Gareth Bale's €100m transfer is just the free market in action

Spend! Spend! Spend!

There are two possible reactions to the news of Gareth Bale’s transfer from Tottenham to Real Madrid for £86m which will see him net £300,000 a week salary. The first is how did we get here? When did it become anyone’s idea of a good investment to throw a total of £176m, in transfer and salary, at a 24 year old to kick a ball? There’s no sillier money than that chucked out the transfer window and this summer the circus really was in town.

Purists bemoan the state of our national sport – players being paid more in a week that many receive in a lifetime, refusing to train and holding their manager and fans to ransom. Their antics seem childish and at times the whole shebang looks more like a crèche for egomaniacs that the pinnacle of professional sportsmanship. But as anyone who has seen Stephen Ireland’s taste in cars will know, football is unique.

Fuelled by billions from advertising and coverage rights, football’s free market has gone ballistic. (Perhaps, like the free market, it too suffers from short-termism.)

A shrewd investor will have seen that anyone who can grab that much of the public’s attention ought to reward their cash. As Spear's has written before, there are profits to be had from putting your money into them.

Money becomes the media’s measure: the media make sagas out of players moving clubs and rate their WAGS by decadence. Fans want clubs both to spend big to attract stars and to acquire young players cheaply who can then be sold on for millions. They don’t see winning and being profit-making as mutually exclusive: money needs money. At a recent Arsenal game a fan held a placard that simply read: ‘Spend! Spend! Spend!’

Therefore I support the second reaction to Bale’s transfer: embrace it. If it proves anything it’s that markets can make anything profitable, even ball kicking. He’s one of the best in the world hence the big bucks.

A generation ago there was a tipping point when football could have remained a sport in the traditional sense; now it’s the sport of business, competitive and crazy. The recent big American investments in Premiership clubs is no coincidence. If we can accept the mandate of markets and media to blow everything out of all reasonable proportion then it won’t make it any less entertaining. Maybe then we can just sit down and enjoy the game.

This story first appeared on Spear's.

Alex Matchett is a writer for Spear's.

Gareth Bale shirts. Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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