During the summer of 2012, the recently retired Alex Ferguson had the following to say about the dominance of money in football, and how his beloved Manchester United did things the right way:
“It’s not just the transfer fees or the salaries, it’s the agent fees. It’s getting ridiculous now…That’s the difference between United and the rest – we can play 18-year-olds because it’s part of our history. It’s like a destiny for us. No other clubs can do that.”
Though Ferguson’s words were more than likely heartfelt at the time, in truth the idea that the club possesses some innate identity – ‘the United way’ – whose uniqueness renders it superior to other run-of-the-mill football clubs is nothing but a fallacy. ‘The United Way’ is mere marketing jargon to emphasise just how supposedly special a club Manchester United is, in a world where the major European clubs constantly strive to swell their global fanbase. It is nothing more than an empty phrase, a meaningless concept which bears no resemblance to the Manchester United of the real world, whose astronomical transfer fees were the highest in Europe during the summer transfer window.
The Red Devils are by no means alone, and no worse than many others, in their method of self-promoting disguised as hyperbolic baloney. Barcelona proudly proclaim themselves to be ‘mes que un club’ – more than a club – a notion which is particularly daft and insulting to even those with a passing interest in football when we bear in mind the high-profile scandals which rocked the Catalan side last season. Modern football is a stinking moral cesspit of greed, corruption and decadent wealth; when it comes to money, which it almost always does, most of the top clubs form a single homogenous entity who treat football solely as a business, neglecting its original purpose of being a sport to be played and enjoyed. Their use of such slogans is simply a way of embellishing this fact.
There does, however, exist a true way, even in the ethically bankrupt, cash-rich world of modern football. This way is primarily concerned with money – an inescapable necessity in today’s climate – although its aims, and the way in which they are realised, make for a refreshing antidote to the questionable ways of most other top football clubs. The true way – the template for running a football club in a responsible and ethical manner – can be found in South Wales, and it is the Swansea Way.
The emergence of the Swansea model has been a relatively recent occurrence, and was motivated by necessity, not choice. The club’s well-documented troubles at the beginning of the last decade saw them flirt with bankruptcy and relegation from the Football League. The Swans just managed to survive, and their meteoric rise to the Premier League has garnered such praise and attention that it has been made into a film. The secret to their success lies in fan ownership and responsible, sure-footed leadership. The 20% acquisition of the club by the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust in 2002 played a huge factor in the club’s survival, allowing the fans to have a say in the running of their team, whilst chairman Huw Jenkins has ensured that the club has not run into the same dire financial difficulties that it experienced 12 years ago. So successful has the Swansea model been that it has since been adopted by other clubs, most notably Portsmouth last year.
As well as having an authentic identity with regard to the way the club is run, there is also a clear philosophy on the pitch to accompany its business method, with the Swans’ pleasing brand of passing football first being implemented by Roberto Martinez and now overseen by current coach Garry Monk.
The Swansea Way is not footballing balderdash, nor a marketing ploy to attract ‘global followers’ – it is simply an effective, democratic and highly admirable way of running a football club, with fan ownership ensuring that decisions are taken with the club’s best interests at heart and shrewd expenditure safeguarding against financial oblivion. Judging by Swansea’s incredible success in recent times – epitomised by their League Cup victory in 2013 – it is a model that works, and their dealings in the transfer market this summer only go to show that in the right hands, a football club can succeed and develop without the need to spend excessive amounts of money. The South Wales club’s net spend totalled £1.5 million, and after three games of the season they find themselves in second place with maximum points. Manchester United’s outlay came to in excess of £150 million, and are currently winless in the league.
Modern football is in a morally parlous state, but by ignoring empty slogans, meaningless, money-driven mottos and false philosophies, and turning to a pragmatic model with substance and sense, there may yet be hope for the game to become beautiful once again.