Until recently it was unthinkable to imagine that the European football teams could one day behave like American sports franchises. Teams in the NBA, the NFL and the MLB have changed cities based on the economic and commercial interests of the entertainment industry.
A similar future for football no longer seems so unrealistic. The global market now sustains most clubs and it is no longer surprising when a starting line-up does not contain a single player from the club’s region.
At the same time, the influence of local fans and the paying public who attend matches is increasingly negligent compared to the impact of the global public, whose viewing figures determine the money that comes from television audiences.
The question is to determine to what extent commercial dynamics might encourage the creation of a supranational competition. For example, an evolution of the current Champions League.
It is not unreasonable to imagine that such a new world tournament would be celebrated in China one year, in Japan the next, and then in the Arab Emirates. Teams like Manchester City, PSG, Bayern Munich and even Real Madrid or Barcelona have potentially up to 90,000 adoring fans who would have to watch matches on television not in the ground, because in business terms a full stadium means little compared to the millions of euros that would come from the television rights for such a global showcase competition.
And the footballers? If a player is nothing more than a professional who can improve their contract and is received and cheered as if they were divine in each place, why should a Brazilian trained in Brazil not want to play in Barcelona or Paris, a Portuguese trained in Portugal in Manchester or Madrid, or a Chilean from Chile in Munich or Turin? The power of fame is the power of success and the power of victory. The team with which success is obtained or victory achieved is unimportant.
In that sense, the One-Club Player Award honours glory over fame. Although they are terms that can cause confusion, and in general the world of football treats them as if they were synonyms, historically they are not.
Glory cannot be achieved in any particular way and refers more to the journey than the result. Glory is linked to intangible values rather than to tangible trophies, even if there are trophies too.
There can be glory without titles or achievements, but not without commendable merit. The most famous aphorism around the concept of glory is that of Cicero: “The greater the difficulty, the greater the glory”. Just staying at one single club, regardless of the club’s status or prestige and not signing for any other, already involves a series of intangible values needed for a career full of glory.
The first value is ‘loyalty’. Loyalty towards the club that placed its trust in a young, promising player and developed said player into an elite footballer. Athletic Club considers loyalty not only to be in its own interest due to its philosophy, but also in the interest of football. Of course, the player’s sense of loyalty should also come from a mindset that goes beyond economic gain.
Mathew Le Tissier, the first person to receive the One-Club Man award, summarised his respected professional decision in a single sentence that was as accurate as it was eloquent: “It’s much more of a challenge for me to play against the top teams, than with them. I dedicate myself to that.”
The interests of industry and entertainment, not of football as a sport, seem to suggest that only two unique criteria should be taken into consideration when guiding a professional football career: Money and Titles. An unwritten law, but somehow assumed to be real, states that the more money you earn, and the more titles a player accumulates, the better your professional career will be. Mathew Le Tissier’s quote dismantles that law completely because it introduces other key factors beyond money and titles. In particular, when he says “much more of a challenge” it reminds us of the search for glory that for so many centuries inspired countless lovers of art, science, research, history or adventure and travel.
As anyone can surmise, it is more difficult, and therefore more worthwhile, to win a trophy with Southampton than with Manchester United. Climbing Everest in summer, with oxygen on a well-known route has less merit than doing it in winter without oxygen whilst opening a new route.
For Athletic Club it is of vital importance that professional footballers consider other factors as well as (not instead of, which would not be a realistic aspiration) trophies and money. The example of Matt Le Tissier helps us to understand the decisions of our own past One-Club players, and of those that may come in the future.