October 16, 2001

The wonderful world of soccer off the pitch

What's going on in the world of football besides matches? A lot as a matter of fact. Here's how the ball is rolling

The second half of the first group stage resumes in the Champions League today. Some will greet their opponents in the luxury of security; others will grit their teeth in anxious anticipation. Champions League survival is the display of a club's worth, it's glory, it's dignity…actually most importantly, it equals a scheisse load of TV money for the club. It's the reason why high-flyers in Europe can afford to buy the Zidanes and the Deislers, and thus distance themselves from domestic competitors. Indeed, for all their far-eastern market exploits, recent European sub-pars Manchester United have been bumped off its perch as the world's richest football club by none other than last year's Champions League winners, Bayern Munich. Chelsea, who failed to qualify for this year's Champions League, reported yesterday that they were 97 million pounds in debt. However, Chairman Ken Bates defiantly stood his ground in the wake of shareholders' criticisms; “It's not my fault we didn't qualify for the Champions League. In the 20 years I've been here, I've never even missed a penalty!" O.K. Ken, carry on the good work then.

Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier is recovering from an 11-hour heart operation over the weekend after the Frenchman complained of chest pains during his team's Premier League match with Leeds United on Saturday. Managing a football club has once again proved that it can seriously damage one's health. What, with all the drunk hooligans and fans, not to mention the chairman of the board breathing down your neck, having to deal with insolent and overpaid egomaniac superstars, blind and bald referees, Fleet Street media, the players union, the players' agents, the FA and UEFA bureaucracy, it rather comes as a surprise that not more managers have blown their fuse. Gerard Houllier's opposite number at Leeds, David O'Leary chillingly recounts his conversation with Houllier prior to their match, “You're not looking too bad, what age are you? I tell you David, with the power of the players these days, and the problems of looking after 20 very rich young men, this game is bad for your health." Ironic. It occurred to me after learning the news of Houllier's operation that we as students at the U of C should pay more attention to our health and avoid the fate of a man who was under similar stressful circumstances. Get well soon Mr. Houllier. Take your time in coming back to Merseyside (while Manchester runs away with the title).

Now everyone knows that superstar football players are grossly overpaid and egotistical. But what about their managers? Let's look at the case of AC Milan's Turkish boss, Fatih Terim. Sure, the man did a great job with Turkey and Galatasaray, but is he worth 40,000 pounds a lecture? That's the sum he's being paid for giving a lecture on teamwork in Istanbul next month. Turkish scholars are claiming that compared to Terim, they have been getting horrifyingly ripped off. According to, Dr. Madir Erdin, a conference organizer said: “Our instructors only get five pounds plus expenses for the same kind of talk Terim is going to give. It's as if Terim is worth 10,000 of our lecturers." Now talk about the struggling economy and inflation in Turkey. I can't imagine how many U of C professors would constitute one Fatih Terim. The thought is ridiculous. Keeping on the subject of football managers, let's talk about their egos. Swede Sven Goran Erikkson is an English hero. He masterminded England's brilliant and successful campaign for World Cup qualification, and in the process, roughed up Germany 5-1. That's a job well done for Mr. Erikkson. But what's up with the Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson promising Sven Goran Erikkson a prestigious medal if he guides England to World Cup victory? According to a British tabloid, Persson said that “the most fantastic honor for ‘Svennis' would be to win the World Cup, and if he does, I will see to it personally that he receives one of our most excellent medals, the Illis Quorum." Does the PM not even care about his own damm national team? I mean the man is not even helping Sweden, who by the way qualified for the World Cup with ease. What's more outrageous is Goran Persson's remark that Tony Blair should do a similar thing if Erikkson leads England to triumph: “I'm sure Tony Blair would want to honor him as well…" O.K. how much more can you possibly do to boost a manager's ego? As if endless publicity and a seven-figure income weren't enough, now we're on the topic of medals and peerages? Football is a funny old game