The links between football and the Panama papers are perhaps surprisingly small. Or, perhaps, with the thousands of names mentioned, perhaps news organisations have their sights set a little higher. There’s more mileage in dragging David Cameron through the mud than pointing out that Gabriel Heinze might be one of the most tax efficient men in football, like his hero, Ken Dodd.
Pointlessly, now, you can enjoy the typical explanation that there is absolutely no suggestion that any of these people in the papers have done anything illegal, which pleases lawyers, but only reinforces the suggestion that legality and morality only meet by accident rather than design. It is, in truth, quite hard to get exercised about rich people doing what the laws allow them to do. It is far easier and more constructive to be angry about rich people who create the laws for them to use. They don’t even have to exploit them, they’re designed to be used in this way.
While people are free to protest about what they want, it was slightly perplexing to see such rage fostered by a leak which only really showed what was already happening in plain sight. Inequality is structurally supported by those in power, because it is to their personal benefit. The anger understandably felt about the abuse of power over the long term is matched only by the empty posturing by legislators plaintively crying, ‘If only the laws were tackled to change the situation.’ Both of these situations show that sustained, direct action is the solution, not piecemeal attempts at protest.
That introduction might appear to be almost entirely free of football, and solely be present to further the agenda of revolutionary communism. Luckily, it is not that, because football blogs are not enough to foster the overthrow of oppression by the wealthy. Rather, it is a belaboured way of pointing out that now that Leicester are successful, they have become fair game for the money bods in newspapers.
Yesterday it was publicised that Championship clubs believe there may have been some financial shenanigans to smooth over Leicester City’s ascent to the Premier League, using some exceptional income to smooth over the edges of what appeared to be a fairly large spend on wages. Because of Financial Fair Play in the Championship, they might have been open to censure that could have prevented their way to Premier League, and therefore, where they are now. As much as Leicester City is a fairly tale (a right-back who hits women, a striker who racially abuses people of an evening, however much Gary Lineker might choose to apologise for racism), it is backed up by the suspicion that financial gamesmanship is at the root of their success.
This is not the only allegation of financial wrongdoing for clubs in the Premier League. Manchester City get exceedingly generous sponsorship deals which are, obviously, absolutely nothing to do with the owners’ influence. They are also hoovering up young talent at such a rate that surely it has become overkill. Manchester United were bought by taking on such exacting debt that they priced their season tickets ever higher and cut expenditure on transfers so hard it proved to be a false economy. Spurs’ owner Joe Lewis lives in Bahamas because he is such a fan of the weather. Alisher Usmanov is an oligarch who made his fortune through hard work alone, yet Arsenal rip off their fans. Leicester City’s owners act with the approval of the unelected monarchy in Thailand, not known for its love of human rights.
If you’re annoyed that your team is named here, and you’re thinking that others have been missed out deliberately, then rest assured it is simple a matter of space that these are the clubs chosen at the expense of others. The point is not that a few clubs do it, but almost all of them operate in a way that most people would find objectively distasteful and unpleasant.
It’s weird that Leicester are only facing opprobrium when they are successful, and it is weird that Chelsea, for example, are repeatedly targeted by one journalist who ignores the source of funds of other clubs who are no better. There’s no reason to say that PSG’s funding is any more moral than Chelsea’s, for example, yet they are given a far easier time of things.
The point is not that Leicester do not deserve scrutiny, or that Leicester’s owners do not deserve scrutiny. It is that occasional outrage and attention don’t really serve much of a purpose. Of course, protest and criticism is absolutely necessary, as it was with the protests about David Cameron and other vested interests, but it has to be supplemented by something more meaningful. That something more meaningful, in the world of football, would be a strong and effective interpretation of what ‘fit and proper’ means.
The point is that the outrage is superficially understandable, and a reasonable reaction to the evidence, but it will always be the case that these kind of things happen while their is no reciprocal rage aimed at those who allow it. In football, that will be the FA and the Premier League, who allow almost anyone to own a football club, and for the government in not giving them the teeth to do so. Clubs do deserve criticism, but not now and then when they are flavour of the month, but in a sustained and informed way. And when it comes to David Cameron, then the real target is obvious: the lizard kings of the Illuminati.