A Fantastic Game for the Neutral
Broadcasters seem to love neutrals. Advertising the must-see game of Burnley vs Watford in the middle of Man Utd vs Liverpool is an odd placement; advertising is all about effective targeting after all. It must be one for the neutrals I guess. But in my opinion there are only two games that are for the neutral supporter. The World Cup final and possibly the Champions League final. For every other game, it is about the fans.
Imagine your side is in need of four goals, all hope is lost. But you believe, if we get one early we have a chance. Everyone else thinks you are mad but you have hope. The 79th minute strikes the clock. Suddenly you are four up. But can you hold out? Then, to take you out of your dream, at the height of a crazy game, your team’s fate hanging in the balance, the commentator comes out with the doozy. ‘This is just a fantastic game for the neutral’ – screw the neutral.
The game is for the fans, the diehards. The game exists for those that are invested, involved, both emotionally and financially, not for those that happen by a game. Look at the face of the Equatorial Guinea officials and supporters after defeating Algeria, in the recent AFCON game, ending the Algerians’ 35 game unbeaten run, and tell me I am wrong.
What is in a nationality?
Two talented goalkeepers, two 23 year olds. Two very different market values. Caoimhin Kelleher and Aaron Ramsdale, one is valued at £2.25m the other £22.5m (via Transfermakt). But is one ten times the goalkeeper than the other. Sure the now Arsenal number one has played a lot more games than the budding Irish international but how is it that he is worth so much more money? This is Anfield recently described Kelleher as the anti-Ramsdale; going about his business in a calm and simple manner, in complete contrast to Ramsdale making a meal out of everything he does well. Young Kevin has become arguably the best number 2 in the league recently, but what of the difference in value? I would argue a lot of the reason is the one key difference: one is English, the other Irish.
Take two recent former Irish internationals to switch allegiance to the England set-up. Jack Grealish and Declan Rice In July 2015, while still in the Irish set-up Grealish was worth £4.5m. Upon his first call-up to the England team he was worth £45m. Fast forward to summer 2021, the now full English international is worth £72m on the same site that values Kelleher at ten times less than Ramsdale. Similar can be seen of Rice. When he made his Irish international debut, Transfermark valued him at £9m. Fast forward to when he made his England debut, his value had shot up to £45m. It currently stands at £67.5m at the time of writing.
One could argue that the increase in value is linked to a higher demand than supply of home-grown talent which is required for squad registration. But these players would be home-grown regardless of which international set-up they are part of. Does a simple change of flag increase a player ten-fold or are these mere anomalies that can be explained away by other means?
The Dangers of Protectionism
The world has become a very divided place in recent years. The left and the right couldn’t be further apart and national isolationism has become a dark reality. Brexit hasn’t just resulted in tedious paperwork and longer queues at airports; it has rationalised an idea that one nation is superior to another. It has allowed the NIMBY brigade to pitch camp fully justified and bemoan inclusivity as a bad thing.
On the other side of the same coin this same troupe wishes for their nationhood to remain theirs at all costs. With the Spanish Super Cup now extended and taking place in Saudi Arabia, nationalists scream foul. They claim that it is all money’s fault. Corporate greed and corruption is to blame. Think of the players’ welfare they scream, like a token Simpsons’ character’s plea, it is the furthest thing from their minds. They would never allow an English game to be played abroad, even if it is something of as little importance as the Community Shield. English football is English and the rest of the world can only dream that your inferior leagues can grow as grand, but we are not for sharing.
There are certain points that are correct from a competitive point of view, but the dark truths that lie beneath the initial arguments sing louder and more worrying with each passing stance. The political pendulum always swings, hopefully it won’t take too long before it swings back the other direction again.