You have to hand it to the Premier League at times; when it decides they really want to shoot a hole in their foot, they know how to do it with little effort.
The Guardian broke an exclusive story today on comments made by Sir David Richards, chairman of the Premier League for the last nine years, to a conference in Dubai late last month. In the comments, Richards basically dismisses the League’s insistance it has nothing to do with the downfall of the England National Team, telling the group that the member clubs don’t develop young players because of how easy it is to go out and buy stars. He goes even farther after that, telling the crowd that, for all intents and purposes, the league led to the firing of Steve McClaren as England manager due to an inability to get the best players.
Richards told the Guardian that he did make the comments (hard to deny given the audio available on the newspaper’s website), but that they weren’t quite what he had meant. The league, for its part, later released a statement saying “These comments do not represent the collective view of the Premier League.” While that maybe true, and while the real power of the league is in the hands of the club owners, it doesn’t change the fact that one of the most senior members of Premier League management has told the world the league is holding England back. And now it will have to figure out a way to extract itself from this mess without looking like it is just punishing a man for thinking differently.
This sort of problem is hardly a new development for the league; just look back at game 39. If you look at the league’s initial announcement, the plans given were loose at best and showed very little work had been done both inside and outside the league in tying it down. The PL basically went in believing that the its stature would give them what they wanted in time. Instead, the league found itself hammered by all fronts, varying from FIFA and the FA to other national football federation and its own supporters. Facing this tidal wave, the league’s response was scattershot, letting itself and the plan get destroyed until they finally surrendered. The league ended up with weeks of bad headlines and didn’t even get what it wanted in the end, a clear public relations loss.
And then there is the constant accusations of the league being top-heavy, repeated again recently by Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan, a debate the league never truly gets away from.
These situations show one difficult truth: for all the enemies it has, the Premier League’s greatest enemy is themselves. Because of its different member clubs, it has a hard time keeping a straight story. But this is true for every soccer league, and yet the PL seem to be the most unable to put its house in order, or at least hide the rough spots. For better or for worse, these teams need to accept that it has to work together to face its critics, or it will keep losing its public relations battles. Unity is not in the individual teams best interests, but it should be the league’s highest interest. This has already cost them in the past, and without a change, it’s guaranteed to do so again.