c’mon you saudis

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One Saturday back in the sixties my dad took me and my brother to our first ever football match: Tom Finney’s testimonial team vs the Coronation Street All-Stars. I would be lying if I were to claim I could remember much about the game, if indeed that particular fixture warrants such a term, but I was undeniably captivated the thronged mass of (largely) male humanity vaguely operating in supportive unison. Working class theatre no less.

For me, these times represented halcyon days of the beautiful game. At the exciting start of every season there would be seven or eight that genuinely fancied their chances of winning the league and dozens that fancied their chances of a strong cup run. At the time, Liverpool were probably the most stylish, skillful team, but you’d underestimate ‘dirty’ Leeds, ‘showy’ Chelsea or ‘workmanlike’ Manchester United at your peril. Fifty years on and with the new season about to get under way, that element of unpredictability and surprise appears a relic from a bygone age.

Manchester City are indisputably the best team in the country and have won five league titles in almost as many seasons, winning, en-route, an astonishing 76% of all their league matches. Fans of every other club now spend their time dreaming of finishing as runners-up! Yes, City have exceptionally talented players, and they play brilliantly as a team, but it’s only as a result of one thing: money. In 2008 the Abu Dhabi’s royal family decided to spank their near limitless petro-funds on sporting endeavours. This was a seemingly natural progression kicked-off by the now-disgraced Roman Abramovich, which in turn only came about following the money-hungry-power-grab of the Premier League. And now the Saudis want in.

Not content with buying Newcastle United, Ronaldo was the first to take the sheik’s shilling. Kante, Henderson, Milner, AL-Ahli, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabinho quickly followed suit and rumour has it’s only a matter of time before they’re all joined by Salah and Silva. What goes around comes around wrt the aforementioned Premiership me-thinks and it’s all part of a well-established pattern we’ve been witnessing in other sports, specifically golf, F1 and boxing. With estimated reserves of #500 billion, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman can afford to do what the heck he likes and it’s clearly his intent to ensure Jeddah and Riyadh outshine Madison Square Garden, Wentworth and Wembley.

In a largely symbolic reputational show of strength – one where some of the greatest football players on the planet play in an irrelevant and low-skilled league – he’s keen to boost his nation’s international standing and blatantly distract attention from its appalling human rights record and stifling internal society. How depressing that so many big-names, already wealthy beyond imagination, are happy to ignore the facts, collude with this cynical strategy and prove they are nothing more than shameless, money-grabbing mercenaries. A footie Faustian pact made in the devilishly hot Arabian deserts if ever there was one and I, for one, will be voting with my feet.