Whenever anyone asks me why I follow football, asks what I see in the game beyond 22 players kicking a ball about, I think of a comment Zlatan Ibrahimovic made in his press conference when he joined Paris Saint-Germain.
"My father is Muslim, my mother is Catholic, but none of that has anything to do with football. I'm me and football is a religion in its own right, and everyone is welcome."
Like religion, football should only be embraced voluntarily, and I have no interest in converting people who don’t understand its appeal. But football is now as big a business as religion, and there are plenty of people who want to package the game and sell it to the world.
The L. Ron Hubbard of football is Sky Sports, and since the inauguration of the Premier League they have invested millions into creating a game they can persuade non-believers to buy into. If television deals are an indicator of how popular football has become, then it’s clear to see how successful Sky were at promoting the game. From next season onwards, the income clubs will receive from broadcasters will be astronomical, and the title winner is expected to receive over £100 million for the first time.
Richard Keys, who anchored nearly 1,000 games for Sky Sports before leaving in disgrace last season, said of their early objectives: “We had to get in people’s faces; we had to make it exciting. We weren’t lying back and inviting people to join in if they wanted to; we were selling.”
The most embarrassing failures were the ones they pinched from America–cheerleaders, fireworks, and the razzmatazz that attracted a middle-class audience to sports events in the States just looked out of place in the grey, overcast Sunday afternoons of England. While most of these gimmicks were abandoned, there is still one survivor from those days—the club mascot.
Mascots in English football are like a hybrid between the ones used by American sports teams, where they spend the game inspiring the crowd to cheer on their team, and the corporate mascot, an anthropomorphic cartoon animal used to get people interested in a product.
Manchester City are a team in need of a good mascot. After defeat to Everton, and the title defence all but over, morale within the dressing room and amongst the fans is at a season low. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates at City who could raise their spirits, someone who can fulfil the obligations of a mascot in a way fitting for the Premier League.
Who? The official mascots are two aliens who look like blue Ninja Turtles with bunny ears and claim to be from the 'planet’ Blue Moon. Everything is wrong with these two amorphous blobs, from their piano key eyes to their names which are created by fusing contradictory suffixes and prefixes. These might be the worst mascots in the league.
How suitable are they? Moonchester showed that he can get the party started in this Harlem Shake video. He might be able to transfer these skills to getting the crowd going at the Etihad, but he would struggle to motivate some players *cough* SAMIR NASRI *cough* into putting in a decent performance this season.
Marks out of 10: If they revealed their back story and told us why they traveled all the way from Blue Moon to support City, we might warm to them, but at present they are too weird to be accepted by supporters. According to the Manchester Evening News, Moonchester also had the cheek to charge £40 an hour last year to show up at a charity football match set up to raise money for a local children’s hospital. They don’t belong here, boot ‘em out! 2/10
Who? Legendary guitarist and songwriter from Oasis.
How suitable is he? His credentials are extraordinary. In the '90s Oasis’ image was so entwined with that of Manchester and City that they all began to embody the same characteristics. Noel became the voice of disenfranchised youth from Manchester’s mean streets, and by openly professing his love for City, the club began to be seen by outsiders as the beating heart of the city.
Students coming to study in Manchester made City their second club, and Manchester United were seen by them as nothing but a visitor attraction for Japanese tourists. It was such an incredible repositioning of the club that Noel should be invited into marketing departments of universities to teach people how he did it.
Unfortunately once students finished their studies and went back home, their love of City dissipated. The fact that Noel is now a millionaire living in London and City are the richest club in the world make it impossible for people to believe they are still underdogs or the embodiment of working-class Manchester.
Marks out of 10: Although he’s shown he is capable of converting people into City supporters, he should not take the job. He has already involved himself in the commercial aspect of being a mascot by contributing to City’s website and launching this season’s kit.
But it is a shame to see one of Rock & Roll’s great wild men being embraced by the corporate machinery of a football club. It’s easy to forget what a life-affirming band Oasis were in their early years, and Noel should stop selling replica shirts and focus on recapturing that early magic. 7/10
Who? Please come out from the rock you’re living under and discover the most talked about footballer in Europe.
How suitable is he? If a mascot is there to attract publicity, then Balotelli could be the greatest mascot ever. No one has brought more exposure to the Manchester City project than Super Mario. In an interview given a month before selling him, Roberto Mancini said: “Sheikh Mansour likes Balotelli because he recognises the talent and he exports the name of City over the world.”
Selling the footballer made sense but selling the personality might come back to haunt the owners considering that City were bought to improve the image of the Abu Dhabi worldwide.
His ability to generate good will is incredible–a recent Vice article suggested that Silvio Berlusconi might have bought Balotelli to boast his election bid. It somehow worked. Last month he closed a huge gap to come within 1% of winning the general election and managed to deny his rivals a majority in parliament.
But could he inspire the supporters to cheer their team on when the chips are down? Of course he could. Imagine being two goals down with 20 minutes to play, the players are short of ideas and the crowd have gone silent. Then Mancini releases Balotelli, not onto the pitch, but just to run along the touch line geeing up the fans. The Etihad would go mental.
Marks out of 10: City’s results have not improved since he left, and the club is a lot less interesting now. Pay him whatever he wants and bring him back. Not as a footballer but as the official club mascot. English football needs him. 10/10