The Champions League pits champions against champions in group stages. HOW DARE THEY!!!??? But seriously, lots of Real Madrid fans clenched and shook many a fist after last Thursday’s Champions League draw. Why? Because we got suck in a group with English Premier League champions Manchester City. The same Manchester City that did not advance out of the group stages last year. World-beaters. Continental darlings. Call them what you will, but the blues ruffle merengues’ feathers. However, is it sporting reasons that bug us?
No. It is something entirely different.
As the world’s foremost expert in obnoxious new rich soccer club analysis, I can draw a distinction between aristocracy and nouveau riche. Aristocracy belongs to a country club. Nouveau riche belongs to the Republican Party, or perhaps the Tea Party. Aristocracy summers in the Hamptons and enjoys sailing. Nouveau riche blows their end of the year bonus in Vegas on various vices, none of which involve sailing. Aristocracy builds upon inter-generational success through grooming, proper education, and strong networking. Nouveau riche invents the MagicJack, buys a women’s professional soccer franchise, sends sexist and flippant Blackberry messages to partners, and then wonders why no holiday evites fill the inbox come Christmas.
So where do Real Madrid and Manchester City fall among these categories?
Real Madrid obviously has a good bit of history. However, we cannot so easily dismiss Manchester City. Yes, the club experienced success in hiccups before the foreign oil money started to flow. Nevertheless, the club, founded in 1880 (more than two decades before Real Madrid), had a glorious era in the 1960′s and early 1970′s, similar to Real Madrid’s run in the Iberian peninsula. History is also not just a history of good stuff. Plus, isn’t a history of near misses, pain, suffering, and “what ifs” in a sense cooler than win win win? Ergo, history=draw.
Nevertheless, City’s alleged financial doping of Chelsea proportions has its detractors. The culprit? The nature of sport. Unlike a newly successful businessman, soccer clubs get an injection of cash totally unrelated to anything they’ve done or deserved. Rather, from the perspective of rivals or neutrals, it’s a tooth fairy on crack.One day, your rival wakes up and finds briefcases of money under his pillow. No sore tooth. No missing tooth. No good behavior. Just bling bling.
In the real world, many throw stones at the established, affluent families. However, aristocracy still comforts us because 1) Their success is built on success, and 2) We can maybe marry into it if somebody gets drunk enough. In the sporting world, Real Madrid has won abajillion titles and thus can sell lots of tickets, jerseys, land sponsorship deals, and construct a tasteful Middle Eastern resort. Wouldn’t you do the same?
In the real world, even nouveau rich can comfort us: we can dream that maybe just maybe we’ll one day invent that new product that transforms lives. We can run a small business, but hope to someday land that big contract. Succeeds holds some tether to free will and the past. However, the soccer club with newly minted dollars offers no such promises. Rather, it supports chaos theory.
No matter how hard you work, no matter how smart your decisions, no matter how friendly your personality, you and everything you love are a fickle Middle Eastern oil tycoon away from the abyss. Sport is zero sum. There can only be one champion. If, in the middle of a game of monopoly, a Sheik sits down next to you and pops out the gold bars, you might as well throw the paper bills away and find a dark, wide river with a mercifully strong undertow.
And, of course, the established aristocracy feels the same way. Real Madrid can still splash the cash, but clever real estate deals and bank loans eventually run out. You can only refinance your underwater mortgage so many times (4 or 5 in most cases). The Champions League has always operated as a country club for Europe’s best (and most affluent) clubs. Yes, you may have resented Real Madrid because on a socioeconomic ladder you had to look up to them.
Now, however, they don’t stand beside you, but they’re also starting to look up. And the view is disconcerting.