I’ve taken an interest in the writing of Ayn Rand in recent months, telling anyone who’ll listen what I think of her seminal work, Atlas Shrugged. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it’s a 1,200 pager, by far the biggest novel I’ve ever completed, and I want people to know that I am capable of reading big books. Second, and with slightly greater pertinence, there’s US Presidential election coming up, and Paul Ryan happens to think Rand is a big deal.
The thing is, Rand is dead, and Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957. The world has changed. This got me thinking about how Rand’s vision could be applied to the present day, and because my main reference point for everything is football, that’s precisely what I’ve tried to do. Hopefully this means you can get the gist of her outlook without suffering the ordeal of reading her book, which, if truth be told, is often terrible.
Rand’s core belief is rooted in what’s called objectivism, which embraces man’s inherent selfish streak as being vital to human progress. At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Premier League, with its gargantuan TV deals and ‘fuck the poor’ attitude to the rest of football, would be perfect for Rand. But, as we shall see, it is in fact a disgusting collective stitch up aimed at stifling progress and punishing the most successful.
Rand’s heroes are driven by their selfish desires for success. In her novel they’re represented by brilliant industrialists creating immense companies to power the American economy. They want to beat the competition, they want to be the best, and they don’t care who they offend. Success is all they wish to be judged on. Their motto is as follows:
“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
Sounds right up Cristiano Ronaldo’s street. But, it’s the people in charge that really matter to Rand, the decision makers – in the football context, here we find Jose Mourinho and Brian Clough – men who see nothing as impossible; men who knew what they wanted to achieve from a young age. Men who faced down criticism of their methods, and with a relentless success rate earned the total commitment of their staff.
Rand would also approve of Roman Abramovich. You might find his strategy of large-scale investment and willingness to hire and fire coaches rather vulgar, but that’s because you’re weak and inferior. Rand would understand his motives. He’s acting in self-interest based on his desire to see Chelsea win the Champions League, which they did last season for the first time in their history. One-nil to the Randians then. But, not for long.
Those who are less talented than our heroes will feel threatened and use devious methods to try and curtail their power. In Rand’s world, these are described as the looters, and they take several forms, but she’s mainly concerned with politicians and the mechanics of the state. In Atlas Shrugged there’s a particularly unpleasant Government looter called Wesley Mouch, a nondescript bureaucrat who pretty much ends up running, and ruining, America (one guess where this analogy is going).
Now, football isn’t completely ruined, yet, but look at what FIFA has become, and its current ruler, Sepp Blatter. Try to recall the last time you heard Blatter spouting platitudes about the ‘FIFA family’ whilst hoovering up the proceeds of the last World Cup and distributing it to his friends in return for favours. This is essentially the beginning of the end for Rand. Blatter is slowly killing us.
There are others who fit this category. Agents are an obvious example; talentless parasites exploiting the ability of others. And then there are the turncoats; those who were at one time highly regarded but lacked conviction, and end up as the puppets of the looters. Hello, Michel Platini – now leading UEFA’s attempts to limit the progress of European club football. Those who invest in a club are creating wealth for the sport, but what do UEFA do other than try to siphon it off for themselves? Or, worse still, re-distribute it to others based on ‘need’. Sickening.
There is no greater affront to Randian thought than the concept that anyone had a right to wealth and prosperity. It has to be earned, anything else is pure socialist devilry that will bring about the destruction of society. Push people too far and they will leave, which is precisely what Rand’s heroes do. And that brings us too…
The Equalisation of Opportunity Bill (or UEFA’s Financial Fair Play ruling):
In Atlas Shrugged the Government impose an Equalisation of Opportunity Bill to try and limit the power of the brilliant industrialists they fear. They place limits on how much they can produce, in order to give their competitors a chance. The legislation is dreamt up by the leaders of bloated, inefficient companies that would rather throttle the competition then try to improve their own concerns.
Fast forward to present day Europe and the introduction of Financial Fair Play, designed to protect the interests of the older clubs and limit the opportunities for new, ambitious competitors to overtake them. It’s classic looter tactics, and it will destroy football. Before his time is through, Platini will be weeping and begging forgiveness, “I couldn’t help it! It wasn’t my fault!”, he’ll say. But, it will be too late.
Feelings are irrelevant:
A football club’s purpose is not to perform a social function for its supporters. No, its purpose is to succeed. Supporters Direct and the various supporters’ trusts that seek to control their clubs are just looters in another form. Alex Ferguson was right to dismiss the fans who criticised United’s flotation on the stock market, what concern is it of theirs? They have been given one of the finest stadiums in the world to watch one of the finest football clubs in the world. A club that has achieved almost relentless success for two decades. And yet, they complain about the fabric of their club being eroded by corporate greed, what’s wrong with greed? It is the Green and Gold clad supporters who are the real threat. They seek to take football backwards when progress is required.
Collectivism – the biggest sin:
The Premier League might sound like a Randian idea, but its policies are anything but. Take the collective bargaining agreement that sees all its members getting the same basic cut, regardless of their ability. How perverse that Manchester United and Liverpool have to line the pockets of Wigan Athletic. And, when Liverpool floated the idea of negotiating their own deal, at least with foreign networks, who was leading the opposition – none other than Wigan’s Dave Whelan. Looter.
EPPP is protectionism writ large:
However, the TV deal is not the only thing that would have to go if football was run with Randian ideals. The Elite Player Performance Plan is a sickening instrument of looting devised and implemented by the Premier League clubs. They are all guilty of indulging their weaknesses here. Where is the competition if you produce a law enabling you to plunder the resources of rivals at will? They will learn the hard way that success must be earned.
In Atlas Shrugged the legislators required all patents to be turned over to the Government so that every manufacturer could produce the best products. The result was that the talented individuals who had created those products began to vanish. The looters had relied on their greatness to fuel their own desires, without earning it. How will this translate to football? Well, as clubs find their academies aren’t sustainable, they’ll close them. The coaches that produced talented young players will disappear, and so will the talent.
The Randian conclusion: football is doomed, and it’s your fault.
Unless we release the shackles and let greatness rise uninhibited we are all doomed. Enough looting, enough talk of collective bargaining and ensuring smaller clubs get the income they ‘need’. If they were good enough at what they do, they would earn it. And if you understand all that, you’ve pretty much got Randian philosophy: if you’re poor don’t come whining to me about how hard it is.
However, Rand probably wouldn’t be a big football fan if she were around today. There was no mention of sport in Atlas Shrugged, despite its massive importance to American society, and it’s hard to imagine her at Yankee Stadium. All those people gathering together to cheer on a team, sounds disturbingly collective. To conclude then, Rand would hate football, but you probably got that already.
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