Overpaid dullards who are usually too drunk to notice their income dissolving from under them. Captive fanbases so dedicated they’d snatch a lengthy subscription out of your hands like a sensibly priced PS5 off eBay. An entire industry slowly coming round to letting computers tell them what’s happening. It’s perhaps no wonder that Spotify CEO Daniel Ek looked from music to football and saw a system he had some expertise and experience in.
“If KSE would like to sell Arsenal I’d be happy to throw my hat in the ring,” Ek tweeted in the wake of fans of the club protesting the decision of owner Stan Kroenke to take Arsenal into the ill-fated Super League which, as someone who doesn’t follow football but couldn’t ignore the uproar, I can only assume is the pointless sports equivalent of Joss Whedon’s Justice League (full of big names, went down like a sponge submarine).
With famed Arsenal alumni Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira joining Ek in the takeover bid, you might welcome the change at the top, but be careful what you wish for, Gooners. If Ek brings his music industry methods with him – currently under intense fire from a long list of major artists including Paul McCartney, Chris Martin, Noel Gallagher and Kate Bush demanding the government take action on streaming payments, and described this week by Paul Weller as “disgraceful” for artists – it could make for a very different ball game indeed.
For a start, players would have their extravagant fees stripped away and instead get paid in kicks. Every touch of the ball would earn the lucky player 0.003p, which would certainly encourage them to keep possession. In fact, the gymnastic and intricate displays of dribbling that players would have to exhibit in order to try to earn a living wage from a game wouldn’t only be interrupted by tackles from the opposing team but from their team-mates as well, as everyone attempts, fruitlessly, to get paid properly before the final whistle. It’d be a brutal, boots-first 22-man free for all, every player for themselves, like a biker bar riot sponsored by the Nationwide.
It wouldn’t take long until the biggest name players revolted of course, and their agents negotiated them a bigger slice of the kick-rate. Caged ‘playlist’ areas would be erected by the corner flags where star strikers from both teams can take ten-minute ‘pay breaks’ passing the ball between themselves for a larger pay-per-kick cut than their just-off-the-bench colleagues. Meanwhile, in open play, VAR would start telling the teams to pass the ball to a particular high-priority player to ensure they hit their contractual payment level for the match, even if they just sit on the halfway line sexting others players’ wives for 90 minutes straight.
VAR, in fact, will make continual suggestions to players about where they might like to kick the ball next, based entirely on where they kicked the ball last time, and thereby subliminally effect gameplay to the extent that eventually every single match played anywhere will be an exact replica of every other match, forever. We’ll dutifully plod along to watch exactly the same 0-0 draw week after week, while the commentators try to get excited about the brand of boot with which a player makes his usual, scripted lob into the 18-yard box and the older fans reminisce about the days when there used to be inspiration and variety in the game, let alone an even playing field. When players were allowed to leave their designated, formulaic positions, venture way out to the leftfield and still get enough ball-time to make their mark. The flair! The daring! The testicle-grabbing danger!
Soon, one match a week won’t be enough to maintain the growth Ek expects. Lesser players will be expected to churn out ‘content’ games five or six times a day in order to earn the bus fare it takes to get there, with most of the money from the match going directly into Lionel Messi’s Monaco yacht mooring fund. Told that, in the modern game, a constant presence on pitch is the only way to build engagement with supporters and TOWIE WAGS, they’ll run themselves into the ground playing the same match over and over, until injuries, poverty and burn-out kill off most lesser-funded footballing careers by the age of 24.
But don’t worry, a few established, elite top players – as Ek so proudly proclaims of Spotify’s musical achievements – will be earning such vast sums from the new football format that they’ll essentially exist in a sort of rarefied Super League… hang on.