The Champions League final has been about adverts since its inception. If you’re looking to be convinced to buy beer, a television sports package or anything else you can think of to help feel masculine, spending a couple of hours tuned in to coverage of Borussia Dortmund versus Bayern Munich will do you very little harm, aside from the fact that all of these are terrible, terrible products. But this year’s final has an added bonus: the game itself is actually going to be an advert this time, with most of Dortmund’s exciting young players being linked to other, less successful, but financially rolling in it clubs.
Pick a newspaper or television channel right now and their transfer roundup section will be full of Dortmund players. The Guardian’s football page is full of match previews and bland chatter about the game; alongside all that is the ‘buyer’s guide’ to Dortmund. Rather than being able to celebrate the moment – the brilliant achievement – of playing in the Champions League final, the most exciting team in Europe this season is being discussed as a set of assets, ready to move on to bigger things. Not bigger footballing achievements – they’re at the pinnacle there – but bigger pay-days.
Mario Goetze isn’t playing because he’s injured. Or ‘injured’, depending on how you want to think about the world. Dortmund’s best player, whether he’s not playing for this reason or because he really is injured, is playing for their opponents next season. Dortmund’s reward for bringing him up through the ranks is having him taken off their hands as soon as he starts looking a bit handy. ‘Let’s play a game. Us against you.’ ‘Okay.’ ‘Before we start, we’ll have all your best players’ ‘That doesn’t sound like a great game’ ‘You’ve missed the point of this game.’
Watching Dortmund play tomorrow should be fun, but instead it’s miserable – spelt ‘F-U-C-K T-H-I-S’. I mean, Juergen Klopp spoke about the process he’s working against earlier on in the week: “Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing! My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes. Central midfield is Shinji’s best role. He’s an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I ever saw.” Kagawa was nicked from Dortmund last season, now he’s being wasted by United. The teams Dortmund are being picked apart by have so much money that they literally can’t spend it all on a first eleven, they’ve had to start putting together entire squads of talent made elsewhere. So rather than getting to see it every week at Dortmund, the talent gets bottled up. What fun!
None of this is new, it’s just an extreme example of a footballing culture gone bad. Teams like Dortmund take all of the risks on players, either developing them for years or picking them up when they aren’t certain to be worth the money, and then get no time to enjoy the reward when those risks come off , or rather when the result of careful calculations come off. Teams like United and Bayern, on the other hand, incur none of the risks, because they’ve got the money to buy guaranteed talent. Why’s this bad? Well, if you think things being this unequal and this unfair counts as bad, which I do, then it’s bad. But even if you don’t care about those things – even if you regularly masturbate over images of famous capitalists – you’re going to have to agree that this process is just boring, and that makes it bad too.
When Bayern play Dortmund we don’t get to watch Gotze, one of the most talented players in the world, maybe because he’s already been bought by Bayern. Worse, we don’t get to see this Dortmund team grow together, because it’s going to be picked apart by clubs who have been far less astute than Dortmund, but, largely, happen to have more money than them. And that all takes away from the spectacle of what, in terms of ball-kicking alone, could be a great final. It has to take away from it. We’re watching one long advertisement. BUT I DON’T WANT TO BUY A F*CKING ELECTRIC RAZOR.
Christian Benteke is being linked with a move away from Aston Villa and the same principle as just described applies. When Villa signed him last summer, I remember people saying that he wasn’t even that highly rated given what Villa were spending on him. They got one season of reward for that risk and now a bigger club will take him off their hands. Booooorrrrriinnnng.