The Glocal World Cup
World football is globalised and inequal. The first is now countering the second. A score or two articles appear every World Cup to see if the football world has any lessons for globalisation in general.In most cases, the football world is used to prove that globalisation is generally a bad thing.
There is a case. The lifting of “market restrictions” like players moving between teams and how much teams could spend on players in the mid-1990s has led to football being dominated by a handful of rich clubs in the richer European economies.
In England and Italy the top four clubs take turns topping the league. In Spain and Germany it’s a virtual duopoly.
But the experience of globalisation is that the lowering of national borders leads to an initial increase in inequality.
Then there is a catch-up period as other nations and population groups learn the tricks of the trade and begin to narrow the competitive gap between them and the original beneficiaries.
This is beginning to happen in football. The standards that made the big clubs so special are spreading down to lower club leagues and to smaller countries. It’s the “glocalisation” of football and it was more than evident during World Cup 2010.
Consider these trends:
1. Euro-dilution. The World Cup is traditionally a European and Latin American affair. The final four were from these traditional regions. But consider the state of the tournament after the first 11 days of playing. Germany, England, Italy and Spain – home to the richest European leagues – had won two games between them. Ghana was one flawed penalty shot from making it to the final eight.
Each succeeding World Cup sees more African, even Asian, countries making it to the round of 16 countries. And ever more examples of soccer superpowers crashing to the parvenus.
2. Club class. Because rich clubs have pushed up the cost of the best players, clubs with less funding developed sophisticated scouting, recruiting and training academy systems (see the New York Times recent article on the first of these academies, by Ajax Amsterdam). This scouting has gone further and further afield in hunt of players. Africa has proven to be a particularly rich hunting grounds. Even rich clubs, most notably Arsenal, have also set up academies to control costs.
This has exposed hundreds of African, Arab and Asian players to the professionalism of European club football. So this World Cup you saw teams like Cameroons and Nigeria which had zero or just one player who came from the domestic league of the respective countries. The rest played overseas. This has allowed developing world national teams to make a few quantum leaps in terms of quality.
3. Nationalism inversion. The developed world, seeing their players moving up the quality ladder, are also taking their national football training and development more seriously. Ghanaians were heartbroken when their team lost to Uruguay, but keep in mind that Ghana has been working towards a plan and its goal is the World Cup of 2014. It fielded the World Cup’s youngest team and making it to the level that it did was a bonus.
The point is that this sort of official commitment would have been unheard of five years ago in a third world country. Now, it’s increasingly commonplace. Hence the proliferation of foreign coaches in developed world teams.
One almost gets the opposite sentiment among many European teams. The disintegration of the French team was a perfect example of post-modern football nationalism.
The distance between the European clubs and the rest is shrinking because off these trends. This will make World Cups generally more competitive. Even among European clubs the gap is closing. Europe may dominate the finals, but note that it is the Netherlands and Spain who are playing – two countries who never won the World Cup before. Europe is still the show stealer at the World Cup but as it spews out skills to players from other countries through its club system, that crown will lie increasingly uneaxily on Euirope’s brow.