Mohammed bin Hammam has been in London this week, and it looks as if he has been learning some new words. The chairman of the Asian Football Confederation has managed an almost complete volte face on the Premier League’s Game 39 plans, and his choice of words gave away where he has been taking his influence from. He has either been on a course called “Management Speak 101”, or he has been spending a lot of time in the company of Richard Scudamore. Where else would he pick up phrases like “stakeholders” and “partners” and start throwing them around like verbal confetti in this way? So complete has been the transformation of his opinions that one cannot help but wonder aloud how persuasive the case that Scudamore put forward was, or whether some sort of other coercion technique was used.
Of course, Game 39 was never going to go away, no matter how ridiculed it was when it was first announced. In even giving any credence to the idea in the first place, the Premier League busted its flush. This was not an announcement that was made with football in mind. It was made with money in mind, with football as merely the vehicle to deliver that money. The announcement isolated English football from the rest of the world, damaged the FA’s bid for the 2018 World Cup and give the impression that English football is planning on a campaign of cultural imperialism that only the most avaricious of capitalists would nod in unreserved agreement at, but Scudamore and the Premier League care little for that. Premier League football has become a monster which requires constant feeding, and its nutrition of choice is fifty pound notes. The Premier League has television and sponsorship deals that are above and beyond any others in the modern game, and has still managed to fritter it all away and run up a cumulative debt of £3bn.
It’s probably not even worth even asking the question of whether the Premier League deserves even more money or not, even though it is a valid question to ask. The whole issue of Game 39 isn’t one that can be won or lost on any moral grounds, because the Premier League has no morals. If it did, it wouldn’t have come up with the idea in the first place. The more interesting question is that of how bin Hammam was persuaded to think that the AFC stands to benefit from allowing the Premier League on its home soil. How will the AFC benefit, exactly, from money being bled away from the development of the game – both at national and at club level – by sponsors keen to jump into bed with the biggest game in town? How will development of the game in Asia not be stifled if the Premier League sinks its claws into its biggest markets? All this talk of “partnership” is nonsense. If it lets the Premier League in, the AFC will end up playing second fiddle to the visitors in its own backyard.
The apparent approval of bin Hammam is a step in the right direction for Game 39, but it doesn’t mean that the battle is over. Scudamore and his contempories have earned the outright hostility of both FIFA and UEFA, and no other confederations have openly welcomed the plan yet, either. The feeling in this country still seems to be that this idea is dead in the water, as if the derision thrown at it in the first place was enough to cast it into oblivion in perpetuity. Opponents of Game 39 need to be prepared for a long fight, though. This is worth too much money to the Premier League for them to just concede. They weren’t interested in moral arguments or any consideration being given to what supporters would want. Just as the battle wasn’t won in the spring, it hasn’t been lost yet and, considering the bitter taste that in leaves in the mouth, Premier League supporters might be better advised to consider whether these bloated, greedy, voracious limited companies actually deserve any more of their money.