Advertisement

Tottenham v Newcastle in Melbourne is nothing more than a greedy money-making scheme

It is times like this when that sketch by Mitchell and Webb comes to mind, in which they lampoon football’s perpetual, unstoppable churn. Playing a hyperventilating television announcer, David Mitchell’s face gets redder and redder as he reels off the matches coming up on Sky Sports. “It will never stop! The football is officially going on forever! It will never be finally decided who has won the football! THERE IS STILL EVERYTHING TO PLAY FOR AND FOREVER TO PLAY IT IN!”

For football fans, there is some comfort to be found in that relentless rhythm: the season ends, a new one begins and we rekindle burnt hopes and fizzled-out dreams all over again. But as Newcastle and Tottenham boarded flights to Australia on Monday, to play a meaningless friendly in Melbourne three days after the season’s end, one wondered when the football was ever going to stop.

Club fixtures run into international tournaments which run into an endless scroll of transfers, all blending into one unceasing spew. Fans at least have the choice to escape, to switch off. Grumpy sports journalists can book a holiday which may just happen to coincide with deadline day. But the players are sat down and strapped in to a schedule that doesn’t end.

Only hours after wrapping up the season, Tottenham’s squad were being ushered aboard a giant plane. Son Heung-min gave an awkward smile to camera. James Maddison lumbered on carrying more bags than he could manage. Guglielmo Vicario shouted “let’s go” with a trace of sarcasm. Dejan Kulusevski just looked glum.

There is no other word for it but greed. Tottenham bring in an annual revenue of £550m; Newcastle are owned by an oil-rich Gulf state. Yet both want to make more money, to buff the global brand, to fluff the profit and sustainability figures, and they’re prepared to push their players to the ends of the earth to do it.

These two clubs are far from alone – Arsenal Women are out in Australia too – but the timing of this particular trip is pretty jaw-dropping. International teams will start to convene next week before Euro 2024 and the Copa America. For those Tottenham and Newcastle players taking part in the tournaments, there will be almost no time to rest or see family and friends.

The day after the Euro 2024 and Copa America finals, Manchester United are scheduled to play their first pre-season friendly in Norway. And so it goes on.

Ange Postecoglou admitted the trip is not what the players need (AP)
Ange Postecoglou admitted the trip is not what the players need (AP)

Elite football is now an unbroken continuum, and often players’ rest is having to be specially sanctioned by clubs and national associations. Or it comes through injury: a long list of Spurs players have reported unfit for the trip to Australia, while Cristian Romero and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg both played on Sunday and their absence is unexplained. You could understand if they simply didn’t want to go.

For Newcastle, the journey around the world is even more absurd. They played 51 matches this season including away trips in Europe, compared to Tottenham’s relatively light 41 fixtures. Newcastle will play against an A-League all-star team too, a few days after facing Spurs at the MCG.

“It’s not ideal because it’s a tournament year,” Newcastle captain Kieran Trippier said frankly on Sunday. “I understand why the club are doing it. I’ve done it at Tottenham and [Atletico] Madrid but from my own experience of it, in a tournament year it’s not ideal.”

Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou agreed, and did not try to dress up the game as anything other than a money-making scheme. And here we encounter a large dose of irony, given Spurs were among the clubs who successfully lobbied to have FA Cup replays abolished due to the busy schedule. Never again can either club complain about fixture congestion with a straight face.

There are more subjugated communities in this world than elite footballers. It is perhaps hard to muster great sympathy. But when the Professional Footballers’ Association considers legal action on behalf of players so that they might play less of the game they love, then perhaps we are failing to acknowledge a genuine problem.

Perhaps it was Postecoglou who put it best, earlier this season, when he discussed the challenge of protecting players’ wellbeing. “No one has a perfect life, you know? We look at footballers and they do things well and they’ve got all the money they need and we think that’s the perfect life, but that doesn’t make you immune from life itself.” Whether it is on social media, in public or on the pitch, problems usually begin when footballers are no longer treated like people.

The scepticism around this Australia trip has come from fans, from environmental groups, from national coaches, from the players themselves. And really it is not about this friendly but about a wider pattern: of Uefa expanding the Champions League to grow revenue, of the Super League plot, of the bloated 2026 World Cup and the newly overweight Club World Cup. Avarice, everywhere you look. Money talks in football, and right now footballers are being squeezed for every penny.