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 Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.