Matches all the time, soon a world championship with 48 teams: Our favourite sport doesn’t leave us any breaks. A feeling has been lost in the process. A love letter of the other kind.
We have to talk. It is all getting too much. I’ve been thinking, I had time. It was a break for the international matches, we haven’t seen each other for a couple of days. But the yearning to see meet you again on Saturday evening was very limited. I wasn’t able to look forward to Scotland or England International qualifiers. It was just too much recently. Premiership, 2 domestic cups, Champions League, European Championship, Premiership again. We didn’t have a summer holiday apart from each other. We don’t allow ourselves breaks anymore.
There is no more distance, you are there all the time. We see each other from Monday to Sunday. When there is no match on, there’s football talk, football news, press conferences, repeats of repeats. You have become the daily routine and are nothing special anymore. You seem to try to chum up to me, and are receivable all the time.
Gianni Infantino has become your face for me: the FIFA president, spherical head, like a ball that permanently grins at me and asks: So, do you want more?
And now, football, I hear your plans for our future: a World Championship with 48 teams, preferably in several countries. A Club World Championship perhaps, with 32 teams. The Europeans want a Nations League. The Premiership has Monday and Friday matches now. Of a Super League, I hear more and more frequently, Bayern vs. Barcelona all the time. Too much of a good thing. Can one look at the Mona Lisa every day without dulling?
Above all that, something has been lost. A feeling, hard to put into words. I just feel how I get tired, somehow fed up and colder towards you. Or I get angry. How am I supposed to want you when you throw yourself at me, all the time. But you don’t get enough, you want everything: Asia, the USA, all the world has to love you.
Do you never get tired? At the European Championships in France, for the first time, you looked really worn out, spent, somehow, knocked out in the preliminary rounds. Romania – Albania, Ukraine – Northern Ireland, those were no Mona Lisas anymore, they were caricatures.
But you are rushing from party to party, every match is an event, you want everyone to party with you although you yourself probably don’t know anymore which day of the week it is. You love the flashlights, the red carpet, and the cameras, apparently, it doesn’t do without them anymore, cameras everywhere. But is it still you behind all this mirror finish? Everything is piled on so heavily. The shaved legs, the bleached tips, the silly tattoos – for whom do you do that? When you celebrate your triumphs, the delight seems rehearsed, practiced in front of the mirror. More for others than for yourself. I barely recognise you anymore and myself, your suitor, not at all.
I fell in love with you once and nobody could express it better than the great Nick Hornby, suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it. But who would have thought the worst pain and disruption I would once face you with would be indifference. That at one point I would not care about you anymore. I would have never thought that and it ties me into knots.
Perhaps I wanted too much from you. It sounds absurd but you were supposed to be everything for me: saint, harlot, mother. I wanted to admire you, your elegance, your ideals of fairness, your high art that elevates me from the daily grind. And I wanted passion, wanted to forget myself in you, extasy, singing, shouting, crying, losing myself in the wave of emotion. And I wanted you to keep me grounded, give me a home, a place that I could always come back to and where I feel secure.
Instead of sacred, you seemed aloof, engrossed, circling around yourself on a lofty plane
When you didn’t give that to me, I was frustrated. Or worse, you gave it to me, much too much of it and I saw the shady side of your three faces. Instead of sacred, you seemed aloof, engrossed, circling around yourself on a lofty plane. Then again, you look cheap, greedy, currying favour, wanted to sell me emotion on the press of a button. And sometimes I felt domineered by you, patronised, chaperoned. I have let you dictate my daily routine, the times I was at home at night, or in the pub. I was dependent on you.
But we always saw more in you. Around the turn of the 21st Century, politicians were sitting in the grandstands and afterwards talked the talk of your value to society. Intellectuals were discussing your implications. You were sung about, made into movies, idolised in ever grander cathedrals. How were you to keep your feet on the ground?
But you took part in all this. You were sitting in talk shows and wanted to teach the world your ways. You wanted to be more important than you are. To be more than the greatest minor matter. And so you became an ugly main issue. You were too greedy. Corporations, patrons, old men with envelopes, shareholders, tv stations, you danced for everyone and took the money from everyone. And never asked what you sold, there and then: your innocence, your values.
Today you reel off the ever-same programme, I know beforehand what happens, it is predictable. In the Bundesliga Bayern always wins, in France its PSG, in the Euro Cups always the Spanish or the Germans. We gave you too much money and you couldn’t handle it. Instead of sharing, you went on a shopping spree, adorned yourself with stars and starlets until it looked nothing else but excessive.
You have no more secrets left, had light shone in every corner, your story is finished, you are over-sold: tactically, statistically, medially. We know who made the mistake, experts process it all for us. Goal? No goal? Goalcam. We peer in the dressing rooms, we know the daily life, the women behind it, the cars, all of it live on all social channels. We wanted to know everything about you, too much. The mystery has been lost, the unknown, the surprising.
You try to never disappoint me, never say the wrong thing into the camera, standardise everything, to tie the perfect package. But I wanted to abrade myself on you, get agitated and then laugh about it. But what you serve me became so exchangeable. Nottingham Forest, Newcastle, Aston Villa, they don’t bother me anymore, dreary old stories, at some point Leicester will become yesterday’s news, too.
I once had the feeling of missing something if I don’t see you. Something that remains, that we will think back to for a long time. But nothing remains, after the match immediately becomes before the match. There is no room left to reverberate, no more time for big moments. If I were not to see you for half a year, there would not be the feeling of missing out on much. Constantly things are happening with you and thus, essentially, nothing.
You always wanted to be better, fitter, more athletic, you perfected your skills. But it were your little faults I could identify with because I’ve got them, too. Now everything looks so effortless. I admired you when you had to transcend yourself, when you pushed the envelope further than what seemed possible. Now I still drink beer, you drink isotonic beverages.
The bad thing is: If someone came and told me you were popping pills, I wouldn’t even be shocked. Seeing your workload I have a premonition that you need a little extra to continue, further and further still. But we need deceleration.
You need to find back to yourself, football
But do you think it gets better if you continue like this? Ever more countries, ever more matches? That the Chinese and Americans will celebrate you? You will fascinate there if you fascinate here. But an empty shell, a hollowed-out product, a ratty diva won’t fill arenas.
You need to find back to yourself, football. Become yourself again. That’s what I would wish for. Don’t make yourself bigger than you are. Stop wanting to be so damn perfect. Say no once in a while. Pass up some money, some gigs. Promise nothing. Be more pugnacious. Keep your secrets. Take your breaks. Let us wait for you. Build up anticipation. And distance to admire you. Rather one date a week than seeing you all the time and not recognise you.
But I don’t know if you are far enough already. Or if first, there has to be the big bang before you realise it. The money is flowing, but money is love and if that holds off, what is there to flow? Perhaps it’s me and you are happier with your Chinese. Have a nice party, then.
I don’t know, however, how it’s supposed to go on with us, football. I still hope that it becomes again what it once was. Perhaps now it’s better if we don’t see each other for a while.