The beautiful game predicts your economic future
Football got boring. I’m glad because it makes it easy to ignore. I grew up playing and watching and thinking about football, even listening to podcasts about it — countless hours wasted.
Too much money made football boring.
In France, Paris Saint-Germain won nine of the last eleven titles.
In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid have won 17 of the last 19.
In Germany, Bayern Munich have won eleven in a row.
English football is less boring as Manchester City only won five of six.
Watching organisations with loads of money crush organizations with less money is not great entertainment. So I stopped.
Now, Middle Eastern petrostates are making European football even more boring.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is on track to be the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund — with $2 trillion under management by 2030.
PIF bought Newcastle United last year and are now hoovering up players and managers from Europe’s top clubs to play in the Saudi Pro League (SPL).
Western sugar daddies cannot compete:
Arsenal is owned by Stan Kroenke, a US property developer and husband of a Walmart heiress. Net worth $12.4 billion.
Chelsea is owned by Todd Boehly, a US investor with a net worth of $6.1 billion.
Manchester United is owned by the Glazer family, US property developers with a combined $4.7 billion.
Tottenham is owned by Joe Lewis, a British property developer worth $6.1 billion.
Stan Kroenke is the richest man on the list above. PIF will soon have 160 times his $12.5 billion. Good luck.
Twice a year — during the summer transfer window — major football clubs can buy and sell players. This year’s window has been dominated by PIF binge-buying across Europe’s top leagues.
In June, PIF took control of Saudi Arabia’s four largest clubs. Each PIF-owned team will receive at least three world-famous players, with lesser stars sprinkled among the rest.
The contracts offered could turn footballers into billionaires:
Cristiano Ronaldo led going to Al-Nassr for $400 million in a 2-year deal — earning $548,000 every 24 hours.
Lionel Messi turned down 400 million dollars a year from Al-Hilal — choosing to play for Inter Miami instead.
Last week, Brazilian superstar Neymar joined Al-Hilal in another $400 M deal — with a $500,000 bonus for every Instagram post praising his hosts.
Enter the culture wars
But not everyone is invited. Football journalist Mark Ogden, claims that PIF is targeting:
South Americans, Africans and Muslim players, because they will settle in Saudi Arabia. They don’t want Northern Europeans because Germans, Dutch, English, Belgians, wherever … The culture will be difficult.
This cultural split played out at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Players from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, England, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Wales, Sweden and Switzerland intended to wear multi-coloured “OneLove” armbands to support Qatar’s LGBTQ+ community.
Except they didn’t follow through.
FIFA said no. Northern Europe caved. And the protest was abandoned to prevent team captains from getting yellow cards.
The finale was a photoshoot before Germany’s first game, for which players covered their mouths to protest the ban on their other protest.
Football is trivial. That’s fine. Once, it functioned as a way to zone out and escape from things that matter.
Now – like everything else — it is a vehicle to shoehorn political projects into your brain.
Celebrity circuses (football, politics, whatever) offer endless drama. This means Western news media mostly distracts people with some new current thing.
Meanwhile, wealth and power are concentrated in fewer and fewer and fewer hands.
But European football still has a useful function:
it illustrates the economic decline of the West relative to
the rest of the world.
The culture wars go deeper than football.
The Petrodollar created unstable dependencies between the USA and KSA. As these dependencies break down, resentments are exposed:
Saudis see Western lifestyles as “decadent in social, cultural and family matters”, while
Western media portrays the Middle East “as backward, intractable and irredeemably hostile”.
These differences were not a big problem when Saudi oil flowed freely to the West — with dollars, weapons, and gold going in the opposite direction.
In return for its oil, Saudi Arabia has received a tsunami of money and unconditional military support.
The arrangement began in 1973 with the Petrodollar deal. In the years that followed Saudi Arabia was flooded with trillions of dollars — which were then recycled back into the US financial system.
Back in the 1970s, Sheikh Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia's former oil minister famously said:
The Stone Age did not end for lack of stones, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.
The creation of a post-Oil Age Kingdom requires spending vast sums to restructure their society.
Vision 2030 is the $7 trillion brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). He plans to move the Saudia economy away from dependence on oil towards something more sustainable.
Saudi Arabia is promising to emit zero greenhouse gases by 2060.
Then again, a leaked report tells of a Saudi campaign to undermine Western-backed climate efforts.
Whether MBS is BSing or not, Saudi’s wealth will build some very fancy stuff.
Example: NEOM is a half-trillion-dollar “green city” for 9 million citizens. It will be a 170 km long, 200 metre-wide strip, car-free and served by hyperfast monorail.
Join the club
At the start of the Ukraine war, Joe Biden called for a global divorce between autocratic and democratic regimes.
This accelerated a worldwide peasant revolt against Western dominance and our “mythical entities” (dollars, euros, pounds).
The problem for the West is that our civilisation — while it lasts — requires huge amounts of cheap energy.
This week, the 2023 BRICS summit began in South Africa — their biggest shindig yet.
And they are about to get bigger: as of January 2024, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will become members.
BRICS now contains three of the world’s five biggest oil producers:
🇺🇸 United States (20.21 million)
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia (12.14 million)
🇷🇺 Russia (10.94 million)
🇨🇦 Canada (5.70 million)
🇨🇳 China (5.12 million)
We now have a bloc containing the leading energy sellers … And three of the world’s biggest energy buyers (China, India and Russia),
The bloc also wants to bypass the dollar in trading energy.
Adding Saudi Arabia and Iran is a big step towards that end. But even talking about ditching the dollar is very dangerous — as Saddam and Muammar found out.
So it’s likely that MBS has made security arrangements. Maybe one day the Kingdom will swap US “protection” for something similar from Russia and China.
Despite goldbug fantasies, the BRICS cannot collapse the US dollar-based global financial system before their summit ends. But they are intent on getting what they believe is a fairer deal for “the global majority”.
Nature gave the US an incredible bounty of natural resources. In a pinch, they could become energy-independent. Europe does not have that option — and the potential of renewables has been massively over-promised and over-hyped.
That’s a problem. Without cheap energy from the autocrats, a huge chunk of European industry is not viable.
Without (German) industry, the EU will follow Britain’s miserable exit from the first world.
While people are experiencing real symptoms of economic decline, few seem interested in the underlying causes — or realise how bad things could get.
Rust Belt America and parts of the North of England are what many EU leaders are working to create.
That future might seem remote to you. It certainly does not have reality for most people I know. That means there is no political pressure to change course until things get a lot worse.
So, as standards of living decline, expect endless purity spirals and displays of moral superiority about things that do and don’t matter.
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