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The Elimination of Juventus from the UEFA Champions League Reflects the Results of the Uncontrolled Corporatization of Football in the Globalized Era

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By now, many are familiar with Juventus’ elimination from the UEFA Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid after a heart-breaking last minute penalty allowed the Spanish side to pull one back and deny the Italians an epic comeback and a place in the semi-finals of Europe’s premier club competition. Despite losing 3-1, the Spanish side went through on aggregate (4-3) after their 3-0 defeat of Juventus in Turin during the first leg.

While the last minute decision by referee Michael Oliver to award a penalty to Real Madrid—which was subsequently converted by star Cristiano Ronaldo—seemed normal to Ronaldo (who “didn’t understand Juventus’ protests”), the same could not be said for Juventus’ talismanic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon himself had some choice words for the referee, pointing out that:

 

I know the referee saw what he saw, but it was certainly a dubious incident. Not clear-cut. And a dubious incident at the 93rd minute when we had a clear penalty denied in the first leg, you cannot award that at this point. The team gave its all, but a human being cannot destroy dreams like that at the end of an extraordinary comeback on a dubious situation. Clearly you cannot have a heart in your chest, but a garbage bin. On top of that, if you don’t have the character to walk on a pitch like this in a stadium like this, you can sit in the stands with your wife, your kids, drinking your Sprite and eating crisps. You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could’ve told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating. If you can’t handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your crisps […] It’s an issue of sensitivity. It means you don’t know where you are, what teams are facing off, what players are involved. It means you’ve understood absolutely s—.

 

While it is unclear what Buffon’s expletive of choice was here—I have seen other outlets referring to another four-letter word which begins with “F”—what is clear is that the referee’s decision here is emblematic of something much bigger than football. While it may not be quite as simple as Juventus President Andrea Agnelli’s assertion that UEFA’s referees are “against Italian clubs”, that a kind of implicit bias is in play seems to be very plausible. Indeed, one look at UEFA’s 2018 report on European club Football—which highlights “how UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations have created a more stable and sustainable financial position for European top-division clubs”—has some clues as to what the bias against Juventus might have been (For those interested, the report is available for download here; it makes for fascinating—yet depressing—reading).

Despite the innocuous-sounding headline—using words like “stable” and “sustainable”—UEFA’s report is, in reality, just an in depth look at how the globalization of football has created vast amounts of inequality within European football (just like cultural and economic globalization has created vast amounts of inequality in the world). Indeed, it seems as if the football world serves as a microcosm of the globalized world we all live in. A few of the charts in UEFA’s report show just why the referees may have—implicitly even—held a bias in favor of Real Madrid and against Juventus in this particular Champions League tie.

 

Attendance:

The first chart shows “The Top 20 European Clubs by Aggregate Attendances (2017). Interestingly enough, the first three—FC Barcelona, Manchester United FC, and Borussia Dortmund—are all out of the Champions League. Real Madrid—on this chart—is ranked fourth with an average attendance of 69,426. Juventus FC is nowhere to be seen on this chart; neither is AS Roma which—in an unexpected result—knocked out FC Barcelona on 10 April 2018. Perhaps UEFA could not stand losing another Spanish team in the quarter finals to an unprecedented comeback?

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

Revenue:

The second chart shows “The Top 30 Clubs by Revenue”. Here, again the top three are Manchester United, FC Barcelona, and Real Madrid. While Juventus is on this chart—coming in at number 10—a look at their revenue shows the amount of inequality in European football. While Juventus’ revenue in 2016 was 341 million Euro, Real Madrid’s was 620 million Euro—almost double that of the Italian side! Given that the top two revenue makers (Manchester United and FC Barcelona) have already been knocked out of the competition, along with numbers five, six, and eight (Paris Saint Germain, Manchester City, and Chelsea FC, respectively)—and that number 7 (Arsenal FC) did not even qualify for the Champions League this season—it means that Europe’s richest clubs were not very successful on the pitch this season. Indeed, the unexpected elimination of both FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC by AS Roma and Liverpool FC on 10 April 2018 changed the financial make up of the Champions League Semi Final. Perhaps, due to this, one more upset—in this case Juventus over Real Madrid—was just not acceptable.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

2018 UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final Matchups
(Listings According to Revenue: Richer Teams on Left):
Team Country Revenue/Growth Rate Team Country Revenue/Growth Rate
FC Barcelona Spain 620M Euro/11% AS Roma Italy 219M Euro/21%
Manchester City FC England 533M Euro/16% Liverpool FC England 407M Euro/5%
FC Bayern Munich Germany 592M Euro/25% Sevilla FC Spain N/A (Not in Top 30)
Real Madrid Spain 620M Euro/7% Juventus FC Italy 341M Euro/5%
Note: Winner in BOLD Italics

 

Popularity:

The third chart shows the popularity of club websites (in September 2017) according to millions of viewers. Here we can clearly see that Real Madrid’s website is, far and away, the most popular website. The Spanish side attract more than 8 million views, compared to just over two million for Juventus; in effect Real Madrid’s website is four times as popular as Juventus’.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

Followers:

 The fourth chart, which shows the number of followers on social media of major European football clubs and players, is perhaps the most telling. From the graphic, it is clear that both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have far and away the most followers on Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, the club’s two star players—Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid—are more popular than most European clubs themselves! As UEFA’s report notes, “Cristiano Ronaldo, the most popular player, has more Twitter followers than Real Madrid and FC Barcelona combined (65.3 million) and more fans on Facebook than any of Europe’s top-division clubs (122 million)”. Given this information, it is not hard to understand why Juventus might have fallen victim to a refereeing decision in Madrid; UEFA’s hallmark competition simply would not have been able to do with a tournament absent of either of modern football’s most popular players.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/protecting-the-game/club-licensing-and-financial-fair-play/news/newsid=2529909.html#/

 

Please keep in mind that this is in no way a “scientific” study; there are no claims for causality. Rather, this is an attempt to show just how some factors—mainly financial—could lead to implicit bias on the part of officials and, of course, the higher-ups in UEFA. This short explanation is to show how just as inequality in the world has increased due to globalization, so too has it increased in world football. And, in order to further this inequality, it means that the referee–in the case of Juventus’s match–had to ignore an historic comeback and instead put an end to it by calling a dubious penalty. Given the context of the match, it was certainly a horrendous decision. Sadly, in an age where money has taken a front seat and humanity has taken a back seat, it is not altogether very surprising.

While few in the mainstream media are willing to ask the tough questions, it is up to us—as independent writers, researchers, and thinkers—to ask the tough questions. In an age where corporate greed has allied itself to high ranking individuals in both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments, the news media is far from free. This is why bloggers (like myself) and independent scholars play an important role in provoking thought that is independent of financial interests.

 

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Legia Warsaw’s Fans, in an August 2014 Match, Send a Message UEFA Would do Well to Take Heed of. Like FIFA, UEFA Is Not the Fairest When It Comes to Balancing Corporate and Fan Interests. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ultras-tifo.net/photo-news/2741-legia-warszawa-fk-aktobe-28082014.html

 

Author’s Note: Please, if you are interested in sharing any of this information—or using any of these ideas in your own work—please remember where you got it from. I have had unpleasant experiences with unscrupulous news outlets like The Guardian who have unabashedly stolen my work without giving credit to where they got it from in the first place. As I was filing my taxes today, I winced at the figure which showed how much money I had earned this year. Indeed, it was not a pretty figure for me to see what a year’s worth of work amounted to in US Dollars. Needless to say, I do not make a lot of money, and that is OK. But this is why I do not ask for money; rather I ask that—when and if you do find anything of interest in my writing—you at least acknowledge where it came from. Like so many other independent writers, I live with—and on—hope.

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My Favorite Nike Football Advertisements

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Since the release of Nike’s latest epic football advertisement Winner Takes All ahead of this summer’s World Cup many websites have been writing about the greatest football advertisements in history (Even Esqire got into it!) Unfortunately, many of the lists have been all too similar. So I decided to create a list of my own—one along the lines of one of the themes that this blog follows—football shirts. As I wrote about in the “About” section there is an air of nostalgia in the way that I follow football—the players and shirts are what define historical eras in my mind. Therefore, while “Winner Takes All” is certainly an incredible video that embraces the grass-roots football we grew up on, there are a few more out there that take me back to a simpler time, and still others that fully embody the true meaning of modern, “industrial”, football.

Here is my list that I hope may serve as a sort of anthology for some. I tried my best to include the directors of each film as well as the songs that provided the soundtracks, in addition to a list of the footballers featured in each advertisement. For this effort Vincent Battaglia’s website was quite useful, in addition to that bastion of free information (as long as it is double checked), Wikipedia.

 

Winner Takes All (2014, For the FIFA World Cup in Brazil)

Featuring: Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Gerard Piqué, Gonzalo Higuaín, Mario Götze, Eden Hazard, Thiago Silva, Andrea Pirlo, David Luiz, Andrés Iniesta, Thibaut Courtois, and Tim Howard.

Since this is the most recent advertisement—and the one that sparked this column—it is a fitting one to start with. The theme of young kids playing in a pick-up game is one that many of us football fans can relate to, and for that I commend Nike in returning to the theme. As a kid in Turkey my friends and I definitely embodied the stars of our time, and that’s why this video stuck a chord with me. My poor foot-work made me more of a Tony Meola at the time—so Tim Howard (or the Hulk, of course) in this video 20 years on.

This advertisement also represents many facets of “industrial football”. Note that the players who appear in their team jerseys are those whose teams (national and/or club) are contracted with Nike. That’s why Eden Hazard (Belgium/Chelsea) and Mario Gotze (Germany/Bayern Munich) wear non-descript kits in this video. Hazard plays in Burrda Sport for Belgium and Adidas for Chelsea while Gotze plays in Adidas for both Germany and Bayern Munich. It is also why Kobe Bryant has a cameo—he is, after all, contracted by Nike. And he appeals to an American audience, one very distant from European soccer. When the bottom line is making money, it explains the rather bizarre scene of Kobe Bryant conversing with Andrea Pirlo—even if Bryant grew up in Italy and is reported to be a soccer fan.

Secret Tournament (Cage Football) (2002, For the FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan)

Directed by Terry Gilliam

For More Please See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_Tournament

Featuring (Teams in Parantheses): (Thierry Henry, Francesco Totti, Hidetoshi Nakata), (Patrick Viera, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes), (Fredrik Ljungberg, Javier Saviola, Luis Enrique), (Edgar Davids, Lilian Thuram, Sylvain Wiltord), (Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo), (Denilson, Ronaldinho, Seol Ki-Hyeon), (Fabio Cannavaro, Tomas Rosicky, Rio Ferdinand), (Claudio Lopez, Gaizka Mendieta, Hernan Crespo), and Eric Cantona.

Music: JXL Vs. Elvis Presley “A Little Less Conversation”

In my mind this is the best Nike advertisement and it takes its place at the top of my list. It is the true roots of the game with players engaged in a quick competition that focuses on individual skill while in a team setting and just one rule, as Cantona charismatically explains: “First goal wins”. The twenty-four football stars are divided into teams of three, competing in a cage football match aboard a freighter. The winners move on and the losers are dumped into the ocean to swim ashore. Notably, none of the players wear their club or national team shirts—whether contracted by Nike or not. In this sense, then, it avoids the awkwardness of “Winner Take All” with Zlatan rocking the shirt of his club side Paris Saint Germain (Sweden are with Adidas) while Cristiano Ronaldo is in Portugal’s Nike shirt (Real Madrid are with Adidas) and Hazard is in a Nike training shirt bearing no resemblance to the kit of either his club or country (his kit allegiances are explained above).

There is also a bit of nostalgia for me personally. This is a clip that made a summer classic out of JXL’s remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation”. The lyrics itself invoke a summer night of world class football which is fitting since the advertisement was released in the run up to the 2002 World Cup: “Baby close your eyes and listen to the music/Drifting through a summer breeze”. Lets also not forget that two of the three footballers on the winning team from the advert—Thierry Henry and Francesco Totti—are still playing; Henry is in the USA with Red Bull New York while Totti continues to turn back the clock for his only club, AS Roma.

 

Take It To The Next Level (2008)

Directed by Guy Ritchie

For More Please See: http://www.72andsunny.com/work/nike/next-level

And: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/top-10-soccer-commercials-ever-made-130585?page=2

Featuring: Wayne Rooney, Arsene Wenger, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco Materazzi, Ronaldinho, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and others including much of Arsenal’s 2008 squad.

Music: Eagles of Death Metal “Don’t Speak”

This advertisement is up there simply because it is a tour de force of football and filmmaking simultaneously. This advert is shot entirely in the first person; we are put in the shoes of an aspiring Dutch footballer who is signed to Arsenal. We follow him through his own eyes as he gets his kits from the equipment manager at Arsenal and is humbled on his first substitute appearance by the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United (Remember, both United and Arsenal’s kits at the time were—and still are—made by Nike). We follow the young footballer back to the training ground where he works hard—even vomiting from the effort—to become a top class footballer.

Guy Ritchie’s directorial acumen shows through when the kiss of a team-mate celebrating a game winning goal gives way to a kiss from a beautiful lady friend, transporting us from the on-pitch world of a professional European footballer to the glitz and glamour of European nights off the pitch. The excesses mean some failure on the pitch, of course (including a lost tooth) before more training ground work pays off for an amazingly struck free kick goal for the Dutch national team in what we assume to be the World Cup. Truly an inspiring and at times humorous three and a half minutes in keeping with Nike’s epic style.

 

Match In Hell/Good Vs. Evil (1996, For the UEFA European Championship in England)

Featuring: Eric Cantona, Paulo Maldini, Luis Figo, Ian Wright, Jorge Campos, Patrick Kluivert, Thomas Brolin, Rui Costa, Ronaldo.

This simply has to make the list if only because of the two (!) lines of dialogue. We are presented with a team of world football superstars from the era competing in a match in hell (Hell Trafford—perhaps a nod to Manchester United’s ill-fated trip to the “Hell” of Galatasaray’s Ali Sami Yen Stadium?? I don’t know . . .). In any case our superstars—including the faded star Thomas Brolin—are roughed up by a few undead footballers before coming into their own and defeating them with a hard shot by non other than Eric Cantona. Paulo Maldini’s immortal “Maybe they’re friendly?” could only be eclipsed by Cantona’s classic “Au Revoir” as he flips the collar on his shirt up in a way that only Cantona could.

For me the best part of this clearly “period” advertisement is that Nike had not yet taken a strangle hold on the brands presented in their advert—in the months leading up to Euro 1996 industrial football was still in its early stages. The team of “world all-stars” wear the shirts they’re famous for. Brolin is in Parma’s classic Puma kit and Figo carries Barcelona’s Kappa shirt while Cantona wears the Umbro kit United made famous.

 

Airport 90 (1998, For FIFA World Cup in France)

Featuring: Brazil’s 1998 World Cup Squad.

Music: Sergio Mendes “Mas Que Nada”

This is—judging by many of the lists I’ve perused—another favorite, and rightly so. Before the “Secret Tournament” made “A Little More Conversation” famous Airport 90 made Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” famous. The advert features Brazil’s World Cup squad—the one that would finish runners up to France in the summer—making the most of a flight delay. Ronaldo, who was the darling of the football world at the time, is the most prominent star in this clip while Roberto Carlos and Denilson appear alongside him. This video evokes times of a more relaxed airport atmosphere, before the draconian measures that came into force in airports worldwide following the tragedies of September 11, 2001.

 

Write The Future (2010, for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa)

Directed by Alejandro Iñárritu

Featuring: Didier Drogba, Fabio Cannavaro, Wayne Rooney, Lassana Diarra, Theo Walcott, Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jeremy Toulalan, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Thiago Silva, Luis Fabiano, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Oojier AND Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant, Homer Simpson.

Music: Focus “Hocus Pocus”

Write The Future is along the lines of 2008’s Take It To The Next Level—it is, after all, a sequel. Unlike most sequels, however, this one more than holds its own. It chronicles two different outcomes of England’s future based on Wayne Rooney’s performance. He fails to stop Franck Ribery and France win, while the English stock market crashes and Rooney is reduced to a groundskeeper living in a trailer park. He stops Ribery and England win, the stock market goes sky high and babies across England are being named Wayne. Never mind that reality is somewhere between the two outcomes, its still an amusing advertisement. Perhaps the most realistic outcome is that concerning Cristiano Ronaldo—his star has only risen six years on.

As for a mention on the shirts in this advertisement note that Rooney is sporting the double diamond of Umbro in this Nike advert—since, at that point, Nike had bought Umbro. As a double dose of the globalization of world football Kobe Bryant also has a prominent cameo in this ad, along with the “like” button of social media. I can’t help but be thankful that social media made no appearance in Take It To The Next Level.

 

The Mission 90 (2000, For the UEFA European Championship in Belgium/Netherlands)

Featuring: Edgar Davids, Oliver Bierhoff, Hidetoshi Nakata, Luis Figo, Francesco Totti, Lilian Thuram, Josep Guardiola, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, and Louis Van Gaal.

This is one of the last of the Nike advertisements that didn’t go full-scale into the global marketing of the game. Like the 2002 Secret Tournament ad the players do not sport the shirts of their individual teams—as such, the cast is open to footballers regardless of the teams they may play for. The plot is someone sensationalist, similar to 1996’s Match In Hell. The players are attempting to retrieve a ball because it is “rounder”, according to mission leader Louis van Gaal. Indeed, this is the match ball for the 2000 European Championships. The stars proceed to battle cyborg samurais before escaping with their bounty before the building explodes as the advert ends. Normal stuff, right?

 

My Time Is Now (2012, For the UEFA European Championship in Poland/Ukraine)

Featuring: Franck Ribery, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil, Neymar, and others—including . . . Lebron James??

Music: The Eighties Matchbox B Line Disaster “Chicken”

I rank this video last in my hierarchy of Nike football advertisements for many reasons. First of all, it is pretty ridiculous. Sure, many of the previous adverts listed here were ridiculous in their own right but please, hear me out. In this clip there seems to be no cohesive plot, and it seems to be a glorified pitch invasion. Having witnessed one such unfortunate event myself it doesn’t sit well with me to support such defamations of the game. Also, the blatant advertising put forth my Nike in this ad disappointed me. Yes, it is an advertisement for Nike, but please—don’t ram that down the viewer’s throats so crudely!

The fictional match is between Holland and France—both in Nike kits—while the players streaming onto the pitch are sporting Nike’s training line of apparel. As if all of that weren’t enough, Lebron James makes an appearance—a gross representation of the global advertising motives of Nike. I would have been much happier if a football goalkeeper made the “save” that James makes in this video since, well, it’s a football video! Nike chose to have Kobe Bryant return in this year’s Winner Takes All as the resident American sports star. While it is still a weird blurring of sport lines for money making purposes that makes me uncomfortable, at least Bryant has a history with the game of soccer as I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure of any similar natural associations that Lebron James has with football (other than his part-ownership of Liverpool, which is in the business realm).