Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Globalisation of Football

Globalisation is a popular buzzword at the moment. When you hear it, maybe you think of economic theory (you need to get out more). Maybe you think of the anti-globalisation riots that follow the G7 meetings from city to city (you need to calm down). But globalisation is not just a fancy economic theory. In its everyday incarnation, ‘globalisation’ means fewer trade barriers, and a blurring of the dividing line between the national and the international. It implies a ‘global’ approach (you don't say) that treats the world as one big single market, and when followed through, the differences between countries also seem smaller. Improvements in technology and the opening of markets mean that globalisation permeates into all walks of life, even football. Yes, football. You don't think so? Read on…

Football is the most popular sport in the world, with over 200 countries affiliated to the governing body, FIFA. The FIFA World Cup is the most popular sports event in the world, and in 2002 the finals in Japan and Korea were broadcast to over 1.8 billion viewers. Football is now a global brand, and this has lead to changes in the way the game is played, owned and run.

Let's start by looking at some of the changes on the pitch. It's fair to say that there have been no significant changes to the rules of association football over the past few decades. The offside rule has been tweaked a bit, and there have been changes regarding goalkeepers handling pass-backs from their own team, but these have not fundamentally altered the flow of the game (unless you're David James). However some of the rules governing the running of football have changed, and have made it easier for players to move between teams.

In 1995, the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman. Now known as the ‘Bosman Ruling’, it stated that when a player was out of contract with his club, the club was no longer entitled to a transfer fee, and the player was free to sign for anyone who wanted him. Following on from this ruling, a limitation on the number of ‘foreign’ players was also lifted. Previously, a club could only field three foreign players in UEFA competitions. Nowadays, a club can field a full team of EU nationals. It can also sign players from non-EU countries, subject to the work permit laws of the country, and domestic league rules.

This undoubtedly has lead to increased mobility for players, and while this increased job mobility is good for certain players, it does make it that much more difficult for young local players to ‘make the break’. It is also one of the reasons why players' wages and transfer fees have risen over the past decade. The clubs no longer have as strong a hold on the players, and therefore need to make it more attractive for them to stay and/or sign longer contracts.

Similar mobility applies to managers, although in their case, they were never as restricted as the players were. Even though managers have long been moving between countries (Venables, Robson & Toshack all managed in Spain), it has stepped up in recent years. Currently the Premiership includes French, Spanish and Portuguese managers, and recently could count managers from Holland, Switzerland and Italy among its ranks. As managers moved around, they brought their own style with them. Thus when British managers moved abroad, they brought the traditional British values of hard work and physical presence with them. Conversely since Arsene Wenger took over at Arsenal, the club have played with a style and panache that, with the greatest respect, would seem completely alien to someone like Tony Adams or George Graham.

All of which leads us to an analysis of national playing styles. Under Jack Charlton, if an Irish defender got the ball, he was instructed to kick it as far and as hard as he could. If the ball came back down with snow on it, so what? Our strikers were our first line of defence. The Irish tactic (singular) was summed up by Charlton himself, when he said we “put 'em under pressure”, and “inflict” our style on them. We were more concerned with destroying the other team's ability than in working on our own. Since then, we have changed dramatically. It doesn't always work, but now we allow our creative players the latitude to pass the ball around, to take on players and (hopefully) beat them.

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