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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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Gianluigi Buffon’s Battle with the Culture Industry as Emblematic of the Postmodern World’s Double Standards

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Buffon: A Legend, Who Is Not Afraid to Talk About Depression Or Anything Else. Image Courtesy of: https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/qkqy7m/gianluigi-buffon-from-darkness-into-light

 

Author’s Note: This Post Was Originally Written as an Assignment for a Qualitative Methods Seminar. Please Excuse the Excessive Use of Academic Citations.

 

Paul Atkinson’s Thinking Ethnographically explains one facet of the modern world well: Citing Harold Garfinkel, Atkinson explains that “degradation requires a ‘perpetrator’ to be denounced before some witness or audience, and for there to be agreement that there has been a serious infraction of collective values, in such a way that displays the true character of the perpetrator, and is not a minor blemish. Nowadays such degradations and character threats are likely to be seen in mass media and social media” (Atkinson 2017: 89). Atkinson ties these “degradation ceremonies”, as he calls them, to labelling. For Atkinson “labeling implies attribution. In the course of labeling our fellow actors, we attribute to them particular kinds of motives, characters, and other attributes” (Ibid.: 90). Here we see that the label is tied to the individual’s character, which carries with it a strong moral connotation.

 

Ostertag and Ortiz’s 2017 article regarding bloggers writing about hurricane Katrina touches on the same moral point, as they note that bloggers “communicate personalized stories packaged with emotional and moral messages (Ostertag and Ortiz 2017: 63). In fact, the authors quantitatively point out just how often “moralities” are mentioned in the blog content they analyze, showing that “blogging served [for Katrina bloggers] as an outlet to direct their emotional energies and voice their senses of moral indignation” (Ibid.: 70). Unfortunately, I believe the authors miss the mark on their analysis when they claim that this stress on “morality” facilitates “the development of social ties rooted in trust, compassion and companionship” (Ibid.: 76). Quite the contrary, I believe that the stress on morals—which carries with it an implicit character degradation (in the manner that Atkinson discussed it) of all who might disagree—means that the bloggers are only erecting boundaries between their own (moral) selves and the amoral “others” who may not agree with their writing. It is in this sense that we can clearly see that social media can, sometimes, merely serve as an echo chamber.

 

Wendy Griswold’s (2013) chapter does a good job of showing that the culture industry plays a major role in defining—and even encouraging—the division of society along (perceived) “moral” lines. Griswold, citing Hirsch, explains that “the culture industry system works to regulate and package innovation and thus to transform creativity into predictable, marketable packages” (Griswold 2013: 74). Indeed, “morality”—or at least the perception of it, given its short supply in the hyper-consumerist society of postmodern Western civilization—is a “marketable” commodity. As Griswold notes, “once an idea has been put into words or symbols (a manifesto, a peace symbol), it is a cultural object” (Ibid.: 82). In this sense, morality is just another “cultural object” in the post modern world. The Katrina bloggers Ostertag and Ortiz write about—knowing full well that moral indignation gains more followers—play a role in turning “morality” itself into a “cultural object”. This is how the culture industry gradually homogenizes culture itself (Ibid.: 75); by adhering to what sells—what brings home emotional or financial capital—would-be opponents of the culture industry end up succumbing to its effects. Put another way, Griswold explains this process by pointing out that “if cultural creators can frame their product or message so it resonates with a frame that the audience already possesses, they are more likely to persuade that audience to “buy” (an idea, a product, or a taste)” (Ibid.: 88). For many cultural creators—like the bloggers studied by Ostertag and Ortiz—it is “morality” that is the frame.

 

Griswold shows us that there are two competing schools of thought regarding the interpretation of culture: The first is mass culture, which posits that culture overwhelms recipients. The second is popular culture, which sees individuals as “active makers and manipulators of meaning” (Ibid.: 90).  I would say that the truth lies somewhere in between; it is a mix of both mass culture and popular culture theory which explains the emphasis on “morality” in modern culture. Although, as popular culture theory posits, we might make our own cultures (and meanings), it is only a matter of time until the mass culture appropriates those meanings and sells them back to us, leaving us bereft of any other interpretation. Whatever meaning we, as individuals, might make, it will always be subject to the logic of producers and consumers and thus subject to homogenization.

 

I will provide an example of this process by discussing the case of Italian footballer Gianluigi Buffon. Although Buffon is a legend in Italian—and world—football, his career has not been one without controversy. At the beginning of his career, Buffon was criticized for choosing the number 88 (because some deemed it an anti-semitic number) and for wearing a t-shirt with a slogan which had been used by Italy’s fascist leaders (Brodkin 2000). Of course, due to this perceived amorality, Buffon was vilified. And the culture industry of the media ran along with it. Fast forward almost two decades later, and it is a very different story. Indeed, Buffon was praised by the culture industry for his enthusiastic rendition of the Italian national anthem before a football game (Lloyd, n.d.) as well as for is “class” in applauding the Swedish national anthem when some Italian fans booed it (Polden 2017). What, then, is the true story of Gianluigi Buffon? Is he a fascist, or a neo-Nazi as some tried to brand him for donning the “88” shirt? Or is he just an Italian patriot, who supports the patriotism—and national anthems—of other nations as well? I would interpret him as the latter since there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that Buffon is a bigot. Unfortunately, however, the soil of his previous experience with what Atkinson called “degradation ceremony” remains. The controversy—immortalized as it is by the internet—cannot be escaped.

 

Here we see the hypocrisy of the culture industry. The culture industry, in praying on the general search for “morality” in the wider public (which itself lives in a postmodern world devoid of morals), will vilify—or sanctify—in accordance to popular demand; if what is being sold resonates with the frames possessed by the masses it will sell. While it was easy to degrade Buffon as a “fascist” or “anti-Semite” when he was an up and coming player, it became harder to do so after he established himself as one of the best players of his generation. This is why the media narrative did a proverbial 180; it was not selling anymore because Buffon had become a national hero. Unfortunately, what Atkinson does not recognize, is that “degradation ceremonies” are part of the tool kit of postmodern fascism; they can be used at any moment to attack the “morality” of an individual and sully a reputation in an instant. It is just one danger that the independent thinking individual faces in the hyper-commodified hyper-consumerist society we now find ourselves in.