- Gavan Reilly - https://gavreilly.com -

Swapping one Ronaldo for two Setantas

Well, at least nobody could say it wasn’t coming. Six years after Rodney Marsh first appeared on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday corring, “Blimey, how good is this kid gonna be?”, and a seeming eternity (probably) since a spaghetti-haired teenage Portuguese first mentioned that he’d love to play for the Spanish legends, Fiorentino Pérez decided that he’d like to leave his club teetering on the edge of bankruptcy – again [1] – by first skimming a stone across the world transfer record, and then dunking a boulder deep into it. In one week he has spent €162m – or £138m, if you like; the same price as all 42 members of the Newcastle United squad, plus their 53,000-seater stadium, and still leaving enough change to buy Luis Figo in his pompous heyday – and turned the already bonkers world of football financing into an even more tumultous tornado.

It’s not difficult to see that Ronaldo is a footballer of exceptional quality and certainly worth an awful lot of money. 91 goals in the last three seasons, helping Manchester United to a Premiership title in each of the three, and a Champions’ League sandwiched in the middle, are an obvious sign of impact. The fact that the man’s name alone can send adolescent women into fits of involuntary screaming and sell suitcases of cherry red jerseys worldwide is another. The Guardian‘s daily satirical newsletter, The Fiver, referring to Him only with a capitalised pronoun, and similarly naming his new team-to-be as Them, is a third. Certainly he’ll be missed; United, in a matter seemingly overlooked by many, will now find themselves with a major goalscoring vacuum. Ronaldo gone, Tevez surely leaving… it leaves a terrific burden on Dimitar Berbatov (14 goals last season) and Wayne Rooney (20), particularly when the latter has been converted into an unusual attacking midfielder/winger hybrid and forsaken his goalscoring prowess as a result.

But is he worth €94m? In a footballing sense, maybe. He’s a terrific player and will undoubtedly be the star in an underperforming team. Commercially, though, is he really going to be so lucrative? A Nike player now smack in the middle of an Adidas team? An import into a team who’ve already agreed their shirt sponsorship and can’t charge more for all the posters CR94 might now appear on? A team with their TV rights already agreed for years to come? Will he be worth more to Madrid than a Nike-wearing team in Manchester who have squeezed every Champions’ League goal, every shirt sponsorship deal (one can’t help thinking Aon Corp got a raw deal [2] now that there’s no more Ronaldo shirt sales or PR stuff to piggyback onto) out of him, especially when they’ve made a £67m appreciation profit on him too? That’s doubtful. Ronaldo will sell shirts, there’s no doubt about that – but now that the club is back in half a billion worth of debt [3], one can only guess at how fragile the foundations to Real Madrid’s financial house-of-cards truly are.

And while Perez throws £138m at his team’s underperformance and assumes the talent will solve the problem – these players, after all, are to be managed by the man who nearly got Tottenham Hotspur relegated this season – Newcastle United trundle on, rudderless and ownerless, and – seemingly – with a collective worth roughly equal to 1.25 Cristiano Ronaldoes. One has to feel sorry for Mike Ashley, the local billionaire supporter who had seen the team drift two and fro under total mismanagement, and taking the lessons of Sky One’s Dream Team far too close to heart in assuming a fan could ably run a challenging Premiership team. That’s not to belittle Ashley’s moneymaking ability – you don’t make your way from nil to £700m without financial ubercompetence – but clearly Ashley had gotten so excited about the notion of buying the team, he’d forgotten how Phil Wallis’s tenure as owner of Harchester United had ended: with Wallis impossibly happy at having given the club away in a lottery to the owner of a lucky season ticket.

While Ashley is deserving of some sympathy, the club itself certainly isn’t. A season in which no less than three messiah managers failed to save the club from terminal decline, and a franchise where a litany of failed Chief Executives and Directors of Football have put their own failed personal stamp on the team, which has constantly slipped in every way since it scraped failure from the jaws of Champions League qualification in 2003. A shambolic corporate management system, consistently backed up by shambolic football management system, and topped off by shambolic footballers. Putting your Champions League fate in the hands of everyon’s favourite centre-back, Titus Bramble? Really? The fall from grace will do Newcastle good; a total overhaul and the abolition of the corrupt culture that left such bureaucracy into simple matters like team selection will do the team the world of good. Frankly, the club’s morale could use the inevitable boost that cantering to Championship victory ought to bring.

And amidst all this, Sky Sports’ endless overvaluation of the English footballing life claims another scalp. If Setanta Sports survives, it’ll be in a much tamer incarnation than it currently exists, with its distinctive bumblebee branding sitting on fewer screens, fewer advertising hoardings, and (hopefully) fewer painful stings with referee’s shirts and net sacks full of rugby balls during every ad break. What sort of world do we live in, where one international TV franchise can only command £20m for a 51% stake [4], and a mightly, albeit sleeping, football club is only worth £100m, yet a petulant Portuguese wunderkind is an £80m prospect, with another £8m in wages – netto – each year? Ronaldo plus Setanta ought to equal Newcastle United, but the ratio of the Setanta/Ronaldo breakdown needs total redress. One might look on with a wry smile in a few years’ time when Real Madrid enter administration and see a compulsory relegation to the Segunda División, while Newcastle United return energised from a stint in the lower leagues to show themselves just what they can do. Fiorentino Pérez might feel like he has to answer to the supporting body who elected him, but it’s surely more responsible to get the club on better footing than to run it into the ground altogether.

Not, of course, that any of the above will stop us all scrambling for tickets to the Tallaght Stadium in the second week of July, to see Him make his debut for Them against Shamrock Rovers. A salient and timely reminder, perhaps when we need it most, that He is just one man, among many, many others.