I don’t know who coined the phrase about someone being so infested with a sense of self-importance that, if they were made of chocolate, they’d eat themselves.
But I’ve always liked it. And it certainly applies to football at the moment.
Because the game has become a sporting Mr Creosote, he of Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life fame as it forces down so many sickly sweet delights (“… just one more wafer-thin Champions League tie, Sir?”) that, obese and pumped full of sticky ego, someone, somewhere, seems to explode into a new frenzy of self-righteous indignation every day or so.
Jurgen Klopp is the latest. Liverpool’s inability to see off Shrewsbury at the first attempt means, of course, the game has to go to a replay. But Jurgen isn’t having it. He’s packed away his expensive toys in a huff and proclaimed that no-one else can play with them until he says so.
Now, to be fair to Klopp, he does have a case. The Premier League, FA and EFL (quite why they were invited along to the meeting I don’t know) all sat down together and decided that, as too many games were now being played with all the resultant demands it put upon the players, they’d all get to have a rest at some point in February.
The fact that too many games are being played is, as a not insignificant aside, down to the very governing bodies that administrate the game. They’ve implemented the ever-growing fixture lists onto the clubs with one hand whilst, with the other, insisting that they now have to take a little time off.
It’s a bit like being ordered to bash your head against a brick wall 38 times except that, after you’ve done it 20 times, you can pop off for a fag and cup of coffee before returning to do it for the remaining 18.
It might look good but doesn’t actually make a scrap of difference. The players will still be knackered, the game still over-exposed and the logistical and financial demands on spectators rendered ever more ridiculous.
Norwich at Newcastle at 7:45 pm on a Tuesday night? Southampton at Wolverhampton on a Sunday afternoon? Not a problem. After all, the players have just had a week off.
Mid-winter break? Gilding the lily. Meaningless.
Much like the concept of competition in English football right now.
We’re still in January, for goodness sake, and the Premier League is already won.
Thus, once again, we are all expected to get excited about who might accompany Liverpool into the Champions League next season.
Except I’m not. Some of you may be of course. But I’m not going to get myself worked up about any perceived race for fourth place.
At the time of writing, Liverpool are 33 points clear of fifth place. Thus, if Manchester United win their next 11 games whilst Liverpool now lose the same number on the trot, then the two of them will be equal on points going into the last four games of the season. A situation that might pique the interest of even the most jaded football follower.
Sky and BT would probably have you think it might happen. The race for the title is still on everyone.
If I’m completely honest with you, I’d sooner the top four, five or six, whatever, all cleared off to their much-vaunted European Super League as quickly as possible. They could hand their notice in now to be honest. I don’t think too many followers outside of their own would be particularly bothered.
The funny thing is, whenever a game-improving initiative is postulated that might, gasp, improve the lot of the majority, the elite, in the manner of Mary Antoinette at her haughty best, raise up their bejewelled petticoats and kick up a fuss.
“Giving Little Postlewick Reserves £100 towards new goalposts? We think that money would be better off coming to one of us. Reconsider immediately or we’ll all go and play in the European Super League”.
Sorry Little Postlewick. It’s jumpers for goalposts for you from now on.
I wish someone would call their bluff. Give Little Postlewick Reserves the cash anyway. And let the bloated ones have their flounce.
Does anyone really think the game in England would irrevocably suffer if that happened?
I don’t. On the contrary, I think it would thrive. I think interest would leap off the scale and that the first domestic season that started without them would be looked forward to with all the excitement and interest that has been missing for so long.
Let’s assume then that, as from July 1st 2020, Liverpool, the two Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham have handed in their notice and gone off to play in the Ford Pepsi Nike Gazprom Tencent Sime Darby European Supernova Lightning League.
With Sky paying £600 billion for the TV rights.
That leaves a suitably adjusted 20 team Premier League for the 2020/21 season that consists of the following clubs-
Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Brentford, Brighton, Bristol City, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham Forest, Preston, Sheffield United, Southampton, Watford, West Brom and Wolves.
(Based on the remaining 14 Premier League clubs plus the top six in the Championship at the time of writing)
Think that might be a bit more competitive, a bit more interesting and a bit more inclusive?
OK, whatever TV deal the ‘new’ Premier League garnished for itself wouldn’t be anything like the current one. But it might bring about a new level of fiscal responsibility within its member clubs and see prices adjusted accordingly.
Player wages, transfer fees, admittance prices. You name it.
There would also, whilst we’re at it, a policy of free collective bargaining rights through the new Premier League as well as the three leagues below it. One club, one vote. And the equal distribution of money.
No more fleas biting the tail that wags the footballing dog. But taking the game back again.
And here’s another thing. Would, in amongst all of this brave new world, the recalcitrant six be missed?
I don’t think so. Indeed, I rather think they’d be missing all of us rather sooner than the other way around. After all, how many times can Chelsea play Borussia Dortmund or Liverpool play Real Madrid in a season before their supporters all start to get bored? As well as fed up with 11 pm kick-off times or games being played in Kuala Lumpur or Manama?
The big six have had it all their own way for too long.
The winter break was brought for them. Shutting the domestic season down for international breaks suits them as well. Here’s an idea. Play the league games anyway. They’ve all got enormous squads, so play a league game or two without your international players. Rugby manages it.
Besides, how can you complain about fixture congestion when three, four, maybe five Premier League games could have been played at the same time as the international ones. They wanted the breaks in the autumn so stop whinging about the inevitable backlog that indulgence eventually causes.
Noisy, spoilt, self-indulged and occasionally childish brats adorned in Puma, Nike and Adidas.
Let the buggers go. Let’s feather a new footballing nest without them.
Nich Starling says
A league where any top players will be forced by the media to leave and play for a European Super League team? No thanks.
Ed Couzens-Lake says
Good point Nich…but we tend to lose our top players anyway. I’m not sure how much my fantasy would improve the footballing lot of the Canaries but would hope it might improve the state of the domestic game as a whole. A fantasy as I said. But intriguing nonetheless.
Andy Delf says
If they could take the Shearers and Linekers so much the better. Perhaps a petition could hurry it along. Good article Ed.
Jim Davies says
I can see the day when football will end up with a small group of teams (NOT CLUBS!!!) playing a series of televised exhibition games, similar to how Harlem Globetrotters did in basketball, where everyone can admire the skills on show, but it’s basically meaningless.
What makes football so interesting and good to watch is the possibility of your team doing the unthinkable, and beating a supposedly better team, or doing a Wimbledon and winning the FA cup. Once it gets to the predictable, it gets boring.
I agree with you Ed, the sooner they set up their European super league the better. I stopped my BT subscription because I’d lost interest in the Champions League. I’d rather watch a League 1 game instead.
Herr Cutz says
It’s an interesting proposition Ed and gets my vote. Too much greed in this world.
Cool As Farke says
The dominance of The Premier League ™ is a symbol of the unchecked capitalism in this country. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Grassroots football struggles to survive, nurses use food banks to feed their families.
I’d love the PL to realise things have gone too far and make more efforts to redistribute their wealth for the good of the game as a whole in this country. It won’t happen, just as the billionaires who dominate our society won’t give their fortunes away.
I kind of agree with your argument. I think the FA have been too weak. They should call the Premier League’s bluff, and if they did I think the PL would realise their ‘product’ would be severely diminished without being part of a national league structure.
Keith B says
Jeremy – you lost the election. Get over it.
martin penney says
Hi Keith – I kinda like that comment.
I shouldn’t, but I do.
Sure nurses should be paid much, much more than they are. They are more valuable than most of the NHS admin types who earn far in excess of them but needing to feed their families via foodbanks? Don’t think so.
Anyway a great article from Ed and like him I wouldn’t exactly be gutted if there were a top six breakaway either.
I love watching the top sides at the Carra and have enjoyed every one of our matches against them – except Man Utd of course.
But could I live without them? Oh Yes.
Dave B (2) says
Speaking as a retired nurse, I commend you for your comments, those of you who are interested, just google ‘nurses and food banks’ and read the raft of information that presents itself.
Speaking as an ancient Norwich fan, I prefer the days when the playing field was more level, not like Cringleford rec, that was never level, I mean the days when we used to finish in the top ten of the top flight.
Nurses and Norwich fans arguably have much in common, both lots being gluttons for punishment.
Death to the fat controllers as Marx and the Reverend Wilbert Awdry might have said.
Tim Sell says
The fact that I can’t wait for Norwich to get back in the Championship so I can go to the majority of games on a Saturday ko 3pm and midweek ko 7.45pm ( and I can’t believe I am the only one ) rather sums up my feeling of the premiere league. Whilst others may drool at the chance to see the Liverpools and Man Citys down at the Carra I couldn’t give a stuff, I’d rather watch a competitive game against one of the lower to mid-table teams, so agreed, let the so called elite bugger off and self destruct when every one gets bored with them ( oh, and don’t forget to take Celtic and Rangers with you ! ). Then, sit back and watch the revival of the FA and League cups materialise along with competitive league football.
This little Norwich attitude is so depressing.
Leicester and Manchester City have demonstrated that you can still go from division two to top four of the premier league. Two clubs that have sailed past Norwich City in the process.
You can’t put the genie back in the bottle or ignore the market. Accept the situation and consider how best Norwich City can be an established premier league club.
I want to see the best clubs in England playing at Carrow Road not the kick, rush an thuggery of the lower leagues.
Adrian Nunn says
I fully agree with your sentiment John but the two clubs you mention reached top four following takeovers by, respectively, a billionaire and a country so had a little bit of a financial advantage on the likes of Norwich.
I’m sure there would be interest in buying Norwich once our owners take a reality check and realise substantial fresh funding is needed.
I don’t believe the propaganda about nobody being interested.
Bernie Owen says
Too many games eh, then cut out jaunts to the other side of the world to play in tournaments as soon as the season ends , (or half wat through the season). Go back to European cups being knock out, but no we want the leagues for the money, the big clubs greed is eating them . I would have no problem if the big 5 or 6 bogged of to a European super league, outside of the fa and eufa. No international games for their players, pain for the national team for a season or two , then as players want to play for their national sides they will stay in the national leagues and within five years the big teams can come back into league 2.
A great read and it is ab idea that could take off one day.
Your Loserpool winning the league is sad yes they are playing some good football but fir some reason the so called challengers are just lacking any get up and go
1) Man City too many injuries and no CB
2) Man U in a complete rebuild phase
3) Spurs players wanted to leave manager lost his plan and his team and short of replacements.
4) Chelsea to many untried youngsters and transfer ban
5) Arse-nal lost there way 10 years ago and living on past glories
6) Leicester giving it ago under Roger’s again the surprise package.
Since VAR was introduced in has not given one decision against Loserpool or LIVARPOOL as some are calling them,
So in your dystopian league would you have this VAR as a given???
Now looking at the fixture back log surely as requested cup game replays could be scrapped but a better way would be to curtail EUFA and FIFA from enlarging competitions so they get a bigger slice of the cake, they say player need recovery time but it is the national leagues that has to make changes to accommodate there ever increasing expansion.
In your dystopian league city could be a success but then Leeds United would spoil it by wanting to have the biggest share they already think they deserve a place in the premiership as a given without winning the right to be there followed by Newcastle
Ed, a thought provoking article as ever. There’s some pretty questionable logic in here that has prompted me into a response…:
• Why would you expect other clubs to behave any differently to your defined top 6? All are owned by wealthy people, most of whom are wealthy because they are driven, in part at least, by greed.
• You’ve suggested that interest in football has gone missing yet the average attendances in the PL have increased steadily since its inception to the point that the last couple of years average attendances have been higher than at any stage in the last 70 years. The championship is following a similar trend.
• You’ve pointed at the governing bodies to blame for their being too many matches but actually I think the most significant factor over the last few years is the establishment of pre-season tournaments, set up to generate additional revenue, which seem to be largely out of the control of governing bodies.
• Most teams now rest the majority of their players during peak periods on the advice of sports scientists. To suggest that having a break is meaningless is therefore somewhat ill informed.
• Do you not get a sense of pleasure out of your team beating the supposed best teams? Did you sit there at the end of the Man City game thinking, I wish they weren’t in our league so that we’d be pitting our skills against Preston instead?
• Yes, this year’s title race is over before it really began. But last years was one of the most exciting I can remember and the quality of football played at times some of the most enjoyable and high quality.
• Why do Watford get 2 berths in your new league?!
I’m not a massive advocate of all of the PLs choices, nor the FA’s for that matter (why schedule FA cup replays in a scheduled break for example?). Not sure removing the current ‘big six’ would change anything however.
Ed CL says
Tom, you are the Paxman of My Football Writer! I’ll attempt to answer three of your questions-though in my defence, this wasn’t a forensically researched piece that was planned and written over a few weeks but a reaction to a comment from Gary about something I posted on Twitter-so it was written off the cuff and from the heart rather than with any considered thought! However…
However wealthy other clubs owners, existing or new (and if the Newcastle takeover goes ahead, their new man at the top will be right at the top table in terms of material wealth) they don’t have the cache or appeal of the current ‘elite’ six-Liverpool and Man Utd, perhaps Arsenal have got the prestige, pull and history to accompany the wealth whilst Man City and Chelsea have, bought their ticket. Tottenham have done themselves no end of good with a new stadium and a place in the CL final last year-a few clubs could feel aggrieved at missing out as their histories are up there with Tottenham’s-Leeds, Villa-but its the long established top 6 who get the vote for reasons of simplicity. You could argue that, if this fantasy was to go ahead then the owners of some of the clubs left behind might then want to start their own breakaway league of course, rather than slum it with the likes of us, Bournemouth, Preston, Watford et al-there are, after all, two European Cup winners and one finalist amongst those ‘left behind’.
Your point about attendances is a good one. I’m thinking more about the overall interest in the game. I believe viewing figures for TV matches are down whilst for those involving non-elite clubs can, and have, been measured in less than six figures at times. Sky and BT are losing sports subscribers as well. It’s great that attendances are up-and I recall rattling around Carrow Road with 14,000’ish others very well-but the game needs to have a bigger pull outside those who attend the games, we can get sniffy about TV viewers and football ‘tourists’ but it needs that buzz that used to surround a weekend or certain fixtures.
I heard the Man Utd fans singing “…you’re only here to see United” at Tranmere. I can’t recall ever going to a game being excited about who Norwich’s opponents are. I’ve looked forward, on occasion, to seeing a certain player turn out for them-but think Pat Jennings at Arsenal was the one I got ,most excited about! Yes, Man City was a great win. Yet some of their results since has shown their vulnerability this season. When the push comes to the shove, I just want us to win, regardless of competition, level or opponent-but yes, it is good to give the elite a kicking!
As I said, its a fantasy. It’ll likely never happen as any Super League would run alongside the normal Prem-but I’d bet money the PL will be cut to 18 or even 16 clubs before this decade is out.. I wouldn’t completely rule out no promotion to/relegation from it either-although it’ll be interesting on seeing who they want in their closed shop as it’ll never fall naturally-another breakaway with 16 clubs invited on the basis of who they are rather than what they’ve done maybe?
martin penney says
Your last par is chilling, Ed. More chilling still for me is that I agree with you.
Ed CL says
Martin, who do you suspect the “Super Sixteen” would like to be?
Guessing Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Derby, Everton, Leeds, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle, Notts Forest, Sheff Weds, Sunderland, Tottenham, West Ham and Wolves?
martin penney says
Phew Ed, that’s a difficult one, and probably based on perceived history as much as anything else, I’ll have a go.
Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea for sure.
At this point I’ll make a shout for Leicester on recent performances plus some kind of history. Only nine to go:
Newcastle, Everton, West Ham and Wolves. Five left.
Forest, Leeds, Palace [I know], WBA and Villa.
That’s my XVI anyway!
Alex B says
You paint a very painful future for the Premiership… yes I can see the league being cut to 18 in a few years but losing the relegation and promotion would kill the Premiership off in respect half the teams would have nothing to play for and what a crap league it would be.
The Championship would become a more dominant league but they could bring back the possibility of Premiership League 2 with 20 clubs in it.
We are all living in a fantasy dystopian world just need Jennifer Lawrence to do the hunting
Thanks for taking the time to respond Ed, Would always rather read something written from the heart so please don’t feel like you have to do your research next time!
I can’t really see Liverpool or United walking away from the top division of English football given their histories and personal rivalry in it. I think your trimmed down PL is far more likely to facilitate the bigger world club cup that’s coming in. I’d have no major objection to this so long as the teams were selected on merit based on previous league finishing positions.
Can’t see promotion/relegation being stopped either as there’s always interest in that, especially the play-off’s. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a PL2 with a 16/18 teams in too and a revamp of the cup competitions. Suspect the FA cup will survive but the league cup will go in it’s current guise.
I quite often look forward to seeing opposition players, whilst contrarily hoping they have an off day… If we weren’t all different though football (and life) would be pretty dull.
Ed CL says
Amen to all that, Tom! Must admit, would find the prospect of a genuine World Club contest interesting-16 clubs say, four groups of four, Liverpool vs Boca Juniors and similar would have an appeal!
Former away-season-ticket holder says
I think the Premier League being cut to 16 teams is inevitable, and chances are at most two sides will be relegated – if not fewer! So three fewer places for the likes of City to aim for survival by occupying. Thirty league games, scrap the League Cup and get the elite 16 to enter the FA Cup at the last-32 stage rather than the last-64 – then you can significantly expand the Champions League.
Just as likely in the further future though is a Euro super league (presumably backed by a lot of punters who voted for Brexit and won’t see the irony!) I agree that the remaining PL/FL could constitute a competitive league; however, broadcast income would be slashed as TV companies would see it as little more as an enhanced EFL. Media interest would also diminish – you already have a situation where the likes of the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Telegraph all cover the WSL close to being on a par with the EFL for various reasons. Will there be a high level of commercial interest – witness the Football League’s various struggles to acquire competition sponsors over the years.
Despite a fall in income, clubs would still continue to overspend. The likes of Aston Villa, Newcastle and West Ham would still see their future in an elite European competition rather than playing the likes of City or Forest twice a season.
One thing’s for certain: however bad we might think the situation is at the moment, in 10 years’ time we may well look back and say “Do you remember how great things were in 2020?” – and mean it.
Andrew Gillie says
I lost interest in European football when teams that hadn’t actually won their domestic league were allowed into the European Cup — refuse to use it’s modern name. Absolute nonsense.
Ed CL says
Agree Andrew. Champions League to be pretty much a procession with occasional ‘glitches’-the jeopardy of the European Cup, two legs, knock out, no second chances-are what made it exciting and gave all the games a bit of tension. There should be something at stake in every game but so many are meaningless. It doesn’t reward excellence either-Atlanta are in the knock out stage after two wins from six, yet Ajax won more games, had three more points & scored more/conceded fewer goals- but are out! Are Atlanta a better side than Ajax? Probably not.
Very true ED;
However, had Ajax been one of our pre-season friendlies, then I would have moved heaven and earth to be there….
In defence of Atalanta, I DID go to see them in a pretty meaningless fixture at the Carra……and was shocked by how good they were. My son and grandson who keep more up to date with what’s happening on the Continent football wise than me (BT sport, FIFA on something called PS2??) had warned me! From what I can recall, in their early CL matches they suffered some pretty appalling luck, a bit like NCFC so far this season…..
But yes, because of the bloated CL (soon to be even bigger??) there is always going to be an anomaly or two like them !
O T B C
Colin B says
Whatever we think football is a business and clubs will mostly chase cash. So you need to look at who has power to make change happen. Owners have some power, the football authorities have some too but probably the most power is with the broadcasters. The fans, who attend matches have very little power, in some clubs none at all.
Sky was basically built on football. Football drove subscribers to Sky. Sky felt it needed football matches most nights of the week so what did we get, the four day weekend! Now if Sky are losing sports subscribers then they will try to force change to get their subscribers back. So indirectly we as subscribers have a measure of power.
BT and Amazon Prime have got on the football bandwagon to try to establish themselves. So they want games as well as Sky.
It is subscription channels that are driving the players schedules and the number of games. What would they do if there was a midwinter break? They would create games that viewers wanted to see, maybe a midwinter break tournament in somewhere sunny.
Remember the good old days when for most of the season the only football on tv was match of the day, which was broadcast late evening to let fans get back of matches to see highlights. That was when there was some thought for fans that attended matches and it was felt that the numbers attending was important.
Yes attendances are rising, mainly because stadiums are getting bigger. But also there are more clubs in financial difficulties.