We've seen the trailers, heard the reviews and greedily bought the merchandise. Now as we prepare to take our seats for the 2009-10 season screening, new bad guys have emerged in the wild west of football ready to get their butts kicked by our heroes.
Or will they?
The bad guys in football have been around for as long as the Italians took up the sport. But over the past few years new bad guys have become more prominent. And they're coming to a club near you.
One of these new threats to football is the 'Dr. Evil'; the omnipotent (and bored)foreign billionaire with a nefarious background planning to take over the world - by buying your favourite club.
Dr. Evil is many people. Not all of them necessarily have cats called Mr. Tibbs and wear monocles. A good few wear keffiyehs nowadays though.
The Old School Dr. Evil
The Modern Dr. Evil
He might also be a Thai politician accused of torture and money laundering, a Russian oligarch that took part in rigged state auctions for his countries natural resources or an Arab sheikh who likes to secretly videotape (or not so secretly anymore) himself running over people in a humvee. Heck he could even be your boss.
But the one thing they all have in common is that they are loaded, and for many clubs struggling to keep up with players ballooning wages that's really all the qualification they'll ever need to own a club.
But surely evil money men from third world countries can't dictate what happens in our beautiful game, right?!
Another new bad guy we'll be seeing more of in football is 'the fixer'.
Mobile phone beside face at all times. Simply a must for any aspiring 'fixer'.
Numerous mobile phones with hundreds of sim cards-check, sophisticated player registration holding company operation-check, looks eligible for a role in a godfather sequel-check.
Luciano Moggi of Juventus fame probably personifies this type of football supervillain. One whose intricate network of contacts which ranged from the FA president all the way to television presenters all existed to serve their devious master sycophantically.
Just a lucky guy. No, really.
How many more people out there are 'lucky' in the Moggi/suspicious betting pattern sense? Is match fixing still a big thing? Looking at the reports emanating from Poland, Germany, Portugal and Spain last year (not to mention numerous third world leagues) you would have to say supervillains like Moggi much like his fictional comic book counterparts Lex Luther (Superman) and The Leader (Incredible Hulk) don't exactly need to be super intelligent to pull it off.
In fact all you usually need are distinctly not-intelligent authorities to pull it all off (of which there are many) and men who have a weakness for brown envelopes.
As for the much maligned football agents and their often odd player registration arrangements, kickback agreements from player negotiations and transfers etc. We live in an world where an agent like Pini Zahivi is making as much money as Sir Alex Ferguson from football. Think about that. Crazy huh?
Chances are the average football fan doesn't even know who he is.
Also, while we're talking about modern day agents, can someone tell Kia Joorabchian that the concept of owning somebody hasn't been in fashion since the 19th century?
Not a slave.
And then we come the to 'the politician'. A man who simply must, really has to interfere with the game. In the national interest of course.
Make no mistake, football is a political game. Any number of riot incidents over the years can tell you that. So political interference is possible, right?
Definitely. South Korea 2002, Franco's Real Madrid of yesteryear, Eastern European communist party sponsored clubs, The Argentinian junta's 1978 World Cup...and whisper it now, England's only World Cup win in 1966 are all famous examples of when what happens on the pitch becomes a realisation of decisions made long before kickoff.
General Franco: You'd think he was a facist dictator wouldn't you?; really just a Real Madrid fan.
Recently, there were alot of people calling 'shenenigans' after Tom Ovrebo and UEFA apparently dumped Chelsea out of last season's CL, possibly due to the political unlikeability of having the exact same 2 English teams in the final once again. This conspiracy theory certainly has its merits but I'm not quite convinced on this particular case.
And then finally on to the dopers. Those brave athlethes who like Jimmy Vulmer from South Park succumbed to the temptation to have that 'extra edge' chemically. I remember reading an article in Four-Four-Two magazine some years ago arguing a pro footballer in the Premiership could conceivably play 32 years straight without being tested once.
Maldini couldn't even play that long.
When you factor in how drugs have become such a big issue in athletics, cycling, baseball etc. it makes you wonder how professional football has been miraculously clean all these years. Especially considering the amount of money involved in the modern game.
Of course the drug testing situation has changed since then (as poor Rio Ferdinand would tell you) but throw in designer drugs, the undetectable HGH and the possibility that a club could conceivably spike another team ('food poisoning'-last day of 05-06 season-Tottenham-CL place up for grabs...my spider sense is tingling) and the issue is far from a closed book.
To their credit FIFA, UEFA and the football associations are trying to tackle the new 'bad guys', not in a kick-ass Chuck Norris way ("There are few problems in this world that cannot be solved by a roundhouse kick to the face. In fact there are none"-Chuck Norris) but in their usually bureaucratic and frustratingly piecemeal kinda way.
Last year Boavista and Porto were punished for match fixing and Calciopoli made the headlines just as much for the meaty punishments handed out as for the acts themselves. Fortunately for the sponsors sake Porto and Milan were allowed to play in the CL the very next season.
Both went on to win the CL the same year their match fixing episodes took place. Prooving once again the bad guys always get the trophies.
On the agent front, there is a slow realisation in football that players should actually pay their own agents to negotiate transfers and not clubs (they're a smart bunch aren't they) and UEFA has come down on private ownership of players as we witnessed with Tevez and Mascherano.
In England meanwhile the ramifications from Lord Steven's Inquiry are still ongoing and an anti-corruption unit headed by Rick Parry has been set up.
Drug testing has been ramped up too. Pressures from the World Anti-Doping Agency and developments in other sports have publiscised a growing problem in modern sport for which the failure to address it could mean the end of the game for everybody. (Cycling went the same way as bodybuilding a long time ago folks..)
As for the politics though I don't think that will ever leave the game (many would say this is a good thing, especially South Koreans).
As the 'FIFA family' continues to grow crazy people like Jack Warner from Trinidad & Tobago (FIFA VP, worlds most successful ticket tout) will become more involved, just hopefully for our sakes, only on the administrative side.
Yes next season and beyond's blockbusters will be a sight to behold with dangerous and powerful supervillains coming to the fore only this time I don't know if the good guys will win.
He may be football's last hope.
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