In his “The Great Game and the Informal Empire,” David Goldblatt makes a bold but well-accepted statement: “Nacional in Montevideo, Stade Francais in Paris, and Independiente in Buenos Aires were all created in opposition to English-dominated clubs in their cities and inevitable came to carry a nationalist flag onto the pitch.” These Continental and South American clubs have long existed as points of pride and strong-built teams in their respective home nations. A young Brazilian, dreaming of soccer glory, dreamed of playing for Santos FC, an established and successful club in Sao Paolo (that can count Pele as an alumnus). Glory existed not just in bringing the national team success in the World Cup, but also in worldwide success with the local club team.
Nowadays, the widespread power that hometown clubs held over colonial players has all but dissipated. Sure, the World Cup remains the most glorious dream for a young footballer, but the club scene has reverted back to dominance by the English Premier League, with the Spanish La Liga holding sway as well. Clubs like Santos, River Plate and Boca Juniors can barely recruit young homegrown talent, let alone hold onto players into the primes of their careers. Take Lionel Messi, for example, the undisputed best player in the world. Born in Rosario, Argentina, Messi came from a family that emigrated from Italy in the late 19th century. He played on a few successful Argentinian youth clubs but was snatched up at age 11 by FC Barcelona, one of the most powerful clubs in the world. Through Barcelona’s youth academy, Messi grew and thrived. Though he still plays for Argentina’s national team, there is no question that Messi has found his most success with Barcelona. The narrative of a young star excelling for both home club and country has essentially disappeared, a revert to the pre-globalization dominance of English and western Continental powers.
Even Neymar, a great player still with a hometown club, is constantly embroiled in rumors of a move to the EPL. While we would love to continue the idea of the loyalty to homeland in global soccer, when it isn’t the World Cup every four years, that tendency to stay home just no longer exists—globalization has pushed it back to the imperialist powers.