The other side of financial globalization of football

Usually we celebrate how globalisation and finance has transformed football across the world.

Akash Bhattacharya provides the other side of this development:

The concentration of wealth in a few European clubs of Spain, England and Italy has drawn the best playing and coaching talents from all parts of the world towards them. Consequently, these clubs have a monopoly over the production and distribution of “quality” football. This has had a detrimental effect on other football cultures, reconfiguring them as the periphery of global football. Whatever the circumstances of initiation in different parts of the world, football has historically allowed different styles – art forms, indeed – to grow and prosper. The styles often shared a deep organic link with the societies that produced them. For example, the compulsion of barefoot football in Africa (no money to buy boots!) inspired a specific style of capturing the ball without colliding with the opponent (Alegi 2010: 68). Capital has weakened that organic link and integrated them into new “global” networks – with western Europe as the centre. Football styles have consequently been homogenised. Brazil provides an obvious example. 
With players migrating to European clubs in their early twenties, the trickster-like, artistic, flowing football of Brazil has been all but relegated to the past (Brazilian Sensation 2013). The world saw such football from Brazil for the last time in the 1982 World Cup while they won their last two World Cups (1994 and 2002) by beating teams on brilliant moments, like any other good team, rather than on the flow of the game. Who knows which football (read art) tradition in which unknown community is dying a silent death in some other corner of the world as the European powerhouses are busy homogenising the game? 
The defenders of the present global football order proudly claim that the migration to European clubs have led to the equalisation in the performances of the national teams, as players from traditionally weaker football traditions have learnt the art from the traditionally powerful cultures while playing for their clubs. This hardly holds true for Latin American players; vibrant football cultures in their countries have historically enabled them to beat European teams with ease. Asian and African teams have flattered to deceive. Talented players migrating to European clubs often end up playing for their adopted countries, while the prominence of Europe leads to overdependence on European managers constraining the growth of indigenous coaching talents and playing styles. African and Asian dreams of equality have remained unfulfilled. 
Of course the commercialisation of football has enabled upward economic mobility for many African players. Yet that does not tell the whole story about the third world experience of globalisation of football. While the top end of the industry provides gigantic salaries and “star” social status to the players, the bottom rungs are characterised by blatant exploitation. It was estimated that in 2010 around 20,000 young west African players were stranded throughout Europe – trafficked there by predatory agents who had promised them contracts with big European teams and then abandoned them (Van Zeller 2010). In 2013, a young Nigerian footballer, Adegbola Ayomide Idowu, suffered the same fate supposedly en-route to the relatively poor football league of India, the I-League, and remained stranded in New Delhi for months. Stories such as these emerge regularly from different parts of the world (Bhattacharya 2013).
The “kafala system” prevalent in Qatar and Saudi Arabia provides another example of such exploitation. Under the system, employers can easily detain their employees by denying them exit permits. Recruitment agencies often dupe migrant workers, including footballers, who are then trapped for years. Throughout 2012 and ’13, Zahir Belounis, a French footballer, remained stranded at Doha in Qatar as his club Al-Jaish had refused to grant him an exit permit over a pay dispute. No one is bothered about what happens to the less talented or less fortunate practitioners of the beautiful game. While the football discourse is dominated by the top end that produce “quality” football, evils prevalent at the bottom end remain the great unspoken of global football.
One should always know the other side of the story even if benefits from the globalisation story are more than the negatives of globalisation. Ignorance of the latter from the literature is what is really a problematic part. It gives people a one sided view..

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