What a week we’ve had. As the wheels have started to come off Scudamore’s Insane Experiment, the world has started to line up to criticise it all, but the damage may be long term. The FA’s initial silence on the matter could already have blown England’s World Cup bid out the window, and the practical nature of the objections has meant the there is yet the distinct possibility that other crackpot schemes will emanate from Gloucester Place over the coming weeks, months and years. Everybody on the inside track of the game was strangely quiet on the matter in the couple of days after the announcement was made. It felt as if those in positions of importance were playing a wait and see game on public opinion before coming out themselves and expressing an opinion.
The first to come out and speak publicly on the matter were the likes of Arsene Wenger (who appears to be singularly blind to the double standards at play in complaining about his players having too many matches to play and then coming out in favour of a plan that would involve his players flying half-way across the world to play a competitive match in the middle of the season) and David Gold of Birmingham City who was almost refreshingly honest in his opinion that it’ll be GREAT because they’ll make loads of money out of it (though we can safely disregard his opinions – I would suggest that there is a medium to high likelihood that Birmingham City won’t even be in the Premier League by 2011). The press, frankly, let their readers down. At a time that they should have been giving them information on the plan and explaining just what the long term effects of this could be, they stayed largely quiet. As I noted on here before, the BBC’s Sports Editor Mihir Bose did at least stick his head above the parapets, but only to post some ill thought-out comments about how great it will be because they’ll make so much money from it.
One issue that seemed strangely overlooked in the forty-eight hours was the reaction of the international community. After all, this was a matter that concerned them. There were negative words from the USSF, the Asian Football Confederation and the authorities in Australia (the rumoured hosting cities had been Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Miami), but this was just a primer for the big guns coming out against it. Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, said, “”It’s a strange and comical idea. I was laughing – soon you will have in England no English presidents, you already have no English coach, you have no English players and maybe now you will have no clubs playing in England. It’s a joke”. It was a devastating assessment, cutting to the core if the problems with the English game. The only thing we have left is the fact that the Premier League at least still plays in England. Get rid of that, and there is no such thing as top-class English football. More damaging yet was Sepp Blatter’s assertion that, “This will never happen. At least this will not happen as long as I am the president of Fifa”. Blatter, so often a font of wrongness in the football universe, hit the nail on the head and was as blunt in his assessment as Platini was in his: “I support the fans 100 per cent. If I was a fan in England I would say: ‘No, please play at home and don’t go abroad.’ If the plan includes official league matches then, as a fan, I would protest”.
These reactions were utterly predictable, and they made the FA’s continuing silence on the matter all the more perplexing. One expects it of the Premier League, where the club owners are presumably so out of touch with the outside world because they spend all of their time sitting counting their money in the manner of Scrooge McDuck, but are the FA still so out of touch that they couldn’t see which way this was going? It was almost as if they were sat at Soho Square, scratching their heads like cavemen while the rest of the world tore the plan to pieces. The penny seemed to finally drop with both the press and the FA when Platini and Blatter were so scathing. If there’s one thing that means more to the press and the FA than keeping the big clubs happy, it’s doing what they can to ensure that the 2018 World Cup bid is successful, and it was becoming apparent that this is likely to seriously damage it. At this point, the FA has still only expressed “serious reservations”, when they should have been issuing an outright condemnation of the plan. They have been warned by Blatter that this may cost England the 2018 World Cup, and their hesitancy to side with the rest of the international football community may yet cost them dear.
The Premier League has been behaving like a bunch of old colonials in looking to expand out into an international market, and this won’t be lost on many FIFA delegates when it comes down to voting for the 2018 World Cup. My belief is that the damage has already been done. When push comes to shove, all FIFA delegates will be more than aware that Premier League clubs will benefit greatly from a World Cup being held in England, and are they seriously going to want to give the any sort of financial reward, when the very same clubs are explicitly seeking to undermine domestic football in other continents for their own financial ends? Blatter, I believe, is not averse to England hosting the World Cup, and chose his words carefully to scare the FA into falling into line with them, but their failure to do this to the extent that they should have done could yet prove to be expensive. The press has hardly covered itself in much glory, either. Over the last couple of days, there have been numerous negative articles in the British press on the subject, but the question remains of why it took almost a week for these articles starting to appear. Was it because they were just waiting to see which way public opinion was going to go on the subject? Were they just slow in reacting? We may never know. By the early hours of this morning, though, even Manchester United were coming out against the idea. The best thing for all concerned now would be to just sweep the concept under the carpet and forget that it was ever mentioned.
Two serious questions remain. Firstly, what is to become of Richard Scudamore? In the course of the last eight days, he has exposed himself as being so far out of touch with public opinion that he may well have announced that clubs will using convicted paedophiles as their mascots from next season on, has exposed the Premier League (to anyone that didn’t already know this) as being approximately a million times as interested in making money than it is in football, has exposed the FA to the risk of international criticism, and has exposed the England 2018 World Cup bid to being blown out of the water before it gains any momentum. All this, and he still seems to think that there is no problem – that the opinions of UEFA and FIFA are mere “technicalities” that can be overcome or over-ridden if needs be. His position in the Premier League (a company which has just two directors – Scudamore and Dave Richards, a man whose own competence is probably best summed up by the state that he left Sheffield Wednesday in when he quit as chairman: tens of millions of pounds in debt and heading towards two relegations and a financial crisis from which they haven’t yet recovered) is surely untenable, but it remains likely that he will stay.
This fact, combined with what we already know about him, leads to the second big question: presuming that this plan will surely be killed stone dead in the next week or two, what other examples of “blue sky thinking” will he come up with? We know for a fact that he he doesn’t give a damn about the integrity of the league system, so what’s to follow? The FA Cup makes quite a bit of money that doesn’t go straight to the FA – how about Premier League play-offs or dividing the Premier League up into northern and southern divisions, leading to a Championship match, like the Superbowl? How about scrapping relegation? Considering the events of the last nine days or so, there is almost certainly no plan too mad to be considered if it means that the Premier League makes a few million quid out of it. If or when this plan fails, we can be certain of one thing – we haven’t heard the last of this most voracious forms of “modernisation” yet.