D3D4 Columnist Darren Young examines how greed and a selfish attitude is destroying the competitiveness of top flight football…
Is Greed And A Short Memory The Beginning Of The End?
There is a new proposed rule in the Premier League; from next season the top six clubs can buy ANY player they want from two other teams (decided by a ballot) who finish outside of the top six.
So, in essence, Manchester City might draw West Brom and Leicester in the ballot and buy any player they choose from both of them, say, Johnny Evans and Riyad Mahrez. They might not even want them for their first XI but they can keep them in reserve as back up. Money won’t be a problem and although it might not necessarily strengthen them, it will give them extra depth and crucially, make the ‘lesser’ clubs weaker; effectively ruling out another Leicester City miracle in the coming years.
Actually, that isn’t the rule at all, but it might as well be. This week the twenty PL clubs vote on whether the richest six get a bigger share (rather than an equal split) of overseas broadcasting income (c. £3bn); the argument – met with some resistance- is that viewers in Thailand would rather watch Arsenal and Chelsea than they would Burnley or Southampton. Which is probably true but it’s also grotesque to suggest that the best way forward for the league is to make the very wealthy clubs, even richer still. This ‘all about me’ attitude is plain wrong and on so many levels. Remember that currently, without his vote, the top team in the PL get £60m more than the bottom one.
Coincidentally, as a birthday present last week, I received the David Conn book, The Fall of the House of FIFA – and just seven or eight chapters in – its already a fascinating read, detailing how what started as a well-intentioned collective of nations trying to arrange inter-continental matches ended (or at least reached the point of) FBI raids, lifetime bans and mafia-organisation comparisons.
Money was what changed everything at FIFA. The PL is, in my opinion, going the same way and the only difference to FIFA is that, since 1992, it’s always only been about the money. Ten days ago, I wrote an article that suggested the EFL Cup should be played in future seasons without PL clubs in it. Now, after this latest attempted cash grab, I wonder if they have a viable place in English football at all.
There is a ‘where will it end’ (they don’t think it ever will) sense to the PL’s attitude to all things. The clubs, especially the ones in the Champions League, will say they need more money to compete with the big hitters in Spain (basically two clubs, for now) and France (one club). They don’t see the way the abandonment of ‘all for one and one for all’ is slowly killing the commercial appeal of those leagues. I heard a pundit saying that in the Bundesliga, clubs outside the top one play with more freedom because they know they will never be able to win the thing.
The PL’s search for riches in other parts of the world is partly to blame. The fan on the street, specifically streets close to the stadium, are gradually being overlooked in favour of the wants of people thousands of miles away, but whose wallets seemingly have no limit to how far they’ll stretch.
So, if they want to resurrect the 39th game idea, so loved by Richard Scudamore, then why not let them take the other thirty-eight to the Middle or Far East too? The fans there can knock themselves out watching Man City versus Liverpool every three or four weeks.
A break away has already been threatened as it is. The implied threat is that if the other PL teams don’t vote with them this week, the richest six will take their ball home; or to Munich, Milan or Madrid to set up a European Super League. Like we haven’t heard that before.
I say let them if that’s what they really want. Let’s see how long it lasts before the novelty wears off and the non-jeopardy of a closed shop sends everyone to sleep.
Part of the problem is when ‘we’ (the football fan or media) say ‘top six’ we all know who they are referring to. It was supposed to possibly be the top seven this year – until Rooney went bananas (think about it) – so without Everton joining in, the top six is already, by the end of September, predefined, which is the saddest fact of all this. The rich getting richer trend has already created two divisions. Literally and metaphorically.
What’s more, those in the ‘top’ division of the division act like they own the thing (not so much the fans but the owners themselves, maybe often to the embarrassment of the fans). To hear them, you’d think that they had been the ‘big six’ for ever but I’m old enough to remember when at least five of them would have done anything to be amongst the ‘elite’.
It wasn’t that long ago that my team, Walsall, pipped a team called Manchester City (who needed a Paul Dickov inspired comeback to join us via the play offs) to promotion from the old division three
In the 80’s, Chelsea were playing in front of a Shed down at the arse end of the second tier, and toyed with falling further still.
For years, a pre-Wenger Arsenal couldn’t finish inside the top six if their lives depended on it
Exactly the same could be said for Spurs. And was. They had more foreign fans watching Hoddle and Waddle on TOTP than the team playing football.
Additionally, Manchester United languished outside the top echelons for years before the PL came about, seeing the odd FA Cup win as their silverware substitute
And you don’t need to go that far back. Liverpool can’t beat any of the so called lesser clubs now!
With the introduction of so much cash, incoming and from already wealthy owners/banks (delete as applicable), they are like any successful business; they want more. But football, as much as it increasingly uses the words business and brand, isn’t really a business in that sense. The fans aren’t customers, they are stakeholders – ever more marginalised, yes – but still stakeholders in the club. Their allegiance is more akin to one through religion than that of a consumer.
Yet the feelings of fans are largely irrelevant as long as the PL is healthy. They don’t understand that it’s the very competitiveness of the league that gives it the global appeal to begin with.
The fact that Burnley can win at Chelsea, for instance.
But have you noticed the number of four, five and six-nil score lines creeping into the PL weekend results? It used to be once a season that you got a freak seven, eight or nine goal win for a team but go on like this for much longer and it’ll become far more common. If we still had the vidi-printer, it would be putting a lot of numbers in brackets to make sure we didn’t think it was a mistake.
So, we’re creating an uncompetitive league already, without making the pay gap even bigger.
I’ve had a long-held worry that the Premier League will eventually do ‘a FIFA’ and the house of cards will all fall down. Nothing I see; be it this story, the 39th game, Amazon and Google potentially entering future bidding wars for TV rights or Harry Kane being talked about as a Real £250m target, makes me worry less.
I was lucky enough to do some work at Wembley the last two weekends with the NFL and it’s well documented that they go all out to make the competition more even, with things like player drafts and salary caps. And there’s much more money swilling about in that sport than English football.
I’m not saying success shouldn’t be rewarded but a polar opposite approach to the NFL isn’t the right way either surely. If we carry on, in ten years, the top six won’t lose a single game to anyone from seventh down. And eventually, even the richest six will divide itself into the very, very rich and very, very, very rich.
Surely, we don’t need more Celtics, PSGs and Bayerns, winning the league before it’s even started? We need more Leicesters, Forests and Man Citys (the 1968 one, before they had money) to give the league a richness and air of unpredictability.
I think fans in Thailand, after five years of Man Utd v Spurs every other week, might even begin to say the same.
Super Sunday? Same old Sunday more like.
What’s Thai for ‘any chance of seeing Brighton v Watford this week instead?’