Has football finally jumped off the cliff?
In a week where we were treated to an utterly enthralling Champions League game at the San Siro and the emotional scoring return to the Emirates of Eduardo, the biggest stories were one player’s greed and the near collapse of a team that won the FA Cup three seasons ago.
Whilst Portsmouth where thankfully saved after Sacha Gaydamak saw sense regarding his repayments, the Wayne Rooney saga has left yet another stain on modern football and left me seriously considering what the future might hold for the game that we all hold so dear.
For years we have heard grumblings from fans about ticket prices and player behaviour but the last 18 months and the issues they have brought up must rank as some of the most disturbing times that the sport in Britain has ever known.
Even ignoring all the clubs in dire financial positions in the Football League and just looking at the EPL we are left with a disturbing picture. Leveraged buyouts followed by protests and high court hearings, billionaire owners nearly forcing the closure of Portsmouth and countless distasteful player contract negotiations and outbursts.
This great sport was once the people’s game. It was part of the ebb and flow of people’s weeks. Whilst there are many who still follow home and away, there are less and less ordinary folk able to do this. The increase in corporate boxes is one sign of where football is heading, and personally it is not a good one.
The players who played the game were people who the fans could relate to and whilst I am not suggesting that we need to return to those days, something needs to change otherwise the bubble is going to burst. Unfortunately the people in charge of the game can not or will not see this. UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Scheme does not go far enough. The FA has little power over the Premier League and the League itself has become too full of money to notice anything else.
Even the sensible suggestions of how to right the wrongs are thrown out of the window based on the fact that they would jeopardise the financial might of the EPL. A salary cap would be a fine first step on the road to a brighter future but it would mean players deserting the league and heading for the riches of Spain and Italy. The only way it would be palatable for the money men is if the rest of Europe followed suit and the chances of that are similar to the chances of me playing for England.
The game is tainted and it forces us all to consider the question that has been bugging me for the last month or so. If we had a choice, would we accept losing some of the top players to other leagues if it meant ours was a fairer, more sustainable one? Would you sacrifice the likes of Rooney and Yaya Toure for a league where each club spent the same amount on wages or at least had them strictly tied to their expenditure?
It is time for some radical thinking if we are going to save the game for successive generations. There are people now watching the game who honestly believe football started in 1992 and that footballers have always been overpaid and billionaires have always seen clubs as playthings. That in the wonderful words of Ian Holloway is “wrong.” What are we gong to do about it?