It is certainly soccer’s blessing that it is a game that belongs to the world; a universal language that can make a conversation with a taxi driver in any city that you travel to far easier than it would otherwise have been.
Yet that universality can also be a curse, for it makes the game capable of being a symbol of so much more than sport, and in the last couple of years we have seen the growth of what we could perhaps call the “statement transfer”.
Perhaps the most audacious of these was the signing of Samuel Eto’o to FC Anzhi Makhachkala of the Russian Premier League.
Eto’o is 30 years old and still one of the best goalscorers in the world, so it took an awful lot of money to persuade him to ply his trade in the troubled Republic of Dagestan but Anzhi are lucky enough to have an awful lot of money, largely because they are owned by billionaire investor Suleyman Kerimov.
Kerimov has already indicated that he intends to upgrade all the clubs facilities and make them a genuine force in European soccer, but what he needed to do before all of this could come to pass was to send out a notice of intent to world football, and what better way to do it than splashing the cash on one of the best players around?
Similarly when it became clear that Nicolas Anelka wanted to leave Chelsea there was much talk that he would be on his way to MLS, admittedly rumours of players moving to MLS are not that unusual, but nobody foresaw that the striker would be making his way to China in 2012.
Yet it was Shangai Shenua of the of the Chinese Super League that convinced the Frenchman that that was where his future lay.
Shangai Shenua may have won the (now defunct) A3 cup in 2007 but theirs is not a storied history to compete with the many others that were undoubtedly showing an interest in Anelka; they are though owned by industrialist Zhu Jun who probably felt that he needed to garner some more attention after his purported bid to buy Liverpool in 2010 failed to materialise.
Anelka may not be on the same level as Eto’o but his is a name that will attract attention to a club that has had little (if any) in the past.
It won’t stop here either, there is already talk of Didier Drogba following Anelka’s lead and heading to China and, as the post Brazil World Cups approach, it is worth remembering that both Russia and Qatar have a plethora of billionaires with money available to burn on players that will enhance individual reputations as much as improve a clubs on the field performance.
Maybe the surprise destination in all of this could turn out to be Brazil itself.
A soccer obsessed nation with a growing economic platform, and an ever increasing number of very wealthy individuals, could well be the go to destination for star players in the coming years, and maybe the fact that Neymar has stayed with Santos instead of seeking a deal in Europe says as much about the future of the game in his home country as it does about his own ambitions.
It should be deeply concerning however that a few fabulously wealthy owners are more interested in star-studded individuals than actually building viable teams, and while everybody would welcome the growth of the game in China it won’t be achieved on the back of a temperamental French forward no matter how well-known his name.
It used to be the case that Olympic medals were an authoritarian nation’s way of garnering prestige and proving their worth, now it seems that world-class footballers are the must have accessory for the slew of relatively young billionaires that have as much money and influence as those nations used to wield.
There may be some very surprising deals being made in the coming years.
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