Something is amiss with the beautiful game....Part 1 of 2

In the first of two parts, CookeShaw and Darren Curtis consider the state of football in 2011


Something is amiss with the beautiful game. Since the turn of the Millennium, football has changed, morphing increasingly into a product rather than a passion and as such, in all its various iterations, is simply not as enjoyable as it once was. Unquestionably this is a conflicted argument because, as the marketing men are paid to emphasise, we have apparently never had it so good with a league that boasts the most participants at last years world cup surely proving that England has the premier league.

The contention here is that this is not simply a gut feeling, driven by drunken nostalgia, and that  when the contributing factors to this malaise are broken down individually, it’s clear that the argument has substance and that there has been a shift of some kind. The obscene amount of money in the game, belligerent and ill disciplined players, negative tactics, a lack of characters and mavericks, media over exposure and unfulfilling international tournaments all play their part in this malaise. There is of course one bastion of sensible soccer that remains which should be the blueprint for the game the world over, but more of that later. As we dissect the issues with modern football, there is only one place to start.   

Filthy lucre

Money is the obvious and depressing driver, seemingly underpinning all others that have made the authors of this article such glum, football watching bastards. The source of these riches has been, consistently since the formation of the Premier League, Sky Television. The latest sale of rights to broadcast English top flight football worldwide has raised £2.7 billion, and provides Premier League clubs with a minimum media income of £40 million from league games alone. Sky are held up by many as the devil incarnate and, of course, they are! But Sky’s positive impact on English football is so often overlooked because of the lie-peddling, muck-raking, mobile-phone-of-a-murdered-Soham-schoolgirl hacking degenerates that are inexorably linked with the firm.

However, in the early 90’s English football was truly in the doldrums, as the format of the old first division laboured to provide excitement, and English football struggled with the stigma of exclusion from Europe following the Heysel disaster. Sky played a significant role in changing this as a driving force behind the breakaway league, beaming live football into thousands of homes and truly revolutionising how sport in general is consumed. The money that Sky offered allowed clubs to attract genuine football stars, expand stadia and just make everyone really happy. They have succeeded where others such as Setanta failed whilst continuing to push technological advances in the broadcasting of the game. Moreover the game is now packaged in such a way that has made it more commercial, thus more attractive to consumers and advertisers, and have helped to cement football in the hearts of the nation, in a way that is perhaps not seen anywhere else in Europe. No mean feat.

But in doing a deal with the devil, football has sold its soul. Fans that have followed teams for decades are priced out of going to games as football disregards its working class roots and chases a middle class that is able to afford the excessive ticket prices now dictated by membership of the Premier League. As television tightens its control over football in an effort to increase viewers and subscribers, and in turn attract greater advertisement, the travelling fans ability make the journey from Sunderland to Norwich on a Monday night is entirely disregarded.

That much of this ‘filthy lucre’ leaves the game through payments to players and agents is something that smarts most keenly.  Salaries make up 68% of the total income of Premier League clubs, which stands at £2bn. In the past month alone some of that money has been paid to a player that has been arrested for possession of cocaine and sexual assault, another that was fined half a million pounds for refusing to take part in a match, and another that chased a media conglomerate through the courts for exposing his 13 year affair. Perhaps the most disconcerting thing is that this doesn’t feel like the nadir. Football has such a skewed moral compass that rapists, philanderers and convicted criminals are paid millions and cheered on by thousands as they play the beautiful game.

Football for many is about heritage. As Sky would have it football has only been around since 1993, but for genuine football fans the heritage of a football club is just as important, if not more so, than the club in its current guise. And that is where the sadness comes from; in comparing the heroes and legends that have built these clubs, with the nouveau riche degenerates that wear those same badges today

Financial gaps

It seems such a shame that financial mismanagement of a football club continues to be so fashionable, one of those destructive fashions like self-harm or mink coats. In 2009/2010 the clubs competing in the Premier League had a collective debt of £2505 million. There have always been financial disparities between football clubs but the abject failure of the fit and proper persons test that prospective owners must undergo has allowed a wide range of owners to become involved, meaning clubs can falter or prosper seemingly at the whim of whichever individual deems fit to pay the highest price. The government and football authorities must share the collective failure of allowing anyone to purchase a football club, and the disastrous results that have often ensued.

It is, perhaps, Sky prompted hyperbole to suggest that the Premier League has never had it so good in terms of the quality of foreign players plying their trade in England. Those faces that adorn billboards the country over, Drogba, Torres, Tevez and Silva are certainly leading lights on the world stage. The issue is the polarisation of this talent. In the 90’s, exciting players could be witnessed up and down the league. Le Tissier, Zola, Carbone, Di Canio, Asprilla all played for teams that were on the fringes of success, or not even. But with the advent of Champions League revenue being consistently plowed into a select number of clubs over a sustained period, the gap between teams has increased exponentially, with billionaires at Chelsea and Manchester City only serving to further the disparity. This has meant any possibility of clubs holding on to the talent that they find or produce is removed as the power waged by players and their agents forces clubs to sell, and to begin building once again.

International football

World Cups are where stars should be born and crowned. Maradona ‘86, Klinsmann ‘90, Baggio ‘94, Ronaldo ’98, these were ‘their’ World Cups. But through what many see as a sustained affront by domestic clubs and managers, the quality, importance and prestige of international football has been consistently eroded. Arsene Wenger is famously quoted as saying that the use of club footballers at international level is like someone stealing your car from your garage, using it for ten days and then abandoning it in a field without petrol in the tank. During any international break club managers will ritualistically decry the inhumanity of national football associations taking ‘their’ players. Allied with the general feelings of dissatisfaction toward the English national team in this country over the last 15 years, this consistent undermining of international football has meant that international fixtures are not the exciting draw they once were, whilst World Cups, European Championships and Copa Americas simply make one yearn for the resumption of league football, as they consistently fail to live up to the bewildering hype and expectation. Perhaps a part of this is that players simply care more about club football than their national sides. Scholes, Berbatov and Carragher are all recent examples of players still at the top of their game, that were happy to retire from the international stage in an effort to prolong their club careers.

The lack of quality in terms of football is due to a number of pressures imposed by national leagues. A gruelling schedule means that players are nowhere near peak fitness during the month of an international tournament, and clubs' reluctance to release their players for international duty means national squads are not nearly as cohesive as they could be. Little wonder that Sir Alex Ferguson believes the last World Cup of any quality was in Mexico in 1986.


In the second part of this article released next week, the roles of media, negative tactics and the desolation of the European football scene will be covered, along with the one country that can provide us all with a little hope...

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Tags: Alex, England, Ferguson, Klinsmann, Manchester, Maradona, Ronaldo, Sir, United

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Comment by WorldClass on October 14, 2011 at 10:33

Yes the Premier can play a part in who get s to buy a club, but once they are in the clubs they can pretty much run it however they like...  this is my point, the onus is not on the Premier League to ensure the club is being run properly... They have a product, it is in their interests to have as many strong team as they can in the league, but I have not seen anywhere The Premier League forcing clubs to spend wildly.


The premier league are involved with the right and proper persons test or what ever it's called, this though is generally concerned with keeping unsavory characters with unsavoury money away from the brand that is the Premier League... otherwise the Galziers would have been rejected... as would Hicks and Gillett.... also hugely respected Businessmen who have burdened clubs wtih huge debts quite legally... are you suggesting the Premier League are at fault for this? Or at fault for Risdales mismanagement of Leeds or the problems at Pompey or WestHam? Where is the line drawn?


I didn't say "you are"... I said you "seem to be"


I wasn't assuming that you had made that point, just saying it was giving me the impression that you consider Sky along with the Premier League and the Government are to blame for the mismanagement of clubs, yes the PL has made some stupid decisions re the owners of clubs, but that has been tightened up, but I go back to Risdale and his impecable record prior to Leeds... no one would have thought he would have done that with Leeds, he took a huge gamble with something that was only his by name because lets face it the onwer owns the deeds, the fans really own the club.


So I wasn't assuming anything... merely giving you my impression from what you had written... hence the reason I raised with with you....


Re the bastian of sensible soccer... good I'm pleased... I am fed up of reading the Model of Football Barcelona drivel, IMHO the bastian of football in England is Swindon Town, have a look at the money within that club, but have a look at how they're building, what they're doing re the clubs, the community, the development of players... they a worth proper consideration for the sensible but ambitious side of football.


Anyway I appologise if I offended you... It was not my intention, just giving an honest impression of what I read.

Comment by CookeShaw on October 14, 2011 at 10:09

thanks for the feedback. There's nothing in the article that blames Sky for the mismanagement BY clubs

The Premier League absolutely can play a role in who is involved with ownership of clubs, the issue is that they dont.

Funny you talk about having problems with the assumptions in the article, and then make a hugley incorrect one yourself! You are way off with the bastion of sensible soccer, so need to check back next week....

Comment by WorldClass on October 14, 2011 at 9:42

It's a cracking read, I have a few problems with the assumptions you have made, relative to what you seem to think is a recent phenomenon with player retiring to play for their clubs and managers/club being possessive over players. Also you seem to be blaming Sky for the mismanagement of Clubs... Sky have provided football clubs with untold wealth, and the Premier League can't be blamed either for these idiots getting in charge of some of the biggest football clubs in England. Risdale was a respected business made who had done nothing but make money his entire life, went to Leeds and broke them...


There is of course one bastion of sensible soccer that remains which should be the blueprint for the game the world over


If you are refering to Barcelona I suggest you think again... they may be a fine footballing team, but if you are suggesting they are better managed than a club like Manchester United I think you should delve a little deeper in to Barca and just see what their financial situation it.... Barca whilst being attractive to watch have spent far in excess of what they've earned and given the prior comments regarding mismanagement of football clubs and the evils of money and debt the think again. Arsenal of course could be a prime example to that is only a recent phenomena too.... I think the blue print came from Deadly Dug Ellis on the financial front at least... perhaps had he not broken up a European Cup wining team out of spite and kept faith in a manager for longer than 5 minutes Deadly could have been one of the greatest chairmen ever... 






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