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Horning: The sport that money, for now, could not entirely grab

  • 3 min to read
APTOPIX Britain Soccer Super League

Chelsea former star goalkeeper Petr Cech, at right, behind a line of policemen, tries to calm down fans protesting outside Stamford Bridge stadium in London, against Chelsea’s decision to be included amongst the clubs attempting to form a new European Super League.

Sam Presti’s proven himself as a builder of teams, a salesman to players and a cunning hoarder of future resources.

From general managing small market Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals, to re-signing Paul George and Russell Westbrook, to cornering the draft market, he’s performed the impossible.

Theo Epstein flat ends curses, general managing both the Red Sox and Cubs to World Series victories lifetimes since each had won it last.

Given their chops, one wonders if they might secretly wish to try a similar job in a different sport against longer odds, like taking over a third-tier English soccer club hoping to reach the top of the Premier League, an achievement akin to tiny Hickory High winning the 1952 Indiana state basketball championship, coached by Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman, led by Jimmy Chitwood, played by a guy who’s left the business.

Look it up.

Yet, back here in the real world, nothing over here is set up like soccer over there.

Pretend every minor league baseball team were no longer farm teams to the majors, but independent and, after every season, the bottom five in each league would fall to the league below it and the top five in each would rise.

That’s European soccer, only the clubs can number in the thousands and the leagues in the hundreds.

There is a thing called Champions League, too, where the top squads in each domestic premier league go, only it’s no league, just a 32-team tournament fit around the domestic premier leagues.

Got it?

Good.

Because Sunday, news broke that some of the best, richest and most storied soccer clubs in all of Europe would be breaking from the more than a century-old structure to be more like the top leagues over here.

Of course it was a money grab. It would disentangle those clubs from the thousands of other clubs they may never play, yet are nominally saddled with supporting, and it made all the sense in the world from a North American point of view.

The clubs included Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona and others. Clubs you’ve likely heard of all the way over here.

Already in the business of grabbing the world’s best players, now they could really do it, cornering the talent market, which would drive television and other revenues, which would drive greater talent acquisition, which would drive yet more revenue.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Capitalism, what a concept.

The antiquated soccer world in play until that moment went bananas.

The English, Spanish and Italian premier leagues threatened all they could think of, including finding a way to ban breakaway league players from playing for their countries.

The fans went crazy.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson even came out against it and, by Wednesday … it was over, like it had never happened, like it was a vaguely remembered dream.

A long time ago, Greg Norman thought there should be some alternative to the PGA and European PGA Tours.

They’re still around, but they’ve had to make room for the World Golf Championships, four tournaments that aren’t majors, but are supposed to feel like them, thereby diminishing tourneys that previously had the caché of near majors, like The Memorial, The Players and whatever happened to the Western Open, anyway?

Many of the best basketball players in the world, who have so eloquently, forcefully and even courageously fought for social justice, were only too happy to wish then Houston Rocket general manager Daryl Morey had kept his thoughts on a free Hong Kong to himself, lest he rile up communist China and the billions in revenue that flow from there to here.

Can you imagine the NFL endorsing a second-tier league with franchises in San Antonio, Birmingham, Portland, Sacramento, San Jose, St. Paul and The Meadowlands that actually calls itself “New Jersey” and 15 other locales that claim no team, the top three of which would become NFL teams each season, replaced in their own league by, just guessing, the Falcons, Jets and Jaguars?

No, you can’t.

Why?

Money.

Also, money.

Then, naturally, money.

Sharing in football?

Ha.

All of which makes the 72 hours of the Super League of European soccer unthinkable and not that a bunch of teams had the gall to buck the system, but that it didn’t work.

What’s next?

No more free agency?

Infields that stick together like the 70s Dodgers? LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and other stars no longer calling their own NBA shots? A rule that makes superstars remain with the team they became superstars in?

Maybe forcing the biggest markets to revenue share local broadcasting cash with smaller markets? Franchises in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, of their own accord, giving money away to franchises in Salt Lake City, Green Bay and Winnipeg?

Good luck.

There’s no wisdom here.

Just the recognition the direction everything eventually takes, no matter how couched, in sports and the world, to be entirely about the money, one time, not on these shores, but somewhere, failed.

Who knew?

It’s nice.

All that and a dream Sam Presti and Theo Epstein likely never had, lives anyway, just in case, in all of its original glory.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

cfhorning@normantranscript.com

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