The consumer gobble-up: transfers and Adorno

Transfer news are “what the people want”. Havertz? Thiago? Sancho? Messi? Transfer news are the talk of the town. After all, the seasonal tastes only come round every so often. Searchers nowadays flock to the Twitter page of transfer news’ cultivator, Fabrizio Romano. They all yearn for the words “here we go”. They pick off his sweet tweets, digesting bits and pieces of information that are most likely useless and unhealthy. They search for more; Christian Falk, Bryan Swanson and Jan Aage Fjortoft are also posting some tasty tweets. The searchers do not stop. They scroll further. They take a warm trip round the “rumour mills” on The Sun, go onboard the Daily Express. There, unrealistic transfer rumours spread in capital letter across the page. Now, they have given up searching. Yet still, they are hungry. So they talk, speculate, fabricate. Now, everyone is taking part in this endless chain of pointless discussion. Simultaneously, football slowly disintegrates at the hands of business and other worrying factors.

The dangers of transfer stories are going unnoticed, despite being in plain view. We are digesting stories every day, instinctively accepting news, which also further promotes the “fake news” agenda- rife when it comes to transfer stories. The psychologist Kahnemann would be disappointed. More importantly, our instinctive pleasures from reading transfer stories are tainting the very purity and Truth of the football being played. Theodor Adorno, the sociologist from the Frankfurt School in the first half of the 20th century, would be disgusted.

Theodor Adorno was a German philosopher/psychologist/sociologist, whose ideas stem from a Marxist root. Ranging from the economy to art and culture, his influence on modern society should not go understated. One of his theories on art shall be investigated (with relation to football) in a future article. For now, the ideas he shares about the ‘Culture Industry’, the title he gives for the entertainment machines that effectively control society, may be useful when investigating the public’s responses to transfer stories. Ideas about the ‘Culture Industry’ are echoed still today by prominent figures, like the actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who states that social media is the ‘greatest propaganda machine in history’.

Adorno’s most famous quotation: ‘To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’. By this, he means that the mass production of art and media is complicit with an ignorance of the most severe problems society faces, and complicit with the overall ‘Culture Industry’. The ‘Culture Industry’ Adorno cites leads us to explore the footballing version of a ‘Culture Industry’, and how it might fundamentally harm the football community.

Adorno, who adopts a melancholic tone to his writing, defines the unfortunate ‘triumph’ of the ‘Culture Industry’ as ‘the compulsive imitation by consumers of cultural commodities which, at the same time, they recognise as false’. In summary, what the ‘Culture Industry’ feeds us, the public mocks. That serves to fuel inauthenticity. So, the obsession over transfer fees, wages and, more generally, the futile conversation of transfers is excessive. This problem psychologically filters through to players’ performances, like Neymar. They play with a price tag looming over their shoulders, causing for the judgement of his true quality to be somewhat confused with other initial expectations. Hundreds, or thousands, more examples surface, ranging from Luis Figo, to Fernando Torres, to Juan Sebastian Veron. Directors of big clubs have blamed the media for needlessly promoting transfer stories. Bayer Leverkusen bosses have hit out at reports saying Havertz to Chelsea is a done deal. Others have made the argument that if the media chose to write more about other topics, then people would be disinterested in transfer gossip. It is a problem felt from the top of clubs right through to the bottom, where unnecessary pressure piles up for signed players, for the clubs signing players, and also for clubs not signing players to sign more players. There is a strong possibility that these players (also human beings, let us not forget) are unable to authentically announce their abilities. The motive to play football for the beauty and enjoyment of playing football has dissipated. Football has become entrapped, imprisoned, put in a cage by the ‘(Football) Culture Industry’.

Another problem. The new stories of particular journalists are quickly diluted by a mass repetition of the same story. For instance, remaining on the issue of transfer stories, Marcelo Bechler of Esporte Interativo, who broke the Neymar story, broke the Messi story 2 weeks ago. Now, social media has crazed after the club told Spanish media that he would like to leave. The original messenger has been lost within the chaotic mass of voices. Fabrizio Romano may equate to transfer deity, but it seems that he has self-built this reputation perhaps. For instance, the Telegraph was the first notable source to break the Thiago Silva-to-Chelsea story, Fabrizio Romano later reposts and re-words the Thiago Silva story on his Twitter. By not subtracting from Fabrizio Romano’s well-deserved reputation and stature, it must still be recognised that many of his announcements source from other journalists “finding out first”. The issue here lies in the fact that repeated discourse does not always stabilise truth and reliability. It provokes further inauthenticity online, and can sometimes reduce the credibility of news’s original source.

That is not all. This component of the ‘(Football) Culture Industry’ similarly harms the safety of individuals providing the goods- players and coaches alike. The force compromising their security- financially, socially and safety for their futures- is being produced mainly by agents and intermediaries. Growing numbers of agents are entering the football industry, with their cuts in negotiations becoming extortionate. They are not providing security for players’ careers. FIFA, as an hopeless organisation, has failed to fairly regulate the agents market. Many agents enter the market with an unsettling sense of ease. For instance, one can pay the English FA a fee of £500 to become eligible. Tests of ‘good character and reputation’ are not difficult to pass. Agents are then able to make players sign exclusivity contracts, with commissions rising to as high as 10% of a player’s gross salary, despite FIFA’s “recommended” 3%. In turn, agents are able to find loopholes in transfer settings in order to earn more. One of the hundreds methods used by intermediaries is by creating or leaking transfer intel to media, driving up interest for a player, letting the price of agents’ cuts rise further. For instance, on the same day Sky Sports reported a ‘breakthrough’ in Willian’s contract negotiations with Chelsea FC, his agent Kia Joorabchian went live on TalkSport to announce that Willian had significant offers from teams in the Premier League and the MLS. FIFA’s 2019 report into “Intermediaries in International Transfers” reveals that agents earned over $548 million in 2018, and $653 million in 2019. (1) The information mentioned here about football agency comes from a seminar with a football lawyer, Daniel Geey, and the agent of Mesüt Ozil and Ilkay Gündogan, Dr Erkut Sögüt. This two-day seminar happened in Autumn 2018.

So, our frivolous engagement with the transfer of players, most of which is mere speculation anyway, only aids some of the most powerful figures or institutions in football. This is an extremely worrying happening. With inequalities in football already widening, damaging footballing communities as in Wigan or in Bury, the football world persists in a blind consumption and re-production of transfer stories and rumours. The football itself, as a result, no longer seems to be an escapism from the commercial excess. Its purity seems to continue to be greyed by an overwhelming sense of restraint. “Fake news” are just one part of the wider story. It has gained more attention and action. The Sun, for instance, has been banned by Liverpool and Everton after their fake news report into the ‘Truth’ behind the Hillsborough catastrophe. The greater problem at hand is the manner in which transfer discussion has impacted all corners of football, while the football community has been inactive in addressing each problem that arises from it. The process of the gobble-up is endless.

Adorno extends his argument into thinking about the way in which art might challenge the Culture Industry in certain ways, but this article will not. Simply, this article serves to make the point that the ‘(Football) Culture Industry’ might be beguiling us, making us disillusioned with football’s true beauties. The mass deception, which is what we have become so engrossed in, should therefore be highlighted.

Nothing expressed in this article is explicitly new or different from other opinion articles on transfers before. This article might just be another nudge, another reminder of football’s central problems. In fact, as I am writing this article, Breaking The Lines, a prolific football blog, released an article looking into the effect of the Bosman ruling, titled ‘Imagining a World without a Transfer Window'(2). The article follows an economist’s view into football, and how it can be restructured so that all clubs benefit, rather than a few. Many journalists, young and old, are “flagging up” their concerns for the direction the game is heading in: the inequalities building up, the problems with calendar issues for players, the problems with VAR, etc. It is true that at all points in football, many were not satisfied with the state of the game. It is also undeniable that football naturally evolves and adapts over time according to different circumstances. However, dissatisfaction should not be dismissed. Reflecting and challenging the problems surrounding transfers, via the lens of Theodor Adorno, should encourage perceptions to alter. Once we become conscious of existing problems, there is hope for positive change and a realisation that football’s true beauty can still be saved.*

And yet, all journalists are products of the ‘(Football) Culture Industry’. All types of media are, all clubs are and even players are. There is no escape when norms and habits comfortably settle into the psyche. Every football institution must find ends to growing economically, to become financially stronger- that is how capitalist society works. Consumerist urges have become our way of living, of surviving. Desire and lust for more “falseness “might be a part of human nature.

…to more pressing matters: do you think Messi will leave Barcelona? I heard he might.

*- Whether football is an art form or not is a topic of hot debate and thought. What exactly beauty consists, particularly in a football sense, is something else which is hotly contested. Here, take “beauty” as football being able to empower communities and climax emotions for fans. I am interested in doing an article discussing football, art and beauty in the future.

1 – https://resources.fifa.com/image/upload/intermediaries-report-2019.pdf?cloudid=skxho7ouynkh1axpcu0a

2 – https://breakingthelines.com/opinion/imagining-a-world-without-a-transfer-window/

Another interesting article on social media’s role in football:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-social-media-has-changed-football-bk75vc08q

For more information on Adorno:

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