- Juan Pablo Meneses *
- Special for BBC World
The pandemic and the last Copa América and Eurocopa have ended with the total disfigurement of classic football.
The crisis is coming to such a point that FIFA itself recently released a desperate and belated statement, announcing that it “has no intention of testing new changes” in the sport. A statement that many of us read as the final ground shovel about a game that for a long time is no longer the one we knew.
Since 2013, when I published the book “Boys soccer players”, I have been writing that soccer is on the way to extinction. But the mutation has accelerated sharply. What is played now and entertains in another way and adds followers and fans and millions of dollars is another sport: post-football.
As a way to make this new game visible, I already published a column during the 2015 Copa América.
There he told things that seemed normal, but were not. They are not. For example, tickets for big games are mostly bought by different multinational companies; then the stadiums are filled with customers, not fans.
I remember an entire audience in the stadium with spectators wearing a credit card shirt.
Around the same time, a company called ISE (part of Dallah Al Baraka, one of the two largest economic groups in the Middle East), bought all the rights to the friendly matches of the Brazilian team, with the clause that the owner sheikh could veto players from the canarinha. A kind of video game with real soccer players.
Nobody seemed to care much about these changes, because everyone won. And post-football has that grace: everything it touches transforms it into a profitable and futuristic version of old football.
For example, if England today imports a ten-year-old boy from Patagonia to work eight days a day in a cotton field, it will be said that it is slave labor.
If it matters so that he spends eight hours a day playing in the Arsenal field, it will be said that he is “The Messi of the snow” and his signing will be celebrated in the sports press, just as it happened in Europe with Claudio Gabriel Ñancufil, a boy from Patagonia who was bought at the age of eight by a group of Spanish investors to offer it to different European clubs.
Messi and the post-football
The beginning of post-football is directly linked to the history of Lionel Messi. A child from an impoverished country, from an impoverished city, from a poor neighborhood, from a poor family, who sells for a few thousand dollars and – miracle! – in less than 10 years already costs more than 200 million euros .
Faced with these figures, what do the medals matter? What do the goals matter? What do the championships matter? What do the training schools for new players matter? Much better to go shopping.
The great problem and concern and crisis that FIFA is experiencing today is that post-football is beginning to be much more entertaining, fast and exciting than the classic football that they dominate.
It is still difficult for some to understand what this new sport is about. At first, it was only associated with strange maneuvers after the desperate search for the new Messi; others saw it as a matter of territoriality and identity, and there were those who saw it as a hyper-consumer version of soccer.
It is all that, but it is much more. And for the same reason, in times of pandemic and super-league dreams, fanaticism for post-football grows from the most unexpected sides, without stopping to generate new variants.
In 2015, the Italian footballers’ union translated my book “Boys footballers” and distributed it to the clubs that play the scudetto. Italy has a cruel history with the exploitation of African child soccer players. The presentation of the book was at the Milan Football Museum, and half of my words were focused on post-football.
It will come soon, he told them. And it came earlier than expected.
Sports newspapers will have to hire financial journalists, he exaggerated them, and that is already happening.
That the most remembered play of Cristiano Ronaldo In the last European Championship it is when he moved a bottle at the press conference, and that journalists did not tire of repeating the billions of euros that that company lost, it is no coincidence: it is post-football in its wild and pure state.
That a file is opened against England for using a laser against the Denmark goalkeeper during the launch of a penalty in the semifinals is post-South American football in the middle of the Eurocup.
EThe successful business of killing football
In 2017 I was invited to Pereira, Colombia, to present at the V seminar on the rights of children in sports training. The depredation of Colombian soccer children is one of the harshest in Latin America.
But in the post-football culture, child trafficking is considered (so consider it by fathers, mothers, families, coaches, leaders and minors themselves) just a sunk cost. A sacrifice of work.
On Youtube there is an old video, from when Diego Maradona was a kid. They interview him and there he says that he hopes to play for the national team and be world champion. Now it is different. A “post-footballer” boy told me in Colombia that he hopes to succeed to set up a beauty salon for his mother, and another to buy a taxi for his grandfather.
And although the death of football could lead to thinking about a drop in economic income, post-football multiplies the money and has us living a game with too many stimuli, uncertainties, tensions.
For the same reason, it is not by chance that in the recent Copa América, the VAR room (the room where controversial plays are reviewed), had a very careful scenography and a studied lighting design. Every time that room full of screens was focused, the rating it rose as much as the nervousness of the spectators. It is all so clear that television rights will probably be sold soon just to watch and listen to the games from there.
If during the last Copa América there was a doubtful play in the VAR, such as the controversial draw between Brazil and Colombia, the television news waited for the leaking of the audios among the referees with much more interest and anxiety than the cables of WikiLeaks on the business of the presidents of their countries.
And the rating goes up. And this new sport grows. And now, with the television review and the long minutes of analysis and talks by up to five referees, the most radical of the extremes has been reached: in the postfootball goals are no longer celebrated, now they are explained.
A football without ties
No one can say that we did not notice it. Even in 2018 the Spanish magazine “Panenka”, one of the most sophisticated football publications in the world, joined the issue with a post-football dossier. The prominent sports journalist Axel Torres focused his gaze on that “when football has completely detached itself from its ties to a territory, a group and some feelings,” football will be over.
The analysis is correct, but absolutely Iberian-centric. In Latin America, what he announces as a catastrophic prediction has been a repeated figure for more than ten years. Emilio ButragueñoOld glory of Real Madrid, he has toured South America inaugurating local Real Madrid headquarters.
Paris Saint-Germain Academy Brazil is a strong club in the Rio championships. And own David Beckham opened a school in Brazil.
In “Niños Futbolistas” I interviewed minor players in ten Latin American countries. Most dreamed of playing (and declared themselves fans) of Barcelona, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Inter. I remember that you wanted to play for City, it didn’t matter if Manchester City or New York City, which are owned by the same owner.
In 2021, Colombian journalists Christian Solano and Óscar Donato published the book “The Football Business: from the artisanal game to the industrial spectacle”, where they also take hold of post-football.
They focus on the variant of an activity disfigured by atrophic football capitalism. A vision of which there are hundreds of books accusing ancient football of being a business. Post-football is much more than a business: it is a new culture, a new sport.
The FIFA statement is a kind of slow-motion suicide. They come out to reject that they are evaluating making five new changes to the rules of the game, as if what happens on the pitch matters a lot to the new fans.
Several years ago, I had to witness a totally post-football scene in a cafeteria in Barcelona. A father, reading the newspaper, recited the figure of millions in which Barcelona had bought Neymar. One of the sons, about 10 years old, asked: “And do you think we will be able to recoup that investment?”
The other, about 12, made the sentence: “We have to get her back!”
None of the three spoke of goals, championships or Ney’s dribbles.
Not everything is lost
For fans of classic football, all is not lost. On television and on the Internet, an offer of games and championships of the memory is growing.
I have a friend who, right now and week after week, is following the Boca de Maradona and Caniggia. And, personally, I admit that I recently saw the game of University of Chile with River Plate played in Buenos Aires in 1996 and where the game was stolen from us by a rude penalty not sanctioned at the U.
But, beyond the nostalgic, what most see and enjoy is this new sport, where players give video game interviews, goals are explained, fans wave advertisers’ flags by zoom, teams change the design of their jerseys several times a year, the European classics times are defined according to the broadcast for China and the fans do not follow clubs, but players.
The power of businessmen is growing, and that worries FIFA a lot. Soon you will be able to buy direct shares of each player, and celebrate the business if there is a good campaign from your own scorer. The app games where one is the manager of a football club grow faster than the applications where one is the scorer.
Sooner or later, the Superlage will be imposed, which will be the total arrival of the post-football. A sort of circus of the sun with the best football jugglers that will travel the world. And that will force us to forget that sport that existed long before the pandemic. That game where you knew the alignment of your teams, celebrated the goals, insulted the referee and that everyone knew as football.
* Juan Pablo Meneses He is a Chilean journalist and writer. He has coined the term “post-football” and among his football books are “Niños futbolistas” and “Una granada para River Plate”. He was selected in the anthology “The football chronicles”, published in England on the occasion of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.