Modern Football: The burgeoning pressure and commercialization
As I write this article, my mind turns to the events of Tuesday night when the team bus carrying the Borussia Dortmund squad to the Signal Iduna Park for their Champions League group game came under attack from terrorists who exploded three bombs one of which caused shrapnel to fly and even led to Marc Batra being injured on his hand and requiring medical attention. Mercial profits and fans desire to be satisfied take priority over human beings and feelings.
Both sets of supporters from Dortmund and their opponents Monaco showed wonderful spirit and class in remaining calm and coming together in the moment of crisis. However what was shocking was the response of UEFA which decided to reschedule the game to the following evening. The result of the game was immaterial but the Dortmund squad and especially their coach were really upset at being told to play so soon.
Quite a lot of fans for some reason ridiculed the Dortmund coach for venting his grievances saying that the bulletproof glass had shielded them and the injuries suffered were minimal. This is absolutely astonishing since we should count ourselves lucky that the presence of the bulletproof glass actually prevented serious injuries or casualties and the incident itself would have sent shockwaves among the Dortmund squad. It is not as if they expected to be attacked while on their way to the stadium. The fact that they survived should mean that they be allowed to heal from the mental agony caused by the happenings. But the reaction from people pretending to be football fans and UEFA shows to what extent football has degraded into a product which demands that commercial profits and fans desire to be satisfied take priority over human beings and feelings.
Yes, I am not a professional footballer and I was never good enough to be one. I envy the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski and others who play football and earn millions while I slog through my daily 9 to 5 job looking to keep my finances in a manageable state. The life of a professional footballer seems way easy to live being treated like kings. But do they deserve to be treated like circus animals who perform to satisfy the crowd? Looking back at the Dortmund incident, how would any of us feel if we were going to work one day and got attacked by terrorists, came out unscathed and were told by our higher ups to report to work next day. We would be shocked at the callousness and apathy of our employers. But when a footballer goes through the same thing he is expected to forget the whole incident, put on his jersey and boots and run around like a horse because us fans want to see a game of football being played.
A footballer is expected to act like a machine and switch on and off and perform acts as desired by the spectator. The clubs are at the mercy of the governing body UEFA which controls what a footballer is supposed to do. The reaction of fans nowadays towards footballers shows that we fans feel entitled to treat a footballer like a human punching bag since we buy tickets as spectators. So when a Memphis Depay buys a fancy car with the money that he is rightfully earning from his employers and is entitled to spend as he sees fit, you see him being ridiculed and abused on social media. Fans accuse him not caring about his club as if buying a car will make him forget how to shoot or pass. Just because he is a footballer we expect him not to live his life in a particular way, he is expected to conform to the public way of life.
We feel jealous that he or any other footballer is earning loads of cash but we forget the amount of competition and pressure they have to endure to reach that level. For every Messi or Ronaldo there are millions out there who are languishing at the lower rungs of football, barely earning enough to survive, some having had their promising career ended early due to a serious injury. We hide our own inefficiencies or failures by ridiculing and abusing footballers and their lifestyle.
Ronaldo is mocked and criticized for partying at night because we expect him to play football 24×7 as if it is his only thought in life. We often see footballers being abused openly on the field, in the media or on social media and it is deemed okay, part of the parcel of being a professional since footballers are supposed to be human machines devoid of any feeling or insecurities. The fact that they sign a contract means they are expected to hand over the keys of their life to the viewing public which owns their rights. We see players switching clubs for better opportunities and fans abuse them and their families for being disloyal while conveniently forgetting that any of us would do the exact same thing if we were offered a better job ourselves. We expect loyalty from a Higuain, a Van Persie, a Lewandowski but we switch jobs for better salaries or growth options. We expect players to donate money to charity whereas we never carry out social work for good causes in our own daily lives. Many of us have bad days at work when nothing goes right but when a footballer goes through the same thing on the field of play he becomes a glutton for fan abuse.
Football authorities care only about stadium attendances, television coverage and revenues which is possible only if the footballer does his bag of tricks for the public. So footballers shut out their feelings and are numb to emotions in order to perform as we saw in the case of Borussia Dortmund.
It is time we realized that there are some things in life which are bigger than football. That the objects we see running around on our television screens are actually human beings just like us with emotions and feelings. They bring us joy, disappointment by playing the game we love, they are our heroes and yet the least we can do is show them some respect and allow them to act like actual human beings and not machines.