Paying the price of the game

“I love to play games: physically, if I can play every day, I want to play,” said David Luiz last week. Careful what you wish for, Dave.

Paying the price of the game

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March 30th, 2013

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If Chelsea make it to the finals of both the Europa League and FA Cup, this season will conclude on that magical date – 19th May – with the Blues’ 70th competitive fixture of the campaign. Luiz will have played more games than most: including run-outs for Brazil at all levels, he and countryman Oscar are already up around the 60-game mark. But what effect will all this football have on the game?

“I am 25 years old, I want to play,” said Luiz. Which is fair enough. But in the bid to extract more and more money from football’s funders, the clubs are going to incredible extremes to milk the cash cow.

Back in July, Chelsea played a four-date promotional tour of the USA. This coming July, they will again hit the long-haul lounges: with games planned for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. And there are unconfirmed claims that there may even be an addition to the already fixture-packed calendar: a post-season tour of the USA for early June.

The marketeers’ dream of a year-long season is here to stay. But the effects are clear to see.

Look at Juan Mata: picked in the squads for both Spain’s Euro 2012 and Olympic campaigns, he had to be given a break within the season to enable him to recharge his batteries. The results were positive: post-recuperation his form picked up, as did that of the team.

His is just one of a number of personal stories during this record-breaking season, which together prove knackered players don’t play good football.

But with a curtailed Champions League campaign this season, and qualification still in question for next, the club needs to get the cash to feed the salary machine. It’s a vicious circle that rewards success; but destroys itself should such targets be missed.

And that takes us on to the other party in this amusement arcade: the fans who put the coins in the slot.

More football costs fans more money. Not such a problem in Indonesia, perhaps, where there is little doubt that the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium will be packed to the rafters for that rarity: a Premier League visit. But at home, economic factors are more pressing. People simply cannot afford all these games: as 15,000 empty seats against Steaua Bucharest goes to prove.

For the first time in living memory, ever-presents – people who attend either every home game, or even the whole lot away too – are crying off fixtures. Occasionally there are people to take their seats – but not always.

We notice these things at Chelsea, because we are close to the story, but it’s happening elsewhere. And attendances are slipping elsewhere too.

While the last decade has been characterised by the popping of little asset bubbles all over the world, football has bucked the trend: the Premier League, at least, suggesting that there may well be ‘an end to boom and bust’ (as someone memorably said, shortly before the whole country went bust).

Clubs, Chelsea paramount among them, would do well to remember that while David Luiz may be able to play football every day – there aren’t many people who can afford to watch him do it quite so often.

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