May 08, 2008

The Parvenus versus the Old Guard

On May 21 European soccer reaches its finale after 13 acts in the UEFA Champions League, a tournament featuring the top teams in every league from Portugal to Israel. The finalists this year happen to be both from England’s Premiership league: Manchester United and Chelsea London. I despise Chelsea. They are owned by an oil oligarch who is always televised sitting next to a different supermodel each gameday in his shadowy executive box. He's Roman Abramovich, a billionaire from Russia who bought the team five years ago and infused it with cash for star players explicitly to buy trophies, the highest of all trophies being the Champions League. The fact that a billionaire’s money can in only five years subvert other factors like team morale, long-term stability, community support, and entertaining play – and still lead to success – excites such vitriol in me that I should change the subject.

In the 1784 tragedy “Egmont”, Goethe thematizes the occupation of the Low Countries by Catholic Spain. The Dutch governor Egmont spends five acts ignoring everyone’s suspicions that the Spanish king will execute him for being too kind to protesting Flemings. In the final act his lover Clärchen takes to the streets trying to arouse the citizenry in Egmont’s defense. When this fails, she takes poison. Egmont finds out about Clärchen’s death, sleeps well in his jail cell, has an epiphany that Holland will be free from Spanish rule, and is later executed.

The political issue in “Egmont” is one of the local nobles’ inherited rights versus a new power, the strong centralized government in Madrid. It’s not really about an underdog. It’s often pointed out that the uprising in the Netherlands was conservative in character. Liberation was its aim, but it was essentially concerned with restoring ancient privileges and freedoms.

I intended to cheer for Manchester United on May 21, or actually, hope for Chelsea to lose. I wish it was as simple as cheering for the underdog. United have won far more trophies throughout their history than Chelsea. United even have a corrupt owner of their own, a fat Floridian named Malcolm Glazer who has sent the team into debt. Chelsea is an upstart. They were recently a small club in a big town losing to plenty of other London teams. Then they got bought up and started winning, whereas United have always been rich and have always been winning. Maybe in following this tragedy I was originally pulling for Egmont and his revolution, but who would want to pull for aristocrats and their inherited rights? One outcome no longer feels better than the other. Soccer fans will pay tribute to either champion on May 21 and accept their fate with reluctance, then serenity. And Goethe wouldn’t have it any other way. The wheels of the gods grind slowly but exceedingly fine.


Mithras Tirtha said...

That was the only interesting sports column I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryan! This is great! I'm glad it's not totally in German...;-)

Your old man