Every good consumer knows that assembling, alphabetising and pruning a box set collection is as satisfying as consumerism gets: a palliative for that nasty sense of purposelessness that comes with The Big Society – though Chris Evans’ voiceover might not put it quite like that. Never mind, basket all nine series of Seinfeld and see for yourself: there’s room for aspiration, but a comforting taste of closure too.
Completism is rife, from McDonalds aiming to establish bases in every country, to you, buying even the bad series of Frasier. It’s everywhere – which presumably pleases those involved. Nevertheless, watching that mentality spread to football supporters isn’t an entirely expected development. Followers of a game full of neat cycles – seasons, cup winners, managers – seem unlikely candidates to join the collectors’ search for closure.
But sport’s arch conservatives are increasingly pursuing the progress and conclusions promised by Box Set Completism. The summer transfer window gives it away. June starts, the season ends, and fans fill the gap with transfer talk. It’s been that way since ‘transfer madness’ started being interpreted as a dare, but now transfers are discussed as if they’re more than a contribution to next season’s team; as if they’re helping "complete" a squad or starting eleven, and not in a numerical sense. It’s gone bloody existential.
Potential signings start to sound like TV Sitcoms, with squads and starting elevens the box set projects; tasks to be finished off. Though it’s never quite made clear what that constitutes.
It means today’s transfer talk is more than the idle speculation or self-indulgent fantasy we’re used to. Football fans list players their teams should sign with a sense of absolute purpose. This summer, Luka Modric has made up the last piece of Manchester United’s, Chelsea’s and Manchester City’s jigsaws. Ask anyone, he’s the midfielder these teams all need to round off their squads. Similarly, Alexis Sanchez brings the last thing to Barcelona that they’ve needed: more pace on the counter attack and then they’re done. Talk to any fans and they’ll tell you what their team needs to be "complete".
Fans aren’t happy for their teams to be transitory, existing only to win the next game or the next title. There’s an expectation, even an assumption on their part, that their teams are "starting something", "in transition" or "one player away" from being complete. And let’s not kid ourselves: clubs have encouraged this, though their ideas have been misapplied. Manchester City keep telling us they’re "building" and Arsene Wenger has courted the "Arsene Wenger Project" label at Arsenal. For the clubs, building towards something complete is a useful excuse for being incomplete now – for short term inadequacy.
Tabloid sages have had their say, too. It’s of course more dramatic if they pitch Luka Modric’s signing as a crucial element in The Project than it is explaining that Manchester United have just signed another player to help them for a season or two and then leave.
That last bit is the truth of it though. This new completist agenda is nonsense. Football is full of cycles and transience. You can’t get away from that. Box set completism isn’t a useful fit. It sets supporters out to look for an ending that isn’t there. The sitcom collection might one day be finished – though Chris Evans probably doesn’t say it because that’s not true either – but your football team never can be.
Football projects don’t end. Witness Barcelona. If anyone’s reached the finish line, they have. They possess the world’s most successful team and seemingly unlimited hope for the future in the shape of their academy. Yet nothing’s changed. There are just as many players waiting to complete them this summer as last. There’s no sense of closure.
Aspiring towards conclusions is ill-judged. It means other, tangible successes turn into footnotes through not being the allusive endnote. Manchester United won a league title this season, but it was almost written off by the number of fans imagining, and then explaining that there would be much more to come in the future, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team were still "in transition". Barcelona’s successes, similarly, deserve the pedestal of being recognised as a pinnacle of sporting achievement, but in the midst of summer headlines and forum transfer hype, they’re subsumed by the far-off notion of the team becoming even more complete.
Anyone looking for closure is set for disappointment. Adding Curb Your Enthusiasm to Frasier and Seinfeld will only make you want to buy Cheers, a show you don’t even like. It never ends. Even if Luka Modric does sign for Manchester United this summer, he’s not the final piece, because there is no jigsaw. Ask Ferguson. He’ll tell you. There’s only the next trophy, the one after that, and. So. On.