- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

HANOVER, Germany — You have to wonder why those anti-globalist protestors in their expensive Nikes aren’t here causing havoc. The World Cup is the perfect example of globalization.

Soccer’s biggest party has all the ingredients to stir up a good, old anti-capitalist rant: Rich Western nations, stripping the best talent away from third-world countries, old, fat, white guys managing groups of African workers and Brazilians from ghettos traded across the globe to the highest bidders.

Welcome to the marketplace of modern soccer, where national barriers mean nothing in the pursuit of soccer talent and Brazilians are the biggest outsourcers on the planet.

Teams from poverty-stricken African nations are competing in this Cup, but most of their players have been purchased by wealthy European clubs. All 23 players on the Ivory Coast squad play for European teams. Didier Drogba, the team’s star, is a multimillionaire who plays for Chelsea and dines on London’s fashionable Kings Road.

Only three players on Brazil’s World Cup team play in their native land. Forget the beaches of Rio. Hundreds of Brazilians have fled to overseas teams and many have mansions in the fashionable areas of Milan, Italy, and Barcelona.

The flood of players to overseas clubs leaves the domestic leagues in places like the Ivory Coast, Angola, Togo and Ghana depleted. The exodus, however, does have an upside for poorer nations. Those players compete abroad and develop their skill against top competition — experience without which their national teams likely would never reach the World Cup. Reaching the finals has had an incredible impact on countries like Angola and the Ivory Coast, which have suffered civil war but have briefly found a measure of peace and national unity supporting their soccer teams.

Once upon a time, teams came to the World Cup in a shroud of mystery — especially teams from outside Europe and South America. No longer. Now, there are no unknowns left in soccer’s lucrative global market.

Agents keep impressive databases and video collections. No youth star playing on a dirt patch in Senegal goes unnoticed for long. There are no secrets. Many of the players at the World Cup are competing against their club teammates. When Togo and France meet Friday in a crucial game for France, for example, Togo star Emmanuel Adebayor will face Thierry Henry, his teammate and strike partner at top English team, Arsenal. The two just might trade the address of a good London restaurant before the match.

The same dynamic applies to coaches. Sixteen teams have foreign coaches (though no foreign coach has ever won the World Cup).

Forget national loyalty. Coaches shop around their resumes every World Cup cycle. Guus Hiddink, the coach of Australia, led Holland and South Korea in past finals. Trinidad and Tobago is coached by white-haired Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, who previously coached Holland and Saudi Arabia. Togo is managed by 68-year-old German Otto Pfister, who has coached eight national teams, including Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Zaire, Ghana, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Sven Goran-Eriksson last night coached England against his native Sweden.

Protectionism has gone out of the window. Soccer players cross national boundaries with ease, and the big leagues in Europe are flooded with foreign talent.

Imagine the Redskins starting a game without a single American. John Riggins, wrapped in an American flag, would rip up the seats up at FedEx Field. Yet, Arsenal played for more than a month early this year without one English player in the starting lineup.

That wasn’t always the case. When the English Premier League started in 1992, foreign players comprised only 5 percent of the starting lineups. By 2004-05, the figure had risen to 45 percent.

The Financial Times reported that in the last two years Premier League clubs — most notably Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich — have spent $750 million on foreign talent but only $42 million on players from England’s lower divisions. Young promising English players see their hopes of making it in top-flight soccer fade with the influx of players from around the world, including the United States.

The influx of foreign players also impacts competition: The rich teams get better and win all the titles.

Seven teams have won the Super Bowl in the last 10 years, but only three — Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea — have won the Premier League title in the same span. In Spain, just six clubs have won the title in the last 50 years.

The influx of foreigners into a league also impacts the quality of the national team. So many famous foreign players covet positions on clubs in Germany’s top league, for example, that Michael Ballack is the only world-renowned name on that country’s modest national team.

But there are plenty of reasons that few complain. FIFA, soccer’s governing body, will earn $2.7 billion from broadcast rights, ticket sales and sponsorships from the World Cup. That money trickles down. Teams get more than $1 million a game at the finals. Togo’s players threatened last week to boycott the team’s game against France unless their salaries were sent to their bank accounts by the fat cats at Togo’s soccer federation.

So where are those anti-capitalist rioters? Probably watching the World Cup on their flat-screened TVs made with cheap labor in China.

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