By Wisdom Deji-Folutile
Nigerian football fans have demonstrated a loss of interest in La Liga and Serie A after both leagues recently lost stars, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
La Liga is the men’s top professional football division of the Spanish football league while Serie A is a professional league competition for football clubs located at the top of the Italian football league system.
In the latest transfer window – which saw football clubs across the globe spending a whopping $3.72 billion on international transfers, according to FIFA – Paris Saint-Germain, based in Paris, France, swooped in to snatch free agent Messi after the Copa America winner’s contract renewal with Spanish side Barcelona fell through due to La Liga regulations.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, expressed that he was ready to move on from Italian side Juventus, where he won the Serie A twice, among other honours. In a fairytale deal for English side Manchester United, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner signed a contract with the Red Devils, the club where he first emerged as one of the best players in the world.
Before the two stars made their moves, fans had already grown weary of seeing both players bow out of the UEFA Champions League (UCL), Europe’s biggest cup competition, due to the alleged poor performances of their teammates.
For instance, Messi had endured embarrassing defeats against Roma, Liverpool and Bayern Munich for three consecutive seasons, despite reportedly putting in stellar performances and emerging as the golden ball winner in one of those three years.
Ronaldo’s Juventus equally repeatedly fell short of the mark, despite the forward’s heroics against Atletico Madrid in 2019 that saw him score a tremendous hat-trick to beat Atleti 3-2 on aggregate and advance to the Quarter Finals.
To crown their failures, Juventus almost fell out a UCL spot after finishing fourth place in a very disappointing campaign that still saw Ronaldo clinch the Serie A golden boot.
Messi also endured an equally frustrating year domestically, finishing third behind Real Madrid and Atletico. He, however, won the La Liga top scorer award despite his side’s poor showing in the league that season.
Both Barcelona and Juventus’ squads were looking dilapidated coming into the new season, with many analysts providing poor projections for the two teams for the 2021/2022 campaign.
However, in one month, the two of the best players of the last decade – with 11 Ballon d’Ors and over 1,500 goals between them – left their teams for more competitive sides. This no doubt gives them another shot at European domination – both in the English Premier League and the Champions League.
The moves of the stars spelt good news, not just for PSG and Man United fans, but for the stars’ new football club owners seeking to make revenue from jersey and ticket sales.
However, the losing leagues, La Liga and Serie A may have long-term losses due to the apathy many Nigerian fans are expressing regarding the activities of the two leagues since the moves of the two all-time greats.
When sports fans were quizzed by our correspondent on whether they would stick around watching the leagues after the departure of the two stars, 99 per cent of respondents expressed a loss of interest.
“I’m a Ronaldo fan, and immediately he left Juventus for Man United, I also left with him. He was the only reason I watched Serie A,” Lagos-based Femi Okunola told AF24NEWS.
Another football fan, Hamzat Lawal, who is a Messi fan, said, “I am no longer into La Liga like I used to. My eyes are now on the French League, where my idol now plays.”
Also, Bisoye Ilesanmi, a Ronaldo fan, said he had since started supporting Man United after his idol’s move from Juventus.
“English Premier League has always been where the action is. It was actually Ronaldo who drew me to Serie A all this time. Now, I’m supporting Man U because of him,” Ilesanmi, a bank worker, said.
One respondent also told AF24NEWS, “There’s almost nothing to look forward to again at Serie A and La Liga. Many football fans have made generous use of the term ‘boring’ when describing the two leagues without both players (Messi and Ronaldo).”
“There have been memes on social media depicting fans abandoning their old teams to support the destination teams of the two stars, and many football followers have jokingly expressed that they no longer support their old clubs,” the respondent added.
Some fans even told our correspondent that the exit of the two superstars had affected their decision to subscribe to pay-TV platforms like DStv. Some, however, said the development would not affect their subscription plans.
Low turnout at viewing centres
Although the season is still in the early days, owners of some viewing centres told AF24NEWS they were recording fewer fans arriving to watch Serie A and La Liga games due to the exit of Messi and Ronaldo from the leagues.
“No one comes to watch Barcelona games at the viewing centre anymore due to the exit of their talisman (Messi),” one viewing centre owner said.
Jide Olusola, an analyst from Sports Radio 88.9 Brila FM, mentioned that the apathy of football fans for the two leagues formerly perceived to be superpowers is a natural effect of the exit of two players widely regarded as the best players of their generation.
Speaking to our correspondent, Olusola noted that as a direct effect of Messi’s signing announcement by PSG, the club gained millions of followers, an occurrence that was heavily reported at the time.
He said, “When Messi left for PSG, the team’s Instagram followers skyrocketed with millions of followers added. The same thing happened to Ronaldo. When he returned to Manchester United, their share price on the stock market increased.
“That is the power they have, because of their talents and what they’ve been able to achieve for the past few years. They’ve dominated the football stage for over 12 years. You cannot mention football without mentioning the names Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Many fans began to follow Juventus because of Ronaldo, and many fans are lovers of Barcelona because of Messi. You can see the happiness Man United fans have now that Ronaldo has come back. They know that the presence of Ronaldo in the league gives them a big opportunity to win the league. And so also for PSG, they have Messi, and their dream of winning the Champions League has brightened.”
Olusola also mentioned that (French) League 1 recorded exponential growth in streaming views when Lionel Messi debuted in the French giant’s clash with Reims. The ex-Barca man had only featured for about 25 minutes after getting subbed in for Brazil international Neymar.
Though not being a fan of either Barcelona or PSG, the sports analyst said he also streamed the match because of Messi.
“Reports also said that they had more views at Lionel Messi debut. So we have seen a shift from La Liga and Serie A heading towards the Farmer’s League (a term used to describe a football league that isn’t considered to be competitive),” Olusola said.
The analyst also predicted that the Premier League (which already enjoys high viewership and coverage) and the French Ligue 1 would be the dominant leagues for at least the next three years.
Olusola said while the phenomenon might lead many to question the loyalty of Nigerian fans to their sworn clubs, “it is not new for leagues to lose or gain prominence due to the departure or arrival of superstars.”
“For instance, the domestic league in São Paulo, Brazil at a time gained great prominence when one of the greatest football stars of all time, Pelé, featured for Santos. The Brazilian star also gave the North American Soccer League improved visibility and prominence when he moved to the New York Cosmos in 1975,” he said.