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.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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