One of the hardest acts for a young sports fan to comprehend is when a beloved member of their team leaves to play for another franchise.
In in the AFL especially, such a move was rare, until recently. Players pretty much stayed with their team for the duration of their career. And to be fair, there still is very little player movement relative to other sports.
There is a growing trend in soccer where players aren’t just taking the money from other clubs, but are ‘heading East’ to play in far inferior ‘leagues’ in Russia and China.
Western leagues and teams are finding it increasingly difficult to be financially responsible, let alone compete with Russian oil money and the economic giant that is China. Players are taking the money and in doing so, stepping away from quality competition and powerful leagues. That’s not a criticism, just a comment.
By the way, I’ve lived in Shanghai. While my teaching wage was slightly less than Nicolas Anelka’s $15m a year, it’s still a very manageable city. Considering Anelka’s personality though, I hope he chokes on the ‘air’, is driven crazy by hawkers on ‘The Bund’, fears for his life daily in a taxi and enjoys having his wife openly ogled by all the Chinese men. There. I feel much better.
The quality of the EPL and other leagues has dissipated and will continue to do so as players such as Didier Drogba consider their Russian futures with incredible contracts like Samuel Eto’o’s $25m+ per year. Do you even know who he is?! “$25 million? I can get a pretty good hat and coat with that kind of money. I mean, how cold can it be??” (And Didier, I’m sure the Russian mob with team interests will respond quite positively the first time you openly pout and underperform for your new team. Good luck with that).
It’s the fans who will miss out. While there are polarising players such as the aforementioned Drogba and Anelka, to which you can add Ronaldo, Rooney, Mario Balotelli, Harry Kewell (I kid, I kid!) + a host of others, for the sake of the quality of your league, you’d rather have them there than plying their trade in an insignificant competition elsewhere. Beating them is surely sweeter.
The effect at home
Fortunately, this has little effect on the AFL. One of the aspects that we actually love about the sport is that it is wholly Australian. The ultimate achievement is to win a premiership, not to compete in a Champions League or, as has been blatantly demonstrated, to represent your country against Ireland! Victoria suited this up decades ago. There is only 1 league to aspire to.
For most other sports, however, such as basketball, there are parallel concerns. There started to be a shift 2-3 seasons ago for NBA players at the mid to lower end of the pay scale, Josh Childress the first example. Why be paid $200,000 to sit, literally, at the end of the bench for each of the 82 games (before playoffs) when you can get double that overseas and be a valuable piece of the roster, actively contributing to your team’s and city’s success.
(Or, in poor Childress’ case, be paid $15m a season instead of 6. In a related story, he averaged a mere 8 points and 4 rebounds a game. Not exactly value for money. Allen Iverson is the latest, and worst example. He is everything that is wrong about American sportsmen. Agreed to play in Turkey after every NBA team spurned him. [This is not Siberia. Turkey won Silver at the last World Championships.] Then ‘hurt’ his leg and sat out an unbelievable amount of games. The $2m p/a contract won’t be affected. He was one of the toughest players in NBA history. Now, he’s just a thief.)
It was startling at the time for American franchises and the NBA, but no one could really blame the players. It wasn’t just the financial lure that sent them to leagues in Turkey, Greece and Spain. They got to play ball!
The issue will crystallise when high-profile players start to choose Panathinaikos (Thank You, internet, for the spelling!) in the Greek League over the Lakers or Boston, when the ultimate level of competition is rejected, when the hype of the greatest league in the world is rejected for the ‘substance’ of more money.
Believe me, I could name you 1-2 players on every team in the league who I take issue with. (As opposed to the haters who could comfortably pick 3-4+ Lakers! Block your ears, Kobe.) They complain too much to the refs, pout, have overinflated opinions of themselves and haven’t had near the success of my team. Yet I wouldn’t for the world want them going through the motions elsewhere.
Competing against them brings out genuine emotion, passion and satisfaction when victory is attained. This is everything that is good about sport! (Sorry if I sound like a player and not a fan, but this is what passionate followers do!)
The bigger picture
It’s been pointed out innumerable times in these pages that sport, for better or worse, is an opportunity to remove yourself from the pressures, responsibilities and realities of life and connect in and to an alternate world of skill, competition and drama.
The shifting balance of power in the global economy has already reared its ugly reality in the biggest game in the world. While our country’s major competition seems immune, there are others for whom the transfer of power is yet to reach its full impact.
Maybe it’s good we’re not kids anymore…
I am hoping that there are enough good books and people free over the Christmas break to not fully feel the pain of missing the Boxing Day Test, as well as the opening day of the NBA season, with Lebron and Wade, the Celtics, plus my now vulnerable Lakers with the to-be-single Kobe Bryant going up against the Bulls!
I just made the mistake of checking the opening day games schedule to ensure I had my facts straight. Silly stuff from Evans! There’s so much on!
Merry Christmas to all, and thanks as always for reading. Bless ya.