If this is football, what’s the point?
I’m often told that politics has no place in football. Those critics are oddly silent this week as Arsenal and Chelsea’s fans struggle to get to a match that a professional footballer won’t play because he doesn’t feel safe.
The churlish out there have asked if Arsenal will even miss Henrikh Mkhitaryan given that he’s not a guaranteed starter. Even though that question is the wrong one, let’s answer it before we move on.
Mkhitaryan has played in every Europa League game this season for Arsenal, bar one. The match he missed was the contest against Qarabag in Baku last October. He has earned the right to play in this showpiece final without worrying if he will be assaulted for doing so.
But Mkhitaryan’s form or role in the squad is irrelevant. Even if it was an 18-year-old Armenian youth player that Arsenal (or Chelsea) wanted to bring along for the experience, this would still be a massive problem.
We’ve learned that even Arsenal fans with Armenian heritage won’t be able to travel to the game and that neither club will shift their pathetic 6,000 allocation because of the logistics of getting to the venue.
How can any of this be acceptable?
Arsenal have issued relatively strong statements, but they made no mention of any problems with Baku when the venue was chosen two years ago. They probably assumed Arsenal would be in the Champions League so it would be someone else’s problem. But, it isn’t. It’s everybody in football’s problem and if you can’t see that, then you’re in for a massive shock with what will follow in the not-too-distant future.
Uefa knew exactly what they were doing when they handed the final to Baku.
It wasn’t about ‘spreading the game’ as they claim, it was about sucking up to another oil-rich nation. It was given to a country on the far edge of the Caspian Sea for the same reason FIFA gave the World Cup to Qatar.
Football at the top level is no longer about the game or the fans, it’s about cold, hard cash.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan isn’t a big enough name for this to matter.
His absence from the final will not impact viewing figures the way Lionel Messi missing a match would. It’s the same with fans.
What does it matter to UEFA that Arsenal and Chelsea will only have around 6,000 fans between them in the stadium when they will air to millions around the globe?
That’s what sponsors really care about. If they didn’t, we’d have heard something from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, FedEx, Hankook Tire, Heineken International or Kia Motors, but as far as I’m aware, they’ve said nothing. They’re fine with Baku, fine with Mkhitaryan and supports missing out because millions will see their logos on TV. That’s what they care about.
The match-day fan at the top end of the game is an irrelevance now beyond how much they can be fleeced for.
We can talk about the impact that will have on the atmosphere inside the ground but as long as the powers that be can make it sound good on the tellybox, that doesn’t matter either.
The decision by UEFA to press ahead with the final in Baku is the thin end of a very thick wedge they are hammering into football. They are testing how far they can push before the clubs get serious and fight back.
If ever there was a game that should be boycotted, this is the one.
Without clubs, UEFA is nothing.
It’s time they were reminded of that before it’s too late.