Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Show me the money!

"Kevin Keegan has offered me more money. I am definitely leaving Spurs. It's all about the money, I don't care about the [Carling Cup] final".

Apparently Pascal Chimbonda made this remark-brazenly exposing his mercenary motivation-when questioned about rumours in the media that he was looking to leave Tottenham Hotspur. Paul Wilson, a respected football journalist for the Guardian, applauded Chimbonda for his honesty, as he's sadly resigned to the reality of what really inspires professional footballers today. He was also critical of fans for their continued, naive adherence to the sentimental belief that players measure their careers in cups and medals, rather than pounds and pay cheques. "Football may have been like that once", he writes "but no longer".

Unlike GAA. We (GAA members) don't have to worry about accusations of being over-romantic about Gaelic games because that situation doesn't exist in our sport. Right?
Not quite. As Martin Breheny points out today, the player-County Board dispute in Cork, is part of a bigger battle -- a battle for the "GAA's soul and identity". The inter-county players regard themselves as the "wealth generators" of Gaelic games, and their philosophy (essentially that they are the sun around which the rest of us should revolve--my interpretation not Martin's) is putting them on course for a critical pay-for-play showdown.

The idealistic view that Gaelic games should be all about participation, and the medals and the glory too, of course, is being rapidly eroded by the GPA on their blinkered march to reimbursement. As Dessie says, the players no longer "really buy into the traditional GAA line, certainly not the one that highlighted our ethereal rewards - honour, adulation, camaraderie, recognition". They want something "more tangible". They want what Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) in the movie Jerry Maguire, called "the Kwan".

"Kwan means love, respect, community... and the dollars too".

But footballers in England didn't always have this Rod Tidwell mentality. Wilson describes the situation when fifty years ago all First Division fooballers were on more or less than same wages as a result of the maximum-wage system. The crucial difference today is the difference in earnings which means that players are no longer loyal to the club that formed them. The only values the players deem important are those in pay packets. Do we want a similar situation to develop in GAA? The categorical response from most GAA members would appear-from the debates that have taken place on the proposed grant in counties like Tyrone and Dublin- to be no.

Under EU law, however, there is no middle road. If accepted, the grants system will establish an economic link between players and Gaelic games, meaning that the players can appeal to the European Commission, and ultimately the European Courts, to move counties freely. The players may be happy to divvy up their prospective grant money now. But it won't always be like that. Self-interest and the free market will eventually win out, just like it did in English football. It will only take one disgruntled player- and there are enough of them already- to tear the county structure down. And then, it really will be all about the money.

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