The proxy war

You find The Economist dry, and professional sports viciously dull. And yet:

To the geopolitically minded, European football is thrilling when you dissect the chaotic allegiances and disquieting economic subtext of championship play.

During the cold months, football is played in professional leagues hosted within an individual country. England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, etc. Each team within these leagues is composed of an international set of players. Due to the lack of salary restrictions, the teams with the most money are able to buy the best players from across the world. And since soccer is the world’s most popular sport, well-performing teams make a lot of money.

“Money, you say?” I said money. And thus these clubs attract the attention and ownership stakes of wealthy scions in the middle east, Russian oil barons, and British globo-capitalists, who have amassed fortunes so large that luxury items are incapable of holding their interest; they seek a higher calling: alpha status among their billionaire bros.

The result is that professional soccer becomes an endless proxy war between the world’s shadow plutocracy, competing for returns on their investment dollars with hired mercenary armies of wiry kickers.

Then, the twist.

Each summer, the players, these soldiers of fortune, must reorganize themselves. PMCs are disassembled, aggressions temporarily paused, as players form national teams that compete in tournaments for the pride of their countries. Professional allies find themselves national rivals, and vice versa. The most patriotic players’ abilities swell during this period; others, for whom nationalism is an obligation, whose true allegiance is to the Euro, all but fade from view. Football matches become metaphors for regional disputes. Economic power decouples from geopolitical gravity. The strong are humbled, the humbled made mighty. Except, of course, when Germany wins.

Then autumn approaches, and the cycle renews.

This seasonal rotation between the mercenary and the nationalistic, this seesawing hierarchy between the moneyed and the spirited, to my knowledge is unique among human endeavors.