Do you care about soccer? I know that sounds like a moronic question given that it is being asked of a reader of a site called World Soccer Talk, so ostensibly you do care about soccer if you managed to find your way on to this site. Think about it though – do you care about the well being of the sport as a whole? Do you not just care about how your team does, but do you care about how the sport does? Do you only care locally, or do you care globally? Do you care about things like fair play, financial inequality and the distribution of talent across the world? If you do, and I hope you do, then you should be praying for Marco Reus to remain with Borussia Dortmund.
As a soccer fan in America, I have heard every criticism of the sport. A few weeks ago, after turning on the TV at some ungodly hour on a Saturday morning, my roommate commented that nothing made him feel more like a communist than me watching soccer on “college football Saturdays”. Yes, a joke, but while many American soccer fans celebrate soccer’s rise in popularity in the states, that anecdote is a reminder that the sport still has a a long way to go. There is one criticism of soccer, though, that I simply cannot quell when it is brought up to me. It is the criticism of competitive inequality and that money buys championships.
Ironically, this argument is brought up in America, a supposedly capitalist dream world, where three of our sports leagues do impose salary caps on their teams, but that is an argument for a different article. Here, the argument is this – how can you support a sport where only a few teams, in any competition, have a real chance of competing, let alone winning? And I have no real answer. That is something that is hard to rankle with, at least for someone like myself who was raised on American sports. Part of what keeps me glued to the NBA or NFL is that each year, there are different teams that are succeeding and failing. The Seattle Seahawks were 7-9 in 2011 and won the Super Bowl just two years later. And the team that won the Super Bowl in 2011? The New York Giants, who were 7-9 in 2013. Parity, people.
Anyway, after that digression (which is relevant I swear) let’s get back to the issue at hand – Marco Reus. Now, objectively, nothing would make me happier than Reus leaving Dortmund. Bayern Munich is the club to whom I pledge my allegiance, and Reus has been a thorn in Bayern’s side ever since he donned the black and yellow in 2012. Recent injuries and struggles notwithstanding, the only team in Germany that has posed a legitimate threat to Bayern’s German dominance has been Der BVB. So yeah, life would be easier for Bayern should Reus leave, especially if he was to go to Bayern, as many rumors suggest he will.
The reality of the situation is that as a Bayern fan, of course I want their biggest rivals to lose their best player. As a soccer fan, however? I want Reus to stay in Dortmund. It is better for the sport. It is better for the global profile of the Bundesliga, and that in turn is better for the global profile of European soccer, as the German league is arguably the only European league that can legitimately compete with the Premier League. The Premier League is the only league that is really competitive from top-to-bottom. La Liga is a two-horse race, with all due respect to Atletico Madrid. Ligue 1 begins and ends Paris Saint-Germain. Serie A is a bit of anomaly, because it is actually pretty competitive, but only because the top-flight clubs are simply not on the same level as the top-flight clubs in the other leagues, and Juventus is still a lock to win the title for a fourth straight year.
Dortmund, up until this year where they have struggled in absolutely epic fashion (due to injuries, by and large, so it’s hard not write this year off as an aberration) has helped make the Bundesliga the most exciting league outside of England. While Bayern is still a virtual lock for the title year in and year out; Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04, along with a handful of other clubs, have made the league a genuine threat to the Premier League. Reus has been instrumental in this ascendance. Dortmund has already lost two of their best players to Bayern, Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze, yet they have remained relevant because of two men – Reus, of course, and his manager, Jurgen Klopp.
The loss of Reus, whether it be to Bayern, Real Madrid or Manchester United, the three clubs most commonly mentioned as landing spots for the German star, would not just be a blow to Dortmund, it would be a blow to the Bundesliga and to UEFA. That last two years have seen two absolutely phenomenal championships for UEFA. First it was Dortmund succumbing to Bayern in 2013, followed by Atletico’s well-fought loss to Real in 2014. Yes, the underdogs lost both years, but they were there, and Atletico beat traditional powerhouses like AC Milan and Barcelona to get there, and Dortmund defeated Real in 2013.
It seemed like we were entering a new age – an age in which the smaller teams can legitimately compete with the big clubs. Reus leaving Dortmund would be yet another nail in the coffin for that dream. Now, here is where I acknowledge that there will indeed always be smaller teams competing like this. There will always be upstarts and firebrands and gadflies that will ruin nights for those of us who chose the road more travelled and don the colors of Bayern, Madrid or Chelsea.
Soccer needs players like Marco Reus, Diego Costa and Gareth Bale to stay at teams like Dortmund, Atletico and Tottenham Hotspur. Sure, Sepp Blatter would probably prefer a few more teams of Galácticos; slowly turning world soccer into a series of match-ups between the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals, but as fans? We have to hope that players like Reus opt to take the challenge of staying at smaller clubs. To paraphrase the great Walter Sobchak, it is time someone drew a line in the sand, and that someone could and should be Reus.
Now, there is one aspect of this whole “great players leaving small clubs for big clubs” thing that I have not touched on and it is this – the players themselves. What is best for the players? It is hard to criticize them for taking the more immediate, tangible reward of a big paycheck coming from the hands of Florentino Pérez or Karl Hopfner? Frankly, I do not hold anything against the players themselves. It is absolutely their right to seek out the highest amount of money for their services, that is how the system works, and we are not here to debate the merits of the system.
I do, however, believe that these players stand to gain more by staying put. There will be no guarantee of championships should one stay on the smaller club, but there is the hope that your presence can bring that club to the promised land, just as Costa did in leading Atletico to their successful La Liga campaign last year. Imagine if Costa had stayed, or if Bale had stayed at Tottenham Hotspur, and those teams had a chance to enter the transfer window with this marketing pitch – come play with one of the best, come bring a championship to a starved fan base and city, come be a hero. A single player can absolutely change a team on a fundamental level and Reus has an opportunity to be that player in Dortmund. Money will still buy championships. Bayern will still win the Bundesliga this year. However, should Reus stay put, there will be hope in the heart of every single soccer fan; a hope for a new generation of competitively balanced soccer, and that is the best thing for the sport. So I ask you again, do you care about soccer?
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