Football and globalisation

Published : Jul 06, 2002 00:00 IST

The process may only mean more European and Latin American coaches in Asia and Africa and more talented Asian and African footballers in Europe.

Not one of the 11 Senegalese players who lined up for the opening match against France in this World Cup, plays at home. All of them turn up for league teams in France. And not one of the 11 Frenchmen who lined up for the same match play in their own country - they play in the more lucrative Spanish, Italian, English or German leagues, where salaries are high and taxes low.

Edson Arantes de Nascimento, the man they call Pele, who was part of the World Cup winning team three times and by far the best-known face in football, said some 20 years ago that an African team would win the World Cup by the end of the 20th century.

In the mid-1990s, Peter Velappan, the most powerful Asian voice in world football, said, somewhat in haste, that Asian football "would be the equal of Brazil by 2005".

IN the next decade or so, China could take over as the leader in the global market; Japan is likely to continue miniaturising the world's most complex machines and Korea may be the most wired country in the world. On the other side, Europe will continue to grapple with the problem of illegal immigrants from Africa and Asia, but will still welcome extraordinary footballing and athletic talent from Africa and Asia.

Yet, neither Pele's nor Velappan's prophecies are likely to come true in a hurry. What they probably could have said with greater accuracy was that football would become more global.

While European coaches will continue to take Asian and African nations into the higher echelons of world football, the best footballers from Asia and Africa will parade their talent in the lucrative European markets. Stars from the Third World and coaches from the football-rich countries - they are all products in the same market. Be it Bora Milutinovic, who has taken five teams to the World Cup finals, or Guus Hiddink, who took South Korea to a semi-final berth.

Even before the World Cup final, Brazilian coach "Big Phil" Scolari was talking of dreams of taking some other team to the World Cup finals in the future.

This is the globalisation of football.

But before you start clapping or dreaming of a Senegal or a Korea up there on the top of the heap in 2010 or 2014, look at the other side. Globalisation does not necessarily mean the gap between the first world (European and Latin American teams) and the Third World (Asia largely and to some extent, Africa) in football is going to become narrower.

Within Asia, only a handful of teams - primarily South Korea, Japan and China- are likely to rise further. And in Africa it will still be the same four to six countries - Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal or Algeria. Add to that South Africa and, in times to come, maybe Ghana or Sierra Leone.

The globalisation of world football may only mean more European and Latin American coaches in Asia and Africa and more talented Asian and African footballers in Europe - not even Latin America, which is itself struggling from lack of funds.

The globalisation of football is a double-edged sword. Just when it seems it is helping perk up the standards, it turns its face and moves away. It does enrich the world, but leaves its own home in tatters. Not even for a fleeting moment should one believe that the rise of Senegal in the World Cup - as evidenced in its reaching the last eight stage - will raise the standards of football in that country. Just forget it. It has not happened, nor is it likely to happen. If anything, the domestic football scene in Senegal will be even more impoverished.

There are more than 150 football training centres in Senegal, run by a body called the Association of Football School Managers, whose sole purpose is to spot and export football talent from Senegal. The most famous one, Aldo Gentina, was founded by the current president of the Senegal Football Federation, El Hadj Malick Sy. Aldo Gentina, incidentally, is funded by the French first division outfit Monaco. Does it still surprise that all the 11 starters in the Senegal team for the match against France play in France and not at home?

Following Senegal's current success, those small undernourished lads on the streets of Dakar will now dream of following in the footsteps of their heroes and playing for famous clubs in France and other parts of Europe. In the meantime, the Senegalese officials will themselves become agents for their players and negotiate a better price for their talented stars. Back home, the domestic circuit will become duller in comparison, sponsors will shy away and TV stations will keep replaying the World Cup highlights. Footballers left behind at home will be paid lesser than before.

Globalisation by definition is meant to reduce the gap between the haves and the have-nots, not just in terms of wealth but also in terms of talent. It is meant to be a two-way osmotic process, but in football it is not so. The few moments of success by the Asian and African teams may bring pleasure to countless people in Asia and Africa, but once off the field, the cruel world of commerce drives home the harsh realities of life.

Once the World Cup is over, the Senegalese fans will go back to pushing themselves hard to make ends meet, and the footballers will fly back to France to re-join their respective clubs. And what of those small boys on the streets of Dakar? They will continue to kick around with a rag-ball and dream of playing outside Senegal. And what of the officials of Senegal - whose names we may never know or care about? They will thump their chests at FIFA seminars and say how they raised the standard of football in their country. FIFA chief Sepp Blatter and his organisation will, meanwhile, pat themselves for taking football to places where even food seldom reaches and we shall seldom hear about the Senegalese or Nigerian or Cameroonian leagues.

Across the globe, in Asia, the story may be a little dissimilar in economic terms, but in sporting terms it will not be any different. The fans and footballers will not starve in Japan or Korea, but the local leagues, which were started in the early 1990s, are still floundering. Simply because the best of their own country are not playing at home, but in Europe.

At the same time, the globalisation of football brought Manchester United, Leeds and Arsenal to the doorsteps of fans in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and Tokyo. These are places where spiky-haired Beckham is better recognised by people than their svelte actresses and powerful Presidents, where fans buy $50 Man U scarves and pay through their nose for Cable TV that telecasts the English league. And where sponsorships for their own leagues are not secure even after the season has begun.

Globalisation was always a romantic term, but with different meanings for different people - commerce for the haves and romance for the have-nots.

ON the eve of the Brazil-Germany final at Yokohama, there were those who desperately wanted Brazil to lose - for their own good, as they put it. Not because they idolised the Germans or hated the Brazilians, but because a Brazilian win would sweep under the carpet all the other ills that plague the coffee country.

Alex Belios, who authored Futebol: the Brazilian Way of Life, mentioned in an article that no less a man than Tostao, one of the heroes of the Brazilian Dream Team of 1970, told him that a good performance in the World Cup would delay vital reforms (in Brazil). The chain-smoking Doctor, Socrates, who also captained his national football team, added that what the country required a "great humiliation".

Pray, why would any sane person want any team other than Brazil to win the World Cup? Was not the Cup meant for the Samba men, whose women gave themselves to joyous abandon when their men danced with a ball at their feet? Football was meant to be a beautiful game that made us forget everything else for the 90 minutes that it lasted.

Men like Belios, Tostao or Socrates love Brazilian football no less than any of us or the millions scattered across the globe. But they do realise that a World Cup win would mean more power to men like Ricardo Teixera, President of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), who has a string of criminal charges against him. Yet, Teixera, now known to be close to Sepp Blatter, is only bound to get more influential with another Brazilian success.

Teixera may well have ambitions, which are far greater than running a football federation. For before him, in Brazilian history, there was Fernando Collor de Mello, who became the youngest President of Brazil in 1989. And he first came to notice as the president of a football club.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi runs the country the way he ran his football club, AC Milan, which in the 1980s and 1990s was the most successful club in Europe. If Berlusconi was using football success to further political ambitions, he was not doing anything different from what Mussolini did after Italy's triumphs in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups.

Argentine and English football writers and commentators always liken their contests to war, a reminder of the clashes in 1982 over the Falklands Islands dispute. That was also the time when Argentine rulers used TV pictures of their team's 1978 World Cup win to whip up frenzy among their troops. Maradona called his team's win in the 1986 World Cup against England a revenge, and he likened his famous "Hand of God" goal to "picking the Englishman's pocket".

Four years ago, when France won the World Cup, President Jacques Chirac used it to show that his country was a picture of unity and harmony, with World Cup superstar Zinedine Zidane, son of an Algerian immigrant, as the prime example.

Germany, wrecked by two World Wars, used football to resurrect itself. But last year when it lost 1-5 to England in a World Cup qualifier, a German writer called it the end of two German strengths: football and the Deutsche Mark, which gave way to the Euro.

England has always brought to the fore its success in the World Wars, while talking of football against Germany. "Two wars and one World Cup" is how they refer to their relationship - in 1966 England beat Germany to win the World Cup. Sometimes things have got downright nasty, as in 1996, when one English newspaper showed its players in military uniform in the run-up to a football game.

In the days to come, when each of the more successful countries at the 2002 World Cup use their footballing success to mirror other parts of their society, they will be no different from all those who did it before and those who will continue to do so in the future. For Japan and Korea it is a signal of their coming out of the downturn, for Brazil it is a triumph of their corrupt and highly influential football federation, for Germany it is a re-affirmation of their low-key efficiency. For France and Argentina it is a chastening experience, and for Senegal a way out of the dumps. For Saudi Arabia it is the start of the search for another coach and for Bora Milutinovic a sixth country to take to the World Cup.

Yes, football is as political as it is global, and far more complex than merely kicking a ball into the net.

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