Something Needs To Change

Written by Mark Lenahan

“The extra TV money will only help increase the quality of the Premier League” was a quote from almost every football pundit in the UK in the last year or two, but as time goes on, it appears to me as though it has actually had an adverse effect. To be fair, it’s not only the extra money in England causing the problem, we can add China to that list now. And just to be clear, money itself is NOT the problem, it is the way it is being spent.

Money is not only being paid in extortionate amounts to people that don’t deserve it but it is also poisoning the mind of those within the game – owners, managers, coaches and most importantly – players. One doesn’t have to look far for a prime example – Oscar. Firstly, £60m?! Who on earth oversees the negotiations in China? Secondly, £300,000-a-week?! Scandalous. I would be the first to agree that you never do know what’s going on inside a person’s head. We don’t know if Oscar really loves football or whether he’s just in it for the money. Maybe he genuinely fancied a change of scenery and thought a move to China would be an adventure. But as far as taking him seriously as a professional footballer at the highest level – that ship has now sailed.

credit Ben Sutherland

At the same time, I want to give the Chinese some credit. They obviously want to improve both the standard and the global appeal of their league as well as the sport in China itself, but they’re doing it in an unsustainable manner. Look at Major League Soccer (MLS) for example. They’ve adopted a new way of doing things. Franchises. Allocation money for each club, salary caps for each club, rules about who you can and can’t sign and rules and even so much as rules about how many chartered flights each club can have per season. Everything about MLS is structured and enforced to ensure two things. One, the improvement of the league by developing young, educated players into full-time professionals. This in turn is also helping to improve the standard of football in America. In fact, I firmly believe that the USA will win, or certainly go very close, to winning the FIFA World Cup within the next 20 years. Secondly, these rules stop money from taking over the league, something which is happening far too commonly around the world.

People may say the standard of MLS is poor but that’s a lazy opinion coming predominantly from those who have yet to watch a game in the division. If you need proof – check out the full game (or even the highlights for that matter) of Toronto vs Montreal in the Eastern Conference Final second leg (essentially the semi-finals of MLS). This game was full of sheer quality and had a level of entertainment that would have graced any league on any continent. And that’s just one game off the top of my head, there were plenty more of a similar nature throughout the 2016 season. My point on the matter is, that there isn’t huge money in North American football (doesn’t feel right calling it soccer..) but the standard of football and the entertainment levels are increasing year in, year out.

credit Mobilus In Mobili

Another plus of the MLS system in opposition to the Premier League for example is the ability of clubs to use the extra money they have, to grow and develop. Again, if you don’t believe me, go have a look at the new stadiums being built by the likes of DC United, Orlando City and Los Angeles FC. All brand new, modern, state-of-the-art stadia that would grace any league. Do Premier League clubs have the money to do the same? The vast majority of them do not. They’re more concerned with paying £30m for a South-American teenager we’ve only ever seen on Youtube or too busy paying their manager compensation after sacking him 4 months into his reign.

I’m not saying for one second the Premier League and the rest of the Football League should go down the same route as MLS in every way, but in some ways, the FA should consider it – seriously. It will help clubs grow, develop young English talent (players and coaches) and eventually lead to a higher standard of football without having to throw millions and millions of pounds down the drain.

credit Duncan Hull

Salary caps would be the first thing I, personally, would introduce. There are 16-year-olds being paid upwards of £5,000-£10,000-a-week. That is ludicrous. Giving them that kind of cash isn’t motivation – it’s poisoning their appetites to becoming brilliant footballers. What happened to the good old days of Sir Alex making the academy players clean the dressing room as well as the training ground and the first team players’ boots? If you want to make it as a footballer, you should have to work – extremely hard! It has become far too easy for young players to make it without having to put the effort in and that is why they take their foot off the gas in terms of their personal development. Obviously, there will be exceptions to that but admittedly there are far more young players more concerned with posting selfies from their flash new car rather than showing up early for training and getting extra work done to improve their game.

As regard to the standard of football in the Premier League, it is easy to say ‘let’s buy all the best players from foreign leagues and the standard of football will increase’ but if you look at some of the players Premier League clubs are buying, it is mind-boggling. For example, Sunderland paid £13m for Didier N’Dong in the summer. Not only does he look like a bit of a muppet, he plays quite similarly to one as well. But no, no, don’t give the young English players a chance, just go and buy some impostor from France (which is quite frankly, a worse standard of football than MLS, bar PSG).

credit Abhijit Tembhekar

Last weekend in the Premier League, I witnessed three of the worst and most embarrassing team performances I have ever seen. Sunderland vs Burnley (1-4) – the less said about that performance the better, Watford (0-4) – likewise and Crystal Palace (0-2). Big Sam should have just saved his side’s energy and forfeited the points to Arsenal before kick-off. He said after the game “it’s not the games against the likes of Arsenal that are going to determine whether or not you stay in the league”. So, Sam, essentially you’re saying you’ve got a free shot at Arsenal? Why not have a go then? I’ll tell you why, because the standard of that Palace squad isn’t good enough to even try have a game of football with Arsenal without losing around 8-0. And that standard can be seen in most of the Premier League clubs today. How can one compliment the standard of play in the Premier League when the majority of teams simply ‘park the bus’ against the opposition? I don’t buy the whole ‘sit back and try earn a point’ hullabaloo. It’s an embarrassing approach for a Premier League club to have to take. All that money on big names and foreign stars and yet you still haven’t got the ability within your squad to even try and win a game of football? That’s just wrong, plain and simple.

The Premier League is tough to beat in terms of excitement, granted, but in terms of standard, there is miles and miles of room for improvement. Until the importance of extravagant amounts of money is vanished, the problems will remain and probably even worsen. If we are adamant that spending millions and millions at every opportunity – we need to come up with better ways to do so!

Do you agree with these thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!