Would you sell your soul if it was the price of success? | Matt Mohan-Hickson

Would you pour your blood, sweat and tears into chasing a dream, sacrificing all your free time to try and make it come true, but at the risk it fails to pay off?

By Matt Mohan-Hickson
Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 3:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 3:28 pm
Newcastle United supporters dressed in robes pose with 'sold' placards as they celebrate the sale of the club to a Saudi-led consortium, outside the club's stadium at St James' Park, on October 8, 2021.
Photo by Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images
Newcastle United supporters dressed in robes pose with 'sold' placards as they celebrate the sale of the club to a Saudi-led consortium, outside the club's stadium at St James' Park, on October 8, 2021. Photo by Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

Or would you try to find a way to give yourself a leg up? Perhaps you could sell your soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.

That or you could take a trip down to the crossroads and come back as a supernaturally talented musician, only to mysteriously die a few years later.

Obviously this is all the stuff of Faustian legend and the chance of selling your actual soul – if you believe in such a concept – is highly unlikely to present itself.

Sure, you might sacrifice your principles a time or two, but it is not quite on the same level.

But that hasn’t stopped football from finding more and more ways to sell its soul to the highest bidder.

The so-called Super League, a winter World Cup in Qatar, talks of biannual World Cups, ticket prices and so on.

Yet, it keeps finding a new low – a new way to package up and sell off the remaining slivers of the ‘beautiful game’.

And let’s not kid ourselves, Newcastle United being sold to Saudi Arabia (sorry – the investment fund that in no way has links to the Saudi government despite being headed up by MBS himself) is a new low.

Growing up in the north east means I am perhaps not the most unbiased person in this debate, since I have long been stewing in the pot of local rivalries.

But I have long held a sort of grudging admiration for Newcastle – I don’t ever want to see them win. It is a well-supported club, with a big fan base but not the trophy cabinet to match.

However, now the club is simply a tool of propaganda. A black and white stripped advert saying ‘look here’ at all the glistening trophies that will inevitably come, instead at the murder of a journalist or the bombing of Yemen.

I found it quite shocking to see Geordies posing in the street with Saudi flags like a conquered people welcoming their new overlords.

But deep down I know many Middlesbrough fans would do the exact same – if it meant winning the league and signing Mbappe or Neymar.

What would it take to fail the fit and proper persons test?

Pompey fans probably know better than most about the lack of governance and oversight in place when it comes to new owners in the Premier League.

The EFL is not much better either – look at what happened with Wigan or even worse Bury in recent memory.

Which begs the question: Who wouldn’t be allowed to own a football club in England?

If you allow an actual country – in Saudi Arabia – to purchase a Premier League side, despite its horrendous human rights track record. Then realistically who can be stopped from buying a club?

The Newcastle takeover only briefly hit the doldrums due to a snafu involving the Saudis pirating the product it was trying to buy in. Not, you know, the human rights concerns.

So basically as long as you are not a pirate and you are rich enough, then I guess you can buy one of the great English football teams.

Out with Blackbeard, in with Harold Shipman – if he had the money of course.

Is there a way to stop sportswashing?

The question of sportswashing in football will only become more pertinent over the next 12 plus months.

Obviously there will be Newcastle United, who will inevitably make a big splash in the January transfer window to show they mean business.

But perhaps they will not actually compete for the title for a handful of years, while continuing to make splashy signings.

Each win sparking a Pavlovian response subconsciously linking the Saudi owners with good times among the fans.

However the more pressing example of sportswashing is the next world cup in Qatar. It will be impossible to actually boycott, but how can you properly tackle the enormous elephant in the room?

Messi will be the poster boy for the event, because PSG is Qatari-owned and now he plays for them.

The concerns will likely slip to the back of our minds as anxieties over the number of right backs Gareth Southgate has selected will take over once again.

Sportswashing is creeping more and more into football and I am worried that in the end all we will be left with is one very bloody laundromat disguised as the sport once dubbed ‘the beautiful game’.