Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The day soccer survived

AC Milan became the most talked about soccer club in the world yesterday and a game hadn't even been played.

Yesterday was D-Day for AC Milan, its President, administration, investors, fans and pundits. Their superstar playmaker, nicknamed Kaka, was on the verge of completing a transfer from the world's most successful club to a team ensconced in mediocrity.

About 6 months ago, Manchester City Football Club was bought by a wealthy consortium from the Middle East and shortly after purchasing this Northern English club, a Brazilian star by the name of Robinho was bought from Real Madrid. Man City's fans could not contain their joy; a world class Brazilian and all the money in the world all in the same week. They had gone from being in the shadow of their great rival Manchester United, to having quite possibly more money at their disposal than Real Madrid and AC Milan combined. What many refused to believe was that this overnight transition does not ensure the success, glory and status some of Europe's leading clubs have garnered over many years, in some cases a 100 years. In plain terms, it's a farce. This is all part of the larger charade that is the English Premierleague and in an era where religious faith and practice has dwindled among the worlds leading nations, one can't help but wonder if they did indeed sell their soul to the devil. Over the last few years, the English Premierleague has become the most watched and advertised soccer league in the world. Advocates of the Premierleague have used this as evidence that the English league is the best in the world and can attract some of the worlds most valued and talented players. Kaka was only the latest player lured into making the move up North. These supposed English clubs are owned by foreigners, coached by foreigners and represented on the field by foreigners. The English game is no longer English. These clubs may be located in England and carry the name of their respective cities, but that's about it. In what many saw as the coup-de-gras, Man City were on the verge of signing the worlds best player last night which would have given advocates of the Premierleague yet more fuel for their burgeoning egos.

However, in typical Italian operatic fashion, when the fat lady was about to reach her high note, Milan's devoted President Silvio Berlusconi announced that Kaka would not be moving to Manchester and would be staying with the club that loves him dearly.

"He chose with his heart" is what Berlusconi and his entourage declared. Given that Kaka did not ask for Milan to meet the outrageous offer tabled by the Arabs, shows to some extent that this statement is true. As Milan fans waited silently on the street where Kaka resided for the official announcement of his sale, at 11:00 at night, the news came out that he was staying. As they cheered and hugged one another, they looked up at the window of Kaka's Milan apartment and, reminiscent of the Pope in Rome on a Sunday morning, Kaka opened the shutters, held out his jersey and tapped his heart to the delirium of the fans below.

Kaka's decision to stay in Milan and reject the approach made by Manchester City is one that gives credence to those who say (And I am one of them) that soccer can survive as a business with its integrity in tact.

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