Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Premiership monopoly

We are mid-way through August and the first long weekend of the new Premier League football season is now done and dusted.

In the final game of the ‘weekend’ Man City trounced Newcastle by four goals to nil. A decent thrashing in anyone’s books for an opening game.

But the numbers are not just big on the goal scoring side - City have also been big spenders during the close season, investing a mind-boggling £87 million on just four new players.

Meanwhile, AndrĂ© Villas-Boas is raising the stakes and is poised to break the Tottenham Hotspur transfer record for the third time this summer with the £30 million capture of the Brazilian forward Willian. The deal would push Spurs' summer spending to almost £90 million.

So, as the season gets underway and we hurtle towards the World Cup in Brazil, there are crucial questions to be resolved, as much off the field as on it because we live in a land that is now the home of global football and where transfer fees, wages and television rights dwarf conventional accounting.

In this respect, the new kid on the Premiership block this season is telecoms giant BT, spending £736 million for TV rights over three years for the privilege of screening 38 live games against Sky's 116?

Should Murdoch have bid more than £2.3 billion? How does BT's £200 million deal with Virgin Media alter the equation? And what about the BBC's £180 million on Match of the Day, with its familiar and comforting theme tune that harks back to an altogether different footballing age.

Each major televised match through the coming months will rake in £6.6 million and the past season has seen the money rolling into Britain's top soccer teams rise by 71 percent. And what if Real Madrid pay £100 million for Gareth Bale?

Whichever way you look at the numbers they are all very (massively) big – and all this is before you even get to watch a game of football.

The question is, are we realistically likely to see an end to this madness driven by the egos of global entrepreneurs who demand success at virtually any price?

There is some vague notion about clubs having to balance their budgets due to stricter disciplines imposed by Europe’s governing authorities – but money seems to talk louder than words in the Premiership.

This manic, out-of-control inflation - where currency, wages and transfer fees leave ordinary life and common sense trailing far behind - doesn't translate to excellence on the pitch.

Witness the fact that ‘our Engerland’ are still to qualify for the next year’s World Cup - and  even after that our chances of ‘progressing’ to the quarter finals, let alone lifting the coveted trophy itself, look as inflated as salaries and egos in our bgreat game.

Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, who scored for the England national team last Wednesday on his debut and with his first touch of the ball, illustrates the point nicely. At the age of 31 he was really only there because our cupboard of home-grown talent is bare.

And you only have to look at this year's opening weekend of fixtures that marked an all-time low in terms of the number of Englishmen beginning games at the start of a season.

A survey published by the Guardian newspaper shows two-thirds of those on view in the first round of fixtures were foreign nationals, highlighting the falling number of homegrown players in the top flight.

Back in August 1992, 73 percent of players featuring in first-day first XIs held English nationality but this year that figure fell to 34 percent. Not like in Germany and Spain.

The Premiership is a rule unto itself, an out-of-control sporting juggernaut where a win-at-all-costs logic doesn’t see any need to nurture grass roots talent when you can pay outrageous sums to bag inflated stars that pass in the night.

It's a toxic brew that defies normal morality and even make the banking crisis of recent years look a little tame. Wages are set at levels that would make former Knight of the Realm Fred Goodwin weak at the knees - and long-term strategy hardly seems to stretch beyond the next transfer window.

The once beautiful game of legend, gentlemen and lingering belief has become increasingly ugly, a commercial means to some wider end.

The justice of life in the real world would argue for a time of reckoning that somehow redresses the balance and brings all to account.

But it will soon be a full half century since England last triumphed in a World Cup competition and, with the Premiership in full flight once again, it really doesn’t look as though football is coming home anytime soon. Sir Alf Ramsey might just be turning in his grave.

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