I’ve pointed out on here before that Premiership managers seem to be getting more and more opinionated on matters that, frankly, don’t concern them. A few weeks ago, Rafael Benitez inspired my ire for suggesting that the Football League should be turned into a dumping ground for the Premiership’s reserve teams, and today it’s the turn of Gareth Southgate, manager of Middlesbrough, to step up to the plate and be told to, “Shut up, Gareth”. Southgate, you see, has allowed himself to go on record saying that the Premiership would be much more exciting if there was no more relegation.
Southgate’s argument has several fatal flaws. Firstly, the only interest to be had in the Premiership at the moment is at the bottom of the table. I’m not certain what the crowd would have been like at the weekend for the Sheffield United vs West Ham United match if it hadn’t been a massive relegation six-pointer, but I can’t imagine that it would have been greater if the teams concerned had been playing for the pride of finishing in seventeenth place in the table, with nothing else at stake. He seems to be working to the assumption that people want football to be a mere series of exhibition matches, with nothing at stake. Or does he?
As I’ve said before, this sort of pronouncement is on the increase, and I suspect a more sinister reason for it. Certain subjects within football are, largely, unspoken. They just aren’t mentioned. We don’t talk about the reality of there one day being a breakaway European Super League, even though we suspect that the G14 are angling after exactly that. We don’t talk about the constant undermining of international football by the top clubs, who, ultimately, would like to take it over and either disband it or downgrade it to suit their own ends. We don’t talk about the fact that the Premiership is answerable only to the Premiership, either. In order for these more outlandish statements to become palatable, someone has to raise them as if they’re plausible. Who runs the Premiership? Who are the only people that would benefit if the Premiership drew up the drawbridges? What if… they spend a few years talking seriously about ending promotion and relegation, then have a few meetings and come out of it saying that they’ve reached a compromise solution saying that there’ll be a play-off match between the bottom-placed club in the Premiership and the winners of the Championship? Suddenly, something that seems completely ridiculous – I mean, never going to happen – becomes quite plausible.
The tectonic plates within football are are starting to move. The Premiership’s clubs are being brought up for hundreds of millions of pounds by Wild West Capitalist investors from across the world, and they’re not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re doing this to make money, and they will stop at nothing to protect their businesses from risk and maximise their revenues. The best way for them to protect their business from risk would be to ensure that there is no possible way for them to get relegated and miss out on the cash bonanza. At the very, very top, they want to break away to a European Super League or, perhaps, a World Super League. Below this, they merely never want to get relegated, ever again. They don’t give two damns for the heritage of the game, but they do know that they need some sort of public support for this, so the PR battle has just begun. You can expect to see a lot more of this sort of thing over the next few months or so. The battle for hearts and minds is just beginning.