By Kieran Lovelock
“Hello and welcome to another set of highlights where we will look back at some fascinating action from this most unpredictable Barclays Premier League.”
Give this statement to anyone outside soccer and they will surely think they are about to watch a show that is in fact presenting highlights of cricket’s Indian Premier League, because despite Sunderland’s fantastic win two weeks ago the truth is that the Barclays Premier League is becoming about as predictable as any sporting contest on the planet.
Let us look at some simple facts that have become ingrained into the soccer fans’ psyche within out them realizing. This time last year the top three positions were filled by Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Today the top three positions are filled by exactly the same three teams and almost certainly be the same at the end of the season.
This summer Roberto Mancini spent £120 million on new players and according to him the best the fans can hope for is fourth spot in the league. Therefore despite having more resources available to them than any other sporting institution on the planet, Manchester City still cannot win.
Would someone mind telling me how this is entertainment?
Compare all of this to the NFL. America’s national game has had seven different champions in the past decade and the team who won the Superbowl in the year 2000 (St Louis Rams) only won one game out of sixteen last year. Could you imagine 2001 Premier League champions Manchester United only winning three games next season?
Like all business ideas that run astray most problems can be traced back to its routes. The whole idea of the Premiership was to produce an entertaining product whilst generating as much money as possible through whatever means necessary, and then to use Sky TV to publicize their product through wall to wall coverage.
Unfortunately however the Premiership’s plans seemed to have backfired as there were more people watching games in the year 2001 than there are today. For in the 2001-2002 season there was an average attendance of 34,451 where as today the average attendance is 33,578. Last year the total of attendees during the Premiership season was 12,977,252 where as in the 2001/2002 season it was over 13 million. All of this despite the fact that both Arsenal and Manchester City moved to much bigger stadiums, that Manchester United have renovated Old Trafford and that billions have been spent on wages and transfer fees by clubs across the board to attract so called “better players”.
Where the Premiership has missed the trick is by failing to realise that allowing high amounts of money to be invested aimlessly into a product designed for entertainment does not always produce results. By letting in the likes of Roman Abramovich (owner of Chelsea) and Skeik Mansour (owner of Man City) take over clubs they have removed the element of unpredictability that once made soccer such compulsive viewing. Will anyone reading this be willing to place money on the top five this season not containing Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea?
Is it conceivably possible that smaller clubs who don’t have the luxury of an oil baron or royal family member behind them will realistically challenge for the Premiership ever again? Less than thirty years ago Watford finished second, in 1991 Crystal Palace finished third and in 1996 Nottingham Forest also finished third in England’s top tier. All of these tree clubs are now scratching around in the league below the Premiership and everyone from fans to players to mangers now accept that these days are gone.
Judging by this one must therefore ask; what is the exact aim of the Premiership? Is it a brand building exercise or is it a contest? If it is a contest then surely everyone should be given a fair chance to succeed. Currently however the Premiership is nothing more than a reflection of a bygone era of when England was ruled by the aristocracy and the “upstairs downstairs society”; where the privileged few had everything and the rest are just surfs existing to serve their paymasters.
So what can the Premiership learn from other sporting spectacles such as the NFL? How can they escape the monotonous nature of the situation in which they find themselves back to something that represents some sort of a contest?
It will always be difficult to make full comparisons because American leagues do not involve the threat of relegation. However a significant part of the brilliance in the way that American sports are kept at a relative level playing field is the way in which wages and the ability to recruit top players are distributed evenly.
If the Premiership is ever to be brought up to the same kind of level playing field as the NFL a cap on basic salaries simply has to be introduced- this goes without saying and has done for years. But then as a way to further entice players to play, and to possibly get around European Union trade regulations, would be to have each and every player sign a contract to become an employee for the Premiership.
From here, just as what happens in every other business, the Premiership could then pay players commission based on performance factors such as appearances, goals, assists and clean sheets. In essence they would therefore be rewarding employees for their work in developing their business and help clubs carry less surplus costs with players on high wages that never play.
This in turn would make players want to leave a club in search of regular soccer to therefore earn more money and it would then make better players accessible for smaller clubs making the Premiership a far more even playing field.
The truth is that you cannot keep serving up the same product for years on end and continue to expect the same results because eventually the public gets bored of it- the dip in attendances over the past decade prove that fact. This is why retail companies never stop trying to find ways to improve their products vary their products from year to year.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If the Premiership doesn’t change its policy it will just stay the same as crowds will continue to decline and the general public will eventually see the light. The ones who will eventually suffer will be the clubs themselves, the television companies and of course the Barclay’s Premier League as a whole.
But if the regulators choose to implement something different, if they decide that the game of soccer should be a fair contest built for the fans rather than a money making exercise built for themselves, then the actual game may be allowed to take over and the “greatest league in the world” may become unpredictable after all.
But until then is anyone going to be willing to bet against the same old teams reaching the Champions League this season?