Football's social distortion

Andy Carroll's depressing move from Newcastle to Liverpool reveals again the Premier League's fierce, shark-like capitalism.

While the Super Bowl brings a nation together on a plush but level playing field, the Premier League is ruled by a few wealthy mastadons

Wretched, dispiriting and lapping at the shores of grotesque, Andy Carroll's move from Newcastle United to Liverpool just really ...

It just really ...

It just really was not very good.

This thud in the gut at the sight of a headline managed some dual epitomising. It reiterated both the bleak caste system of the Premier League and the kind of weird two-country reality that makes life on Earth either intriguing or nonsensical, take your pick.

The colossal English Premier League, existing in a country with good social programmes, operates as a shark tank of capitalism in which only a handful of gluttonous corporations can win the title.

The colossal American NFL, existing in a country so disdainful of social programmes that its citizens might get sick just from looking at their medical bills, operates as a beacon of equitable salary structure in which almost anybody can win the championship with the frightfully inept exceptions of the Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions.

In England on Monday, young Carroll went to Liverpool and reminded Newcastle fans that lesser clubs subsist partly to shovel splendour toward the four or five mastodons.

In Texas on Monday, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers giddily arrived for the 45th Super Bowl, but except for a few breaks or injuries here and there they easily could have been teams from Chicago and New England, or Philadelphia and Baltimore, or New Orleans and Indianapolis.

The English slog begins each August with fans of 15 or so clubs knowing irrefutably that their club have zero-point-zero-zero-zero chance to finish first. It has squeezed out three different champions in the past 12 seasons.

The American slog begins each August with fans of 15 or so franchises hoping plausibly that their club will finish first. It has churned out nine different champions and 17 different Super Bowl participants in the past 12 years, and when the New England Patriots won three out of four years it seemed mysterious until ensuing events revealed the club's fetish for video-camera cheating.

The rowdy NFL rewards nuanced turns of cleverness both managerial and athletic, while in the structured Premier League I would have no idea of Sir Alex Ferguson's real prowess had he not forged that magic three decades ago in Aberdeen.

He starts each August with an outsized pile of assets and an undersized pile of legitimate rivals. The long-stated English aversion to the American term "franchise" grows senseless given the English franchises are more franchised than American ones.

So upon this strange planet, Carroll's move came as more capitalistic larceny. (You might have heard of that.) It stole from the average fan the compelling prospect of seeing if Carroll might drag Newcastle upward. He had just turned 22. He had bolted to prominence. He had captivated managers with his powerful skill and capable skull. He had tugged at hometown strings even if such "loyalty" comes as outdated folly.

As a bonus, his off-pitch CV already boasted a nightclub brawl, a curfew violation, training-ground scraps, a teammate's alleged broken jaw, two assault charges and the irresistible fact that somebody set afire his car in his teammate's driveway last October, all of which made him the ideal, 21st-century footballer, all set to provide the twin public necessities of goals and tabloid distraction.

Now he leaves to become just another Liverpool player who might lapse into a bar fight if somebody does not let him control the karaoke machine.

In the NFL, he might stay in off-Broadway Green Bay, because off-Broadway Green Bay or wherever could offer him almost every bauble big Dallas could. Instead, the Premier League sees another bright light gobbled up by one of its Exxons, and a visit to the Newcastle message boards requires more courage than usual.

"Another bad day for us Newcastle fans ..."

"We nurtured him through the academy ..."

"Looks like we are a selling club again ..."

Then there's the fan who, after the transfer of January 31, flipped his Newcastle calendar to February and found ... Carroll.

Yet above all somehow, the NFL sells unpredictability and people devour it. The Premier League sells rigid structure and people still devour it. Form supplies meaning in a way hodgepodge cannot. A mid-season victory over Manchester United means something, and a mid-season victory over United this particular season might lodge in a fan's memory all the way to the tomb. A mid-season victory over Pittsburgh - well, that's nice, good job, but a fan might forget it 10 years hence.

So the thud over Carroll might stem only from an American, NFL-conditioned, salary-cap-prone viewpoint. Or it might owe to basic human sympathy for that fan flipping his calendar page.

Published: February 3, 2011 04:00 AM


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