In August last year, Sky Sports lost the right to screen live La Liga matches in the UK and Ireland. I wrote above this here. It was a blow to subscribers of the sports channel, as games were regularly shown live on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening. Along with this, Sky Sports News regularly showed highlights of games from Spain's top division.
There may be an upside however. With the Champions League returning to our screens this week and next, it is the first opportunity to watch the likes of Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Luka Modric, crowned both "The Best FIFA Men's Player" and " Ballon d'Or" winner in 2018, since the World Cup in Russia last July. In the case of Gareth Bale, many have not watched him play since his Man of the Match performance in the 2018 Champions League Final last May.
Before we were saturated with the best players in the world through the broadcasting deal Sky had secured. The loss of La Liga has reversed this trend.This brings me back to my childhood, and memories of watching many of the best players rather infrequently. It wasn't that I didn't want to watch these players, but rather that games were not broadcast and access was not available.
The UEFA European Championships and FIFA World Cup provided a rare chance to watch some of the best players in the world. In the case of top European talent, there would be a chance to see these players every two years at international competitions or maybe on a Sunday morning highlights reel. The top South American talent, particularly those playing in Brazil and Argentina, only appeared on our screens every four years.
I often wonder how much I suffered from an availability bias - to only use salient examples that come readily to mind to make judgments - and representativeness - drawing conclusions from very small and biased samples. Did this play a part in our evaluation of all of these players were rarely encountered. For example, Brazilian players were held in awe. We couldn't watch these players on a regular basis and footage that did arrive on our screens was always showcasing the best talent.
For example, Denílson de Oliveira Araújo became the most expensive player in the world in 1998, when Spanish club Real Betis paid São Paulo £21.5 million for his services. At the time I had heard about his remarkable step-over routine. I built a narrative around this. Whilst he was a player of talent, that came on in the 2002 World Cup Final, he was not the player I expected him to be, having watched him at length. In fact, many of the international players that were showcased as being far better than the players we watched on a regular basis, were in fact no better.
As broadcasting of all players across the world has become more readily available, I wonder to what extent the diminished mystery of those coming from places that were once largely unknown to everyone but scouts (Brazil and Argentina come to mind) has impacted upon their chances of success at global football tournaments?
17/23 and 19/23 players from the 2018 World Cup squads for Argentina and Brazil played with a UEFA affiliated league. European opponents at the 2018 World Cup would have been very much aware of their strengths and weakness. The 1970 World Cup winning squad from Brazil didn't have a single European based player. Argentina had just 6 European based players in their 1986 winning squad, only 3 of whom started the Final. Even the most recent South American winners, the 2002 Brazil squad, had a majority home-based squad with just 10 UEFA based players.
The rise of broadcasting, of not just domestic players, but all players globally, has coincided with a decline in success of teams outside of Europe at the World Cup. Maybe this is coincidence. Maybe not - perhaps the dissemination of information plays a greater role?. Regardless, I am looking forward to watching players that I have not seen in months, live on television over the coming weeks.