“Preposterous arrogance”

It’s good to talk, they say, but there’s no arguing with some people. Talking is generally seen as the best solution to conflict, whether between individuals, organisations or even countries. We only have to look at the ’Sit and Talk’ campaign to promote dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan authorities on the independence issue to find a recent example. But what happens when there is no possibility of talk leading to a satisfactory resolution?

I came up against a brick wall of this type the other day. The talk of the town these days has been the attempt by 12 elite football clubs to set up a European Super League (ESL). The proposal launched by these clubs as a fait accompli was roundly rejected by much of the footballing community, only for it to crash and burn within 48 hours. If you want to know more about the fiasco, check out Barney’s article on page 40, which sums up the sorry saga.

Like many, I’ve had conversations about the issue with fellow football fans, but not in every case has the willingness to discuss it led to common ground. One chat in particular springs to mind, with a friend who until now has always been a joy to talk to, about anything. Intelligent, thoughtful, articulate, one of the reasons he is my friend is that he is easy to connect with and is someone who, even while countering your arguments, is nevertheless able to understand your position, address it, and work it into his thinking and conclusions.

But not the other day. I was eager to get his take on the ESL issue and I got an opportunity while out walking the dogs. We went back and forth, sparring opinions, laying the ground for the debate that was about to take place. But I quickly realised that we weren’t going anywhere. I persisted to knock on the door but there was no answer. Something was amiss.

And then it struck me. For him, Barça is football. They are synonymous. If Barça fails, football fails. Barça makes people watch football, and so it is on a higher level than other clubs. That even justifies doing irreparable harm to other clubs, and if necessary even entire national leagues.

My club, Everton, took an uncharacteristically hardline stance against the ESL. In a statement, the club described the attempt by a small group of top clubs to break away and form their own league entirely for their own benefit and to the detriment of other clubs as “preposterous arrogance”.

But talking to my friend I began to wonder. Rather than arrogance, was it perhaps a form of extreme exceptionalism, born from a belief that you have become too big to fail and a conviction that everyone finds you as indispensable as you see yourself. Is it a case that if everyone is constantly telling you how great you are, then you eventually come to believe it? I saw that my friend was trapped in this blind faith and that trying to budge him would be useless. I quickly changed the subject.

As Pep Guardiola pointed out the other day, the real problem is a lack of competition, which means that winning cannot be a foregone conclusion and that losing must always be a possibility. When Flornetino Pérez claimed that the ESL would save football, what he really meant is that it would save his club Real Madrid, because the two are the same in his mind. To me, such attitudes do indeed seem preposterous, but not preposterous arrogance so much as preposterous hubris.

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