Place yourself in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates to be precise. You're a shop owner set up in a prominent bazaar selling the finest needle point rugs for, arguably, market price. A man walks up, he has just purchased a neighboring rug stand and asks you how much your rugs cost. He even asks about some of the rugs in your house, the ones that aren't really for sale.
Hmmm, I'll consider ten thousand (even though I paid way less).
Great, I'll give you a hundred thousand - so it's settled.
Sound familiar? It does to AC Milan, Juventus, Manchester United and surely more to follow. The oil prince owners of Manchester City have begun the newest social experiment in sports. Think the Yankees times 5 or 10. Money does not factor into the formula where it once did.
The evolution of sports contracts and player performance indicates a shrewd connection between the two. The story is rather banal with only a few variables here and there. Rookie prospect is highly touted and signed to a medium length, conservative contract with team. Newbie acclimates to the game at the professional level and either realizes full potential or busts out like almost every first round WR or QB. Newbie that realizes full potential destroys the competition year in and year out, steadily increasing until it becomes time to sign a new extremely lucrative deal (think Theo Walcott). Newbie buys mother an estate all for herself and totals ferraris without scathe.
That story is the first 1/3rd of a typical star player's journey through sports. Once a megadeal is signed enormous pressure mounts on the star player and expectations are formed. Player either crumbles under the pressure (very common, think Shevchenko, Recoba, Ronaldinho at Barca, Adriano until 2 months ago, Robinho perhaps right now, Van Persie (yes Jim, the year isn't over yet), Adebayor*, the list goes on.) or they flourish - David Beckham, That boy Ronaldo, Messi, soon to be Aguero. The rumors fly about these players. Dreams need to be met**, championships won, tangible things need to accomplished now that star player has proven his individual talent within megadeal - Zidane, Henry if Barca do things, Peyton Manning, Kevin Garnett, Beckham (he's kinda re-writing the journey isn't he, anyway).
Once the pieces are in place the star player enters the final third of their sports journey where they start to decline mostly because of age but also a bit because of motivation. Segway into the graph I made at work because I was bored.
I don't want to alarm anyone, but it's kind of a big deal. The blue talent gradient is to indicate a general minimal and maximum level of talent on average to play professional soccer. Yes, Bendtner is lower than the minimum level. The purple line indicates the total performance of the average player based on their current pay scale. The curve is intended to fit legitimate prospects.
The asterisk is where a majority of young prospects find themselves. They have a certain level of talent but it's hard to tell exactly where they fall because they're highly motivated by getting that lucrative contract. This is the state in which Arsenal exists - a bunch of young kids trying to eat. Well, not just eat, dine in a Maybach is more like it.
The blue/yellow area is invariably where most of the prospects settle into once they've gotten that paper. That is to say, the talent level they always possessed. The, "busts," are the ones who are near the bottom, overpaid and playing below not only expectations, but talent level as well. This is why you can't call Bendtner a bust - he's not necessarily playing below his talent level.
Anyhoo the upswing in the graph represents those players earning middle to high salaries already and suddenly experience this burst in talent. This is the effect of being in a contract year, or as Jim has once referenced (and rappers I believe), the Adrian Beltre effect. The boats, estates, limos and hookers aren't gonna pay themselves so these players turn up the juice for one final run at a big contract. Most of them stay in the trough and don't make it back up to their basal talent level.
Now we've reached the dollar sign point, enter Manchester City. Abu Dabi intends to create a team of superstars, players that have proven themselves to be the best in the world and overpay them to the point where overpaid doesn't really describe the situation. As it turns out, it's not about the money. Kaka showed that. Man Utd show that by keeping Cristiano. Buffon in a slightly humorous self-depricating way is trying to keep the order but Juventus too should elevate itself above the business centered sports world.
But here at TLOCA we wonder what would happen if Kaka had made the right choice? What if Cristi decides to follow the bank down Ashton New Road? Will the curve head downwards like most overpaid athletes or will they get better? It hasn't happened yet so it's anyone's guess but the optimist in me thinks that it could really work. If you take money out of the athlete's mind (The Big Tymers once refrenced a platinum football field, I treat that as the zenith) then the athlete can play for all the right reason. My only evidence of this working - superstars combining to put their egos aside for the benefit of clowning on the opposition - is the Dream and ReDeem Team. The catch is that nationalism assumes the place of motivation. And a real sense of performing well to represent something bigger than you is awfully difficult to achieve. The thought of Robinho, Kaka, Cristi, Buffon, David Villa, Fernando Torres, Cannavaro and Materazzi (with Carlos Bueno off the bench) on the same team pleases me greatly. Enough so that I have to believe this squad would just decide to have fun and dominate the sport for the sake of enjoying soccer in a way they never really thought possible before.
Either that or get relegated.
*who's turning point in his career will tragically be remembered by the thought of Wenger turning down a "747 full of money" for the striker. Hey Arsene, can we uh, fly that plane back?
**Dreams like going to play for Real Madrid and dating nice homely curvacious Spanish women that love to scream out, "OHHHH ses!, OH ses!, Ses Fah-breh-gas!! Ven aqui chico!
Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.