The Unseen Threat From Europe – the Premier League’s Dominance of European Football is in Danger

So, Manchester United look like they are going to win the Premier League title again. And with Chelsea dying a slow death in West London and Arsenal constantly shooting themselves in the foot, while Liverpool argue with their own manager, can anyone challenge them?

The Reds one-sided success (this year would make it 11 wins out of 17) in the English Premier League puts the league in danger of turning itself into an Eastern European backwater-type league where a single team is dominant for decades, as the rest of the country scratches around for scraps. The red herring this season is Aston Villa, who have broken into the top four, but is that because they have improved to meet the top four, or is it that the three below Man Utd are drifting down to meet them?

The fact that the top tier in the English league has an obvious second league of teams nowhere near good enough to challenge for anything other than mid-table obscurity, underline the crossroads English football appears to be at.

Of course, there’s the money. Last week it was announced that Sky accidentally blew Setanta out of the water and took five out of six Premier League TV packages by upping their bid to £1.4bn over three years. All good for clubs who can continue to throw money at players in a bid for the Holy Grail of football, a place in the top four .
But that money is only the base on which the big clubs are building their brands – and Man Utd’s success is such that they are in danger of getting too big for British football. A survey last year suggested that United had 333m fans worldwide compared with 75m in 2003. Clearly, success is paying off globally – one only has to look at the growing percentage of southeast Asian fans popping up at Old Trafford for visual evidence.
 
Man Utd’s dominance would not threaten “Brand Premier League” on its own: what the English leagues should be really worried about is that the rest of Europe appears to be getting its act together. As TV pays the bills, and global branding pays for the pretty dresses, any danger to Brand Premier on the world stage will be disastrous, particularly as the world lurches into a financial crisis.

The four big leagues (France, Italy, Spain and Germany) are in the midst of becoming more exciting by the week, with competition at the top and engaging action at the bottom, with a little quality, too. There finances appear to be improving rapidly, too. France’s Ligue 1 has seven teams vying for the title this year: perhaps because the team that has dominated for a decade, Lyon, has not had the global branding Man Utd has had. And the French leagues hit the jackpot in 2005 when a bidding war put the price of TV packages at £1.6bn – almost on a par with the Premier League.

Last year, the German Bundesliga took over the English Premiership’s mantle as the league making the most money out of shirt sponsorship: a small part of a club’s overall revenue but significant in that it suggests how bankable the league is in terms of marketability.
A year ago a rather doom-laden Spanish La Liga was looking at multiple bankruptcies as economists warned that clubs had radically overspent to keep up with Real Madrid and Barcelona. But the fact that Spain has two clubs bigger than Man Utd means that it will always be more competitive on a global market. It also has the advantage that there are more football-mad nations that speak Spanish than English-speaking nations.
 
The fate of Italian clubs, meanwhile, should serve as a warning for the money-bloated Premier League. For years they fed on bloated cheques from rich owners – often local companies done good or senior politicians or Italian oligarchs. Now it doesn’t look so good. Juventus has been dropped a league and since returned, while many other clubs suffered from wage bills hitting 85% of income. Now, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Clubs like Napoli, which suffered from the previous wage profligacy (Maradona and Paul Gascoigne the highest profile luxuries), are back in the black and highflying in Serie A.  Oh, and Italy still has four of the top 20 richest clubs in Europe.

Perhaps more importantly is the strong support in Italy for a salary cap which, if implemented, will drive Italian clubs back up to the top in Europe.
 
If the Premier League continues on its current path, three things could happen:

1) Of course, everything could work out fine, with the money levelling off as Brand Premier begins to help every club in the league. Competition becomes more intense, the world is hooked,

2) Man Utd continue to dominate and the fans slowly but surely switch off. United decides it doesn’t want to share the TV money so, as the only show in town, decides to break away from the TV package and sell itself. With little or no competition at home European action becomes more important. The spectre of a European super league raises its ugly head again.

3) Brand Premier goes the way of Italy: money breeds corruption, breeds alienation and eventually the English falls into a bitter sea of fear, court cases and recriminations. Millions worldwide switch back to a revitalized Serie A and La Liga and the old world order is duly re-established.
 
Sepp Blatter allows himself a quiet, triumphant smile.

The Champions League and European Football’s Evolvement

The question as to whether the early stages of the Champions League are unnecessary is an interesting one, particularly as the outcomes of them are generally easy to predict, with the big clubs moving on to the knock out stages and the smaller ones returning, more often than not back to obscurity. However, as true as that is, what is the alternative? The preliminary and to a greater extent the group stages at least offer the smaller clubs an opportunity to express themselves at a higher level as well as offering them much needed revenue. It also offers the football fan a great opportunity to look at the wide range of football that is played in Europe, it offers the opportunity to check out current and future stars of the game plus it also offers the opportunity for clubs to test their fringe and future players in a different style of football.

It should not be forgotten either that very often, games such Inter Milan v Spurs are thrown up, which for many football fans produced the best football seen at any level this season and also spotlighted the outstanding potential of Welshman, Gareth Bale, who has already become one of the most sought after players in world football.

It is true that now and again some matches are a waste, Manchester United v Bursaspor being a recent prime example. Clearly the Turkish side were outclassed and will be consigned to a more distant level of football after the group stages conclude. However, try telling that to their board of directors, their players and their fans that and they would probably start a turf war, as they, like United, earned the right to play the group stages and fully deserved their chance. Bursaspor will, like many other less known teams, be a stronger club for the experience.

It should also be remembered that the like any sport, football is still evolving and the Champions League could easily be the ‘blueprint’ for a much wider form of the game. The idea behind a future European League has long since been on the drawing boards of UEFA and the chances of it being fully sanctioned are quite profound.

How it would work at this stage is hard to know, but it would not necessarily mane the end of domestic football at all. The Premier leagues of all European countries would all continue as normal, with the Champions League being their reward for success. Football fans should be well aware that the Champions League and the Europa League have evolved from the European and UEFA Cups, but both, with the exception of the group stages are still knock-out competitions. The name changes have been made quite possibly for psychologically reasons as much as anything, aimed at preparing all those connected with football, including the football fan for the future format.

At Football – Soccer Matches In The Top European Football Leagues -Should There Be Four Linesmen

I have watched football all my life and would probably say I have an unhealthy obsession with the game and like all fans I have my own ideas of how to improve it. My main bugbear though is the linesman/referees assistant.

In the top flight in countries like England, Italy and Spain where money is available for it why do we only have two linesmen? Surely it makes sense to have four? Then they can make better judgements on calls on whether the ball crossed the line or not. Also it should increase the likelihood of an attacker getting the benefit of the doubt in offside calls if players are only given offside when both linesmen raise their flags.

But the main reason I have for pushing for four linesmen is because a referee needs their help. The four linesman could then pick up on shirt pulling, elbows and other goings on that goes on out of view of the referee.

What annoys me the most is the blatant body checks and shirt pulls that go on out of view of the referee to stop a player making a run in behind a defender. I do get sick of the media telling me that seeing players sent off spoils the game when to my mind what spoils the game are the cynical so-called ‘clever’ fouls that stop an attacker in full flow for very little punishment.

Plus I believe that if players got harsher punishment for those sort of fouls they would be a lot less likely to commit them in the first place. I do not believe they would lead to more bookings and red cards overall, just a lowering of cynical fouls.

After all they said the outlawing of the tackle from behind would lead to most games ending with at least one player being sent off but as we have seen all that has happened is that the players have altered their game to compensate for the rule changes.

The other thing, is that a linesman will then always be on the right side of the pitch – unlike now where players can get away with taking corners out of the quadrant etc because the linesman is on the other side of the pitch.

Apart from little modifications like this though I personally feel football has no need to change. Certainly I would hate to see the referee losing the power he currently has as while it might reduce the potential for corruption it would also lose the talking points that the ref provides by making human errors.

Lets face it we all want to talk about the referee not giving or giving a crucial penalty, missing a foul etc which gives us an easy excuse for our team losing rather than admitting it wasn’t good enough to beat the opposition.

After all who does not believe that their team is the greatest team there is? We all know that at every level, the fans chant that their team is the greatest the world has seen even though we know it isn’t true, we still believe it.

Having said that it would be an improvement if the match officials, a representative of the two clubs that have just played, and an independent official all sat down after a match and went through the match video checking their decisions. The club officials could then query decisions that the clubs disagreed with and retrospective punishments or reprieves could be handed out by the match referee.