes me, bite by bite.
Don’t get me wrong: football outside the cabinets is good. It’s great actually. How great? So great, I could do a thousand words just by writing anecdotes and tropes about it. But are we ever going to have enough of football?
For the time being, the answer is an unyielding ‘no’. When that’s the case, what is this amount of football doing to itself?
UEFA is set to introduce a third European club competition from the beginning of the 2021–22 season, the president of European Club Association (ECA) and Juventus, Andrea Agnelli confirmed in September. A move that’ll undoubtedly increase the number of games played in a season, in case the European Super League isn’t materialised by then.
This despite the fact that we already had 87 matches on British TV, in week 43 alone. Having that number of games et competitions running and overlapping, has negative effects on both ends of the food chain. Effects we don’t often talk about during our lunch hours.
This year, three academics — Babatunde Buraimo of the University of Liverpool, as well as Jake Owen and Rob Simmons of Lancaster University — waded some 27,000 Football League matches between 2000 and 2018 to figure out how midweek broadcasts of Premier League and Champions League erode attendance numbers at Championship, League One and League Two matches.
To sum up, their initial findings indicate that Champions League matches hurt clubs’ balance sheets across the lower leagues, with League Two taking the severest blow. When League Two games have coincided with European nights, their gates have been on average 16% lower than expected.
Buraimo pointed out: “Our research shows the degree of suffering from high-end football. If football is truly a sport where solidarity and the grass roots matters then increasing the level of subsidy further down the pyramid is quite affordable.” Premier League’s record high TV rights deal saw the money coming through an average PL club rising to more than six times that of an average Championship club in 2017.
Come the top of the pyramid, the negative effects of excessive football don’t concern financial aspects of the game as much as they concern the quality of the product itself. Take the injured Kevin De Bruyne. Over the last four seasons he has played in 227 competitive matches, in 63 matches over the course of last season alone.
He — along with tens of others — hasn’t had a chance to catch his breath this year, participating in the Premier League, EFL Cup, FA Cup and, on top of this, a monthlong carnival of football. Not to mention all the travelling. During last season, The Best FIFA Men’s Player winner Luka Modrić sojourned fifteen countries altogether: the United States, Spain, Germany, England, Cyprus, France, Italy, Ukraine, Macedonia, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Greece, Russia — and of course, Croatia.
Especially in England, there’s a game in almost everyday. And while we question the credibility of Carabao Cup, we are also eager to confront managers: they lost because he rotated, the burden’s on him. “You don’t respect this 58-year-old tradition.”
Everyone has their own reasons to see star players performing week in and week out. Managers need results to live, and those who pay their bills want sponsors. Characters attract exposure — exposure attracts cheques.
If you read the works of Greek mythology enough, you’ll stumble upon a man named Procrustes, an outlaw who forced personae to fit the size of his bed by stretching those who were too short or cutting off the legs from those who were too tall.
Now though, it seems as if every player is too short for Procrustes’ bed, as they’re being stretched beyond their physical and psychological limits.
In an interview with the International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro), Modrić admitted to being ‘completely drained’, and said that it was ‘not easy to start again’ after the exhausting World Cup campaign. Similarly — prior to their Premier League opener — Leicester City manager Claude Puel was convinced that World Cup would be taking its toll on those who were driven straight into Premier League action.
Even the most talented — the most passionate — of us have limits, and being in overdrive all the time can be pretty wearing. It’s something akin to being Morgan Stanley in Super Size Me. At first, eating only McDonald’s food seems a fun thing to do, but in the end one is relieved that it’s all over. “You begin to resent the mechanics. When you make mistakes or don’t feel up to it, just keep going, there is no rest bite. It just carries on and on and on,” Andrew Gaffney said when he compared football writing to video games.
One seems phlegmatic. Big teams find it hard to gather motivation for every match.
The public, however, aren’t showing too much resentment towards the intemperate amount of football.
The bygone World Cup was “a record-breaking event for streaming TV”, as per Conviva CEO Bill Demas. In China, despite the late broadcast at 11 o’clock at night, the final between France and Croatia scored the largest audience for a sports program since the Beijing 2008, Eurodata TV pronounced. Moreover, NBCUniversal’s Telemundo broadcasts were viewed by 57% of the United States’ Latino population.
The price of broadcasting right sets are increasing across all top European leagues, and are now worth an average of more than €1 billion euros per season. Even Premier League’s TV ratings are rising (once again) and recovering from the concerning 2016–17 season.
In short, the signs are indicating that we are not getting enough of football anytime soon. The money we’re pouring in, however, is hurting the game we love — in the long run at least. It’s hard to predict what happens next, but one thing’s for certain: this route is unsustainable.