Monday, 24 October 2011

The Grim Future of English Football

It seems all at once, football reached the twisted future that every fan dreaded.

First, Liverpool Chief Executive Ian Ayre said he wants Premier League clubs to be able to sell their TV rights individually. 

Discussing everything wrong with this would take an unholy amount of time, but I'll try anyway. Firstly, Ayre brings up a comparison to the Spanish model, where Real Madrid and Barcelona currently make billions on selling their TV rights abroad. They are two of the hottest tickets and biggest draws in the sport, so subsequently foreign stations pay vast sums to secure the rights.

The result? In the last two seasons Real Madrid and Barcelona have finished over 20 points above everybody else in the league, with them both getting over 90 points. In comparison, the 90-point barrier has only been breached six times since the Premier League switched to a 20-team, 3 points-per-game format. Real Madrid and Barcelona have done it 4 times between them in two years.

Ian Ayre's TV rights proposal is as self-serving as they come
That Spanish model really keeps a league competitive, doesn't it? Ayre's plan is so sickeningly self-serving; put forward solely because of personal bitterness that they have been supplanted at the top of English football by the money of Chelsea, Man City and to some extent Man Utd, and fueled by a desire to "fix" things. This plan would certainly give them the money to compete - it's surely no coincidence that Liverpool would be the ones that have the most to gain from this.

Right now, it's comparable to a never-ending fight between Lennox Lewis and Audley Harrison. The best Harrison can hope for is that he gets some medical excuse to legally pump himself full of steroids (read: a massive cash injection like Man City and Chelsea received); something that might redress the balance a bit between the two competitors.

If Ayre's proposed changes were to be introduced? It would still be like Lewis/Harrison, but now Harrison's arms are tied behind his back and Lewis is wearing knuckledusters. In this case, it doesn't really matter how many steroids the local guy takes. All it does is help him take the punches a little better.

Alright, so it's pretty grim in either case, but at least in the former there's still a chance for change. The latter turns the entire thing into a dull, uncompetitive procession. The gap will widen further and at that point Gartside's two-tiered Premiership might not be such a bad idea.

Fortunately the proposal was shunned by both Man Utd and Chelsea, which would indicate it is off the agenda - at least for now. But this is just the warning shot. Ayre says it's a "debate that has to happen", and, inevitably, it will.

After that we have Richard Bevan claiming that foreign owners want to put an end to relegation. This has been far more widely shunned and is less of an immediate threat. Dave Whelan, chairman of Wigan - a club that would certainly benefit from there being no relegation -  said he would pull Wigan out of the Premier League  if it was removed.

Much like the discussion over TV rights, this is in no danger of happening in the immediate future, but the mention of it by a higher-up like Bevan indicates that there has been some sort of discussion on the subject. The total rejection of the idea by the footballing community is probably what forced such rigorous denials by the foreign-owned clubs involved, but it will surface again, maybe in one year, maybe in ten or twenty. 

You can see the logic; look at America's system. The NFL, essentially a league of superteams, is almost sustainable by definition. From the pure moneymaking perspective it makes some sense. It's just sad that, when it gets to the point that clubs are so desperate to stay in the Premiership to secure their own long-term future, when the Football League becomes that hazardous to a club's self-sustainability, the Championship and below will be cut off.

Scenes like West Brom's famous escape in 2005 would be a thing
of the past if the plan to remove relegation from
the league was carried through.

Almost as if to expediate this process, the last and probably most disheartening story - though the one that seemed to receive the least coverage - will almost inevitably lead to major infrastructure changes in a lot of Football League clubs.

The Football League has overhauled the system by which young players are bought and sold. The tribunal system - whereby a tribunal would decide the fee for a youth player when another club wanted to buy him - has been scrapped.

Now, the tribunal system itself was no bed of roses. It was somewhat flawed and still tended to undervalue players. For instance, Tottenham's purchase of John Bostock was marred in controversy. One of Crystal Palace's most promising youth prospects in years, Bostock was valued (after various add-ons and clauses) at around £4m by Crystal Palace. The tribunal set the fee at a mere £700,000. I will freely admit this was farcical (it even led to Chairman Simon Jordan's departure from the club), but this new system will likely do even more damage to football league clubs.

The most damning part of the above article is not simply the pitiful numbers that football league clubs can now expect for their best young players, it was this:

"Had clubs rejected the plan, the Premier League would have withheld their funding for youth development – a fee currently over £5m per season."

This is essentially blackmail, a "know-your-place" jab, a reminder of football's pecking order. Admittedly, the Premier League was never obligated to provide said youth funding, but that the Premier League can bend over the rest of the Football League by simply threatening to take their ball and go home is indicative of the twisted nature of money in football.

It's not all grim, though. Maybe it's just natural fear of change. Maybe that also explains why I don't want goal-line technology. Maybe the fans are the crazy ones and the businessmen know what they're talking about, know what's best. Maybe-alright, nope, sorry. I can't be unbiased here. This sucks.

1 comment:

  1. I think no promotion and relegation would be the death of the game. If you finish last you go nowhere. It is an obsurd suggestion but I can understand why these owners are suggesting the At the end of the day how much money will it take to bribe the FA into allowing it?