Thursday, February 28, 2008

Let's toast the Premier League's loss, for now

Let's toast the Premier League's loss, for now.
"You can't be in business and ignore the Asia markets," Alexei Lalas told John Duerden in Soccerphile's exclusive interview.

In the process, Lalas hit the nail on the head of why the Premier League is so keen to bring 'Game 39' to the table.

English fans pay scant attention to Asia's love of its football, and I would not mind betting that only a minority of domestic fans are aware that the early kick-offs at the weekend are scheduled with Asia in mind.

They should wake up. On the same day as the FIFA v PL showdown in Zurich was to have taken place, Manchester City were in the Asian press because their Thai owner Thaksin Shinawatra has returned home to face corruption charges, protesting his innocence while speaking of turning the Blues into that now redundant cliche, 'a global brand'. The persistent pull of the billions of potential consumers in Asia was going to push players and owners into the Premier League sooner or later.

And with the sudden advance of technology, the dollars in the East are finally within reach of the clubs in England. The idea of fans waiting until Monday's newspaper to find out Saturday's overseas results are now a quaint memory. The only real handicap the PL has in its global takeover bid is the huge time difference and vast distances to Asia, which prevent its players travelling regularly there to play football.

Although the spectre of a Formula One-style global roadshow has been raised by the Game 39 project, realistically any English team could only play about a tenth of its games in Asia over one season, which would of course mean the club's local fans would miss out on seeing certain teams in town.

The news that the Premier League had voluntarily backed down and cancelled its Zurich meeting after they and the FA had failed to reach agreement, cheered me and the millions of other fans dead against their scheme, but I am not naive enough to believe the idea of overseas games is about to go away.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore may argue he was only trying to help the smaller teams by pre-empting any attempts by the big four to sign exclusive deals, but this argument does not hold water.

The big four already take their players to their target markets overseas in pre-season to stuff their coffers.

And I cannot see them unilaterally going overseas to play each other during the season, while the other clubs stay at home. Should such a scenario occur, it would surely be the end of the Premier League and the start of a European League for the rich clubs.

Then again, many of us deep down think that is where we are headed anyway.

The climb-down from Game 39 might be a crumb of comfort in the excessively-commercialised world of soccer we now find ourselves in, or merely just a stay of execution.

Still, it was sweet to see the money men for once rebuffed by those who put football first in their thinking.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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