Friday, May 23, 2014

Philosophising the most important game in world football

Naming the most important club game in club football is perhaps more of a poser than you’d think.

There are two major contenders for the title and both will occur today. The case for one challenger, the UEFA Champions League Final is based around the prestige (and money) that accompanies winning the title of best team in the best league in the most competitive confederation. The case for the other competitor, the English League Championship Playoff Final, revolves around the money (and prestige) that accompanies promotion to the world’s richest league.

The monies on offer are truly remarkable. For winning the most lucrative club competition on Earth, either Real or Atletico Madrid will pocket up to €50 million (or about 1/10th of Atleti’s debt); while estimates vary on the worth of promotion to the English Premier League, recent hearsay puts the financial windfall for Derby County or Queens Park Rangers somewhere between £80-120 million – potentially three times as much as for the continent’s premier competition.

Players would certainly opt for the Champions League. Administrators, depending on the club, might flip-flop depending on the media forum in which they’re speaking. Fans – well, that’s a different story.

It goes without saying that the Champions League trophy carries just a little more kudos than does the award presented to (at best) the third-best club in England’s second division. As are sponsorship opportunities – for Atletico, at any rate. But, as clubs like Birmingham City, Leeds United and Norwich City have discovered recently, the revenues that the Premiership generates can be life-sustaining (or at least life-altering) – potentially more so than victory in the Champions League.

The counterargument is based purely on the reasons behind football as a concept – do you watch to see your team excel, or is a high, Icarian flight (c.f. Portsmouth) that ends in a near-fatal swan dive worth the fiscal risk not worth the risk? As a fan – or administrator – do you value survival and/or the opportunity to test yourself in an achievable competition, or the (pen)ultimate glory? You play to win the game – but at all costs?

The most important game in club football then depends very much on the audience and can be distilled down to one paraphrase: Survive, or advance?

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