Let’s not get carried away by the shock of the match-fixing scandal. A cap on foreign players in Veikkausliiga isn’t the answer.
When Timo Soini coined his ever more popular catch phrase ”Missä EU, siellä ongelma” (Where there is the EU, there are problems), he created a brilliant out on any tough question regarding his European politics. Finnish football has discovered a similar opportunity by repeating ”Too many foreign players opens the door for match fixing” (as exemplified here by Urheilulehti or Olli Huttunen in this weeks Veikkaaja). Now, I like good ol’ fashioned xenofobia just as much as the next guy, but let’s examine the merits of a cap on foreigners without the burden of shitty excuses.
The match-fixing scandal that has so far implicated somewhere around 10 players, all foreign, has brought about the old topic of a gentleman’s agreement regarding a cap on foreign players per team. In other words, since the EU doesn’t allow caps, clubs agree on one unofficially. They do it in hockey and basketball, so why not football? Foreigners = problems; it’s as easy as dividing 50 000 by two. Right?
Now the match-fixing scandal offers a perfect scape goat. The argument is that foreign players are more likely to take bribes and that there are too many mediocre ones in the league. Here’s the problem: We forget that the foreigners implicated were among the best players on their teams. Crappy players don’t get paid to fix matches because they aren’t influential enough to manage something like that. So how would a cap on foreigners change anything, unless the cap is zero? And you don’t get to do something like that without getting a mean-spirited visit from Mrs. Astrid Thors.
The issue of course is money. Somewhere along the line Finnish football discovered Africa and imagined a continent of talented footballers willing to take a few hundred euros per month and call it a professionals wage. Nothing bad could possibly come from that, right?
With the match-fixing stink finally sullying what was left of their reputation, RoPS are proudly declaring that they have money and are willing to spend it on good, honest Finnish players. Didn’t take more than a little match-fixing to get things going, although naturally their focus was on nationality rather than pay. We all nod in delight, and why not. It’s not quite as likely that players will succumb to match-fixing IF THEY’RE PAID LIKE PROFESSIONALS (all caps, baby!).
The Yobe brothers were among AC Oulu’s best paid players, someone might say. But if someone offered me as much as 25 000 to sabotage an article to somehow benefit a competitor, I’d sure as hell at least consider it. This reminds me of Chris Rock’s legendary stand up skit on the OJ Simpson murder trial. The adaptation being; I’m not saying they should’ve taken the money, but I understand.
I’m pretty sure that the Yobe’s take from the TPS-AC Oulu match pretty much doubled their yearly intake (with nothing going to taxes), and it’s still much more than any Sambian at RoPS could ever imagine making. You try to make a living on around a grand a month, even in Rovaniemi. I seriously doubt that Finnish players offered double their pay in bribes would all decline by default.
And then we get to the blue and white elephant in the room. As many of you may remember, in 2005 a Veikkausliiga player anonymously told Ilta-Sanomat that he had taken money to influence matches. And he indicated that he wasn’t the only one taking money. Anyone remember Pertti ”Speedy” Nissinen, a coach who was convicted of trying to bribe another team in 2003 and ended up rigging a convoluted scheme with a cohort in which his team (Warkaus JK) lost games and his cohort bet big sums? He’s back in coaching, by the way. Not that anyone cares. I’m all for second chances, but a coach offering his own services towards rigging his own matches to make money has to be at least as bad as a foreign syndicate bribing players. Or am I crazy? I just don’t like the lynching mentality here, with no questions asked about the previous issues. We seem to imagine that booting the dirty RoPS players and Yobe brothers is some kind of solution. Is it really?
On that note, Ykkönen and Kakkonen are horrifying minefields of potential match-fixing due to ever worse (or no) pay, and players are still expected to give up their time like professionals. Egan pointed out to me recently that all the drubbings in the lower leagues are easily explained (”the lads had a bachelor party last night and it got out of hand” etc), with those in attendance chuckling and nodding along. Boys will be boys, right? The lack of accountability from the game itself is alarming the lower down the totem pole we go. And people can still bet on those games.
Finally we get to the second popular, and much more reasonable, anecdote to support a cap. This is of course that there are too many mediocre foreign players in Finland. This is true, but even if we forget the point made earlier about mediocre players not being influential enough to fix games, there’s a problem with this line of thinking. It’s much more down to a lack of domestic talent willing to populate nether-regions on Finland for shitty pay than anything else. RoPS discovered the Dirt-Cheap African Solution (DCAS) and milked it for over a decade. Others joined. Now we rally to blame the players rather than those who created the system? The match-fixing is a symptom of problems created by a flawed system, not an epidemic brought on to us by evil foreign footballers.
RoPS may have created a greater short-term problem for themselves by publicly waving around their man-parts and declaring that they have plenty of money to spend on players (true). They can get a few big fish now, but their ability to generate new revenue is as poor as ever and they’ve given mediocre Finnish players carte blanche to extort them for big wages.
If RoPS liquidate their holdings to build an expensive team, they’ll quickly find themselves sitting in a Wilson Raj Perumal-sized hole next to Deniz Banautdin and Timo Marjamaa (who are only sitting there thanks to the burning pile of shit their predecessors forced on them). With the reason for their top-flight existance gone, RoPS has to be careful (which they currently are not).
With all due respect, if there was enough domestic talent around (or the money to pay those who rather choose to play in foreign second divisions), the cap would police itself. If the scandal has brought about anything good, it’s that the ridiculous notion of an expanded Veikkausliiga can finally die. There isn’t enough talent, there isn’t enough money and Veikkausliiga isn’t governed by regional visibilty politics. Case closed.
In short, a cap on foreigners isn’t the answer. I for one like to watch talented players and they seem to be at the heart of this scandal. The league needs good foreign players even with the 12 team system coming.
So what do we do? I wish I had an answer, but so does Interpol I suspect. Solving international crime syndicates isn’t part of my job description. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that the RoPS guys and Yobe brothers are going to be the only ones implicated in this. It’ll only get bigger, and that’s good. But will we ever get to the bottom of all this?
Going to semi-professionalism doesn’t really close the door on lucrative match-fixing offers either. Proper pay might reduce the chance of match-fixing being considered, but who has the money? So that’s out the window too at least until there’s a sudden influx of cash into the game. Hey wait a second, did you hear about this great investement opportunity from a company in Singapore? They’re offering free money and players!
Sadly, the only thing to be done by the game and the fans is vigilance. Ask more questions and don’t let sleeping dogs lie. I know it sounds as boring as watching a marathon of Two and a Half Men, but artificial boundaries won’t drive the criminal element from around the game, and the power of money is seductive to Finns as well (as seen above). Accountability is a start. The rest is in the hands of others, I’m afraid.
If you want to blame the scandal on foreign players and cap the number, you’re more than welcome to your dose of soini-ism for all I care. But keep in mind that those who enabled all this have a “Suomi” written on their passports. And there’s your proper starting point.