The magazine today attempts to explain Leicester City’s wildly improbable Premier League championship. The thesis of this Bagehot column, signed by J.A., is that its success is due to the globalization of English soccer. The league is awash in the money of foreign oligarchs, which in J.A.’s view has had an all-boats-rise effect for smaller clubs. Leicester’s “success is partly due to the general increase in wealth and professionalism throughout the league,” J.A. writes. “The club’s Thai owners have spent little on players, but lavishly on coaching, scouting, and training facilities.”
J.A. admits that the commercialization of the league has made tickets much more expensive for local fans. J.A. nods at the fact that globalization has made the league notoriously uncompetitive, with only four teams—until this year—claiming the championship in the last two decades. Still, J.A. writes: “Globalization, badly managed, holds potential threats to English football. Yet the evidence, so far, suggests it is mainly making it stronger.”
The sole piece of evidence, of course, is Leicester’s victory. Without it, the league would be as soulless and top-heavy as it was the year before. The globalization of English soccer might, in fact, be the cause of Leicester’s rise, but only in the sense that it has started to corrode team cohesion at the top by subjecting top-flight franchises to a frenzied luxury marketplace where players and coaches are traded like widgets. There is a fine line between building world-class teams and transforming them into lucrative investment vehicles for wealthy Russians and Persian Gulf princes that are effectively worthless in substance. This line is best exemplified by Chelsea, which won the Premier League last year and is currently sitting in the middle of the table.
Is there another, more sinister metaphor for globalization at work here? Perhaps! But the simple lesson of Leicester’s victory is that money can’t buy everything, not even in a league where money is increasingly the only currency.