Friday, September 5, 2008

Let's kick money out of football

Let's kick money out of football.
Some nuts think the world will be no more in 2012 (hopefully after the Olympics is over), but for English football’s traditions the end is nigh once more after Tuesday.

The shock-horror arrival of Arab billions at Manchester City, followed by their first trophy, Robinho, was mirrored by two old-style English managers, Alan Curbishley and Kevin Keegan, exiting stage left.

The Sky-fuelled Premier League has been chipping away at the soul of the game since it started in 1993.

Beloved stadium names have been replaced by here-today, gone-tomorrow sponsor labels, ticket prices have shot up astronomically, the title race has shrunken to three teams and the England team’s importance has been pushed to the back of the queue with an invasion of foreign players. Now this week has brought definitive proof that the cult of the manager – a man imprinting his personality on his team, will soon be gone, too.

The ‘characters’ of the 1970s – Bill Shankly, Jock Stein, Brian Clough, Don Revie, Tommy Docherty and Malcolm Allison, are mere memories, replaced by subservient head coaches who have little say on who is bought and sold.

This is less about control than communication. Managers have always spent directors’ money, so just what was going on at Newcastle and West Ham if the clubs were not telling their coaches they were trying to offload their players?

One problem with allowing investors without a football heritage in is they can mis-understand the nuances of the game, in this case the dynamics of the manager-director relationship. Of course not all English football traditions were noble and it was a good thing that Alan Sugar and Simon Jordan for instance, incomers to the game’s running in the 1990s, blew the whistle on some of the worst of them.

But in handing a club over to anyone who comes along merely with a fat wallet, the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water is evident. How long, one cannot but wonder, will Mark Hughes last, now he has been publicly airbrushed by the Arabs in charge with regards to Robinho.

What is for sure is that Newcastle and West Ham were up the creek financially if they felt they had to place so many players up for sale. Once more, English clubs have only themselves to blame for not being able to balance books properly, but that a potential fire-sale came as news to their ‘head coaches’ shows how badly run they are in other ways.

A nation headed for recession might correct some of the cowboy spending clubs have indulged in the past few years, but with the Abu Dhabi consortium charging into the Eastlands all guns blazing with promises to rule the world (Peter Kenyon take note), the stragglers (about 85 clubs at the last count) will continue their futile gambling.

City’s robotic chief executive Gary Cook let the cat out of the bag with his urging of a 14-team Premier League with no promotion or relegation, a prospect of which PL chief Richard Scudamore is apparently in favour.

What a bleak future that would be, with meaningless matches week after week in the Premier League and no team in the Championship able to reach the top division.

This week I discussed this with my father, who began watching football in the 1940s, and he told me that you never knew which team were going to win the league - imagine! When I began watching in the 1980s, you did – Liverpool, who were not wildly outspending the other clubs but rather relying on the best coach and playing style for victory.

If money rules the roost these days, then let’s dismantle its perch. Fools like Cook survive because they have learnt to exploit the faith of us fans. Not buying satellite TV packages, replica shirts and season tickets would send them packing once their profits ebb. With a bit of know-how you can watch games live on your PC for free, anyway.

Only when the money-men have got bored with football and departed for more profitable climbs can we start reclaiming our game and buying season tickets without guilt. Let’s face it, the football authorities and our governments are not about to step in and slay the monster they were complicit in creating.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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1 comment:

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