The Last Word: Numbers game doesn't add up. It's just wrong

Hard to ignore the fact that the sum City are set to spend would save hospitals, let alone other clubs

James Corrigan
Sunday 18 January 2009 01:00

Some things are just wrong. You can argue otherwise until your eyes pop, your ears burn and your voice box goes all Kinnear, and still that churning sentiment of the stomach transports the reality towards the cranium. It's just plain wrong.

The quickest of trawls through the weightier sports sections of the British press in the past few days will back up the burning suspicion that Kaka and that £91m, £100m, £108m, whatever it might be, transfer to Manchester City falls rather effortlessly into this category, although at least one chief sportswriter tried manfully – and very skilfully – to frame the opposing viewpoint.

He urged us to throw off the negativity that blights our national character, mind our own business concerning the withdrawals from another individual's savings account, and simply enjoy the spectacle of one of the world's finest joining the rest of the world's finest on the rectangles of the rich. It was an intoxicating argument, and one which offered respite from the nagging doubt.

Alas, that respite was all too brief. It may be a tired cliché, it is certainly sanctimonious and undoubtedly it could be proven by the scholarly to be mind-numbingly irrelevant, but say the word "Kaka" and some will find it impossible to blot out images of the new hospital wings, schools and inner-city playing areas that could have been built with the money he will cost. That's because to us it isjust wrong. And that is a feeling that will remain stubbornly unaffected, however persuasive the debate.

Yet, naturally, as this year drags by, football will be forced to face up to the ethical and practical deliberations raised in this most stunning of sagas. I am not so much referring to City, although there does seem to be a precedent unfolding down the Kings Road as to the dangers of hitching a ride on the flight of one billionaire's fancy. Most experts agree that it is indeed possible to buy success, but the problem thereafter is that you must repurchase it every other season or so. Obviously this is where the short-term traits of human nature have the destructive habit of butting in.

Having been in Abu Dhabi this past week and having gauged the reaction of a city that seems staggeringly indifferent to the Premier League club supposedly funded to the hilt intheir name, it is easy to sense thathere is a mere plaything of a sheikh. In fact, "mere" may be the sickeningly appropriate word in this regard. Put next to Abu Dhabi's $27bn (£18bn) development of Saadiyat Island, the revamp at Eastlands can be viewed as a splash of paint and a dollop ofglitter. Indeed, the biggest worry to City may well be that Sheikh Mansour's peers continue to be unimpressed by his venture. The new car on the driveway gleams ever brighter if the neighbours are admiring it...

But there is, of course, a bigger picture to dare to confront. There can be little doubt, no, there is little doubt, that clubs at differing levels of the pyramid will go to the wall, and then the game's introspection will inevitably intensify. How about West Ham going under with a debt less than the price paid for a striker? One man truly could be adjudged to be worth more than the focal point of a community with more than a century of history. Say what you will about this free market, but its propensity to deliver anomalies knows no bounds. Lower down, the imbalance will inevitably be that much more stark. Debts of as little as a few months of Kaka's £15m-a-year wages will be enough to bring in the administrator. None of this is new, all of it remains pertinent.

The temptation at this point is to query what any of that will have to do with Manchester City or their owner. How can he be blamed? Isn't the sheikh about to put into the game £100m or so that hadn't been there in the first place and, with the drip effect, isn't that a positive? Those who begin to understand football economics are divided on the issue, but in Arsène Wenger's belief they probably shouldn't be.

"City's money will be a disturbance in the market, an inflationary trend in a deflationary world," said the Arsenal manager. "These are two clubs [City and Chelsea] who have not the same rules as the other clubs. The question you can ask is whether every club should operate under the same financial controls." Yes, they can ask it, will ask it, but ultimately do nothing like what is required to answer it.

Litigation fears and concerns of both a personal and institutional bent will scare off the reformists, and so a show that is rapidly becoming damnably tawdry will rumble on. Kaka will likely arrive, albeit reluctantly, clutching a £10m signing-on fee in one hand and a "I can't wait for the challenge" piece of bumf in the other, and we will all sit down and be prepared to be seduced by his majesty. It is just wrong, but it is just football. Nothing's changed except that extra nought. The sums have long since dwarfed the dream.

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