Chelsea has reportedly place a bid to sign Japanese striker Yoshinori Muto. The FC Tokyo front man is wanted by the Stamford Bridge side who are willing to part with £4million to secure his services. Questions however are being asked about the intent of this deal which comes only a few months after Chelsea secured a £200million sponsorship with Yokahama Rubber Company. The Japanese company has agreed a 5 year deal to become Chelsea’s official shirt sponsor in a move that will help bolster the clubs coffers. Whilst there is no visible link between Yokahama Rubber and Muto’s club FC Tokoyo, many are wondering if his transfer or the transfer of a Japanese player to Chelsea was included as a condition of the deal.
Manager Jose Mourinho has admitted that commercial agreements do come into consideration when purchasing players however he pulled short of stating that this bid for Muto fell into that category. Mourinho did state that he will never buy a player who isn’t up to Chelsea’s standard regardless of any commercial arrangement in place. Muto is an up and coming talent and at 22 has his best years ahead of him. But he is unlikely to be a first team regular at Chelsea and could be immediately loaned out to Dutch side Vitesse so the move is somewhat baffling. Muto is hardly setting Japanese football alight although his is one of the better players in a poor FC Tokyo team. Perhaps Chelsea scouts were instructed to identify the best young player they could and that player was Muto.
Buying players to tap into lucrative foreign markets is not new in football with several clubs using this as an option to increase merchandise revenues. Manchester United’s signing of Japanese star Shinji Kagawa was seen as a clever move by the Old Trafford club to engage and grow its Japanese and Asian fan base. Kagawa is one of the most recognized players in the region and has legions of dedicated fans that follow his every move. Unfortunately his stay in England was short lived as he failed to secure a regular first team spot. He was eventually sold back to German side Borussia Dortmund, the same club that United purchased him from. Arguably Kagawa wasted two valuable years sitting on the bench at Old Trafford and has struggled to regain fitness and form since returning to Germany. His fans however have stayed loyal and now sport Dortmund jerseys on their backs once more.
It does raise a question about whether buying a player for a commercial purpose only is ethically fair? If we consider that players have become commodities to business focused clubs in recent years then buying to increase revenue streams make sense. However with a players working career limited to less than 20 years (if they avoid injuries) is it fair to ask a player to give up two or three years of that just so the club can benefit from their commercial brand? Players should be bought in order to strengthen the clubs chances of success on the pitch and for no other reason but as modern day football evolves into a business like model, the opportunity to use players for multiple purposes is far more appealing. Already players are being contractually told that they must partake in chosen club activities that benefit sponsors including promotional tours, interviews and appearances. This usually is limited to 5-10% of their time in order to maintain their focus on their primary role of playing. However if the signing of players for commercial purposes rather than playing purposes becomes more common, will we see a dramatic shift in the players daily responsibilities? Will they effectively become promotional tools for the clubs and play more on a sporadic basis to maintain their image and connection to the club? Will sponsors soon dictate to clubs which player they want them to buy? Let’s hope not, for the players and footballs sake.