After a Champions League week in which both Arsenal and United cruised through, the media in UK goes overboard. There are rarely any shades of grey in press coverage here. You’re a hero or a zero and that’s pretty much it. At the moment you’d think Rooney had actually invented heading the ball, so extreme has the praise of his goals been. It’s not that he doesn’t deserve praise – but my god it goes over-the-top.
Thus, United were imperious and Arsenal majestic, despite the fact that both were playing against sluggish, over-the-hill teams. Teams which still needed beating, and which they beat well, but a little perspective would occasionally be welcome.
The trouble is The Premier League and its cheerleaders seek any opportunity to laud the league as the best in the world. They regularly go further and say ‘all the best players want to play here.’ You will regularly here and read comments to that effect from journalists and pundits.
It’s an appalling, self-serving statement and one which bears no scrutiny. As anyone who watched a magnificent game between Fiorentina and Bayern last night could tell you, there are some terrific players in Europe who either have played in the Premier League and left, such as Robben – and what a goal that was – and others such as Benzema, Messi et al at Barcelona who have actively rejected a move to England.
So it’s a fallacy that all the best players want to play here. Yet it’s become a mantra; an assumption almost. All of which would be so much media flim-flam except for the fact, that agents use it to drive up fees and wages. And we all know where this has left Portsmouth and what it has done to the debt levels carried by the league’s clubs. It’s financially unhealthy and potentially disastrous. It’s also true that those who do want to play here, often want to just because the money is so good. It’s nothing to do with the football or culture. Like Pascal Chimbonda once said, ‘I am a football mercenary.’
Is that something for the league to be proud of?
With this ‘best league’ tag come real financial consequences. And when you look at it more closely, it’s often the people with most to financially gain who utter this lie; players, agents and media representatives whose level of wages rely on the league’s high profile. Who wouldn’t pump up the very thing that makes you a good living?
It’s all the more galling for those of us – and I include many Americans in this – who enjoy dining at the smorgasbord of the European leagues and who know just how good some of the players are. Ok, when it comes to the Champions League, the English clubs have dominated recently, but that doesn’t mean all other sides in Europe are stuffed with poor players.
It’s ironic that on Champions League nights we have the chance to see such players as Ribery and Robben impress and perform at a really high level. However, once it’s out of the way and the league resumes, it’s as though a collective mind-wipe happens and we’re back to the default view that the EPL is where everyone wants to play.
It’s not true and it’s never been true and its time that the propagandists who peddle this untruth were challenged. Perhaps then we could start to tackle the insane wages and transfer fees and clubs could begin a long process of trying to live within their means.