As we approach the end of a decade which has seen the popularity of world football and the Premier League increase ten-fold, we look back upon what an incredible past ten years it’s been with appreciation and maybe even a little bit of nostalgia. As I’m sure we’ll say again in ten years time, the Noughties have been an incredibly important decade for the growth of the world’s game in America. The potential remains endless.
The culmination of the Noughties takes place in just over six months in South Africa as fans across the globe are treated to the 19th World Cup Finals. What better way to kick-off (pun intended) the next ten years of football than by staging the first ever World Cup Finals on the continent of Africa? – The ushering in of a new, global era, if you will. The Premier League’s best will all be displayed on the world stage, so it’s sure to be a spectacle to remember as we enter into another decade of the beautiful game that we all love so much.
The Illusive Zeitgeist
To look back over the past 10 years of football and attempt to sum up what we’ve seen may not be as futile as we once thought. The following words come to mind: money, irresponsibility, debt, foreign investment. Maybe those words are slightly unfortunate and unfair, but from tactical innovations,and money-hungry left backs, to the temporary demise of English football giants Leeds United, the Noughties have seen it all.
The advanced decision by the league to sell the television rights to BSkyB in 1992 was a risk, but ultimately a gamble that did in fact set up the eventual success of the Premier League from 2000 through the end of 2009. From 2001-2004 the League sold the domestic rights for £1.024 billion, the league then brought in £320 million for it’s international rights during a three year period stretching from 2004-2007, before their monopoly was eventually broken up by Setanta Sports in 2006. The two television giants paid the Premier League a combined £1.7 billion in August, 2006 for the rights to broadcast matches world wide. Contract after contract, the Premier League continued to gain valuable TV money that they could splash to the twenty worthy clubs who could then buy the best footballers on the planet.
The Premier League has grown in quality and popularity more in the past decade than any other league in Europe and for that matter, the world. The amount of money available to purchase the world’s best players and subsequently pay them the highest wages possible continue to attract the world’s best. Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Thierry Henry and Fernando Torres, to name a slight few, were all purchased from other clubs in the Noughites (except for Henry, from Juventus, August of ’99) and went on to excel in the Premier League. If the groundwork for the Premier League’s success was laid in the Nineties by players such as Bergkamp, Cantona, Beckham and Michael Owen, it’s safe to say the reigns have been seized with strength and authority by the worlds best in the Noughties.
The Premier League XI of the Noughties
As much a fan of lists as I am coupled with the fact that not only are we ending a year, but also a decade, I simply can’t help myself in constructing what I believe to be a world-beating Premier League best eleven from the past decade. A 4-4-2 with Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm starts with a back line of:
- Evra, Ferdinand, Terry and Neville – Most would have Ashley Cole in place of Patrice Evra. I believe they’re pretty close to equal, so I choose Evra because of Cole’s off-the-pitch exploits.
- In midfield: Ronaldo, Lampard, Gerrard, Giggs – the consistency and brilliance of all four of these players make this an easy choice.
- Up front: Henry, Drogba – before he mixed up his hand for his foot, Henry was arguably the best player to grace the Premiership since it’s inception in 1992. Drogba, when not on the ground, remains the blueprint for an ideal target man – big, strong, fast and deadly in front of goal.
- Keeper: Shay Given – rarely makes a blunder, solid in goal.
- Bench: Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Roy Keane, Edwin van der Sar, Patrick Viera, Sol Campbell.
As we end one decade and enter into another, fans of the beautiful game should sometimes take a step back from the fast-paced, super-charged, money-driven (necessary evil) world that often stains the Premier League. If you’re new to football like so many of us Yanks stateside, take some time to discover the rich history of not only your beloved club, but of English football as culture, institution and a way of life. I have and still continue my education, and I’m ultimately more enriched because of it. (If you haven’t seen The Damned United, it’s playing in first run and art house theaters currently nationwide. It comes highly recommended and it’s a good place to start your “research”.) The respect we as football fans accrue from the rich history we’ll discover will take us into the next decade, and many decades after. Here’s hoping the next ten years in football give us just as many, if not more memories as the Noughties have.