Cap'n Cash must restore our love of beautiful game

Cheating, foul-mouthed rants and off-field shenanigans have hurt football's reputation so players have a duty to make us proud again
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The Independent Online

It is all so terribly vexing for our sporting icons. All those riches, yet you go to park your motor and it won't fit between the white lines. "Man U Aces Get Bigger Spaces" scoffed one headline this week over a story that, allegedly, Manchester United's Carrington training- ground car park was having to be extended because the bays were designed for "normal" cars, not for the monsters, the Hummers and Bentleys, favoured by Premiership footballers.

Readers' pangs of sympathy must have been as heartfelt as their concern for the dilemma of John Terry, or "Cap'* Cash" as he is now known following the deal negotiated with Chelsea. Just how does the Premiership's highest-paid player spend £135,000 a week, over five years?

Such headlines are symptomatic of the widely held perception of modern-day footballers, of course. But with the new season upon us, there is an ever more obsessive desire among some, and particularly the red-tops, to emphasise the discrepancies between Them and Us. Too frequently, this comparison becomes too easy as the Premiership glitterati and their WAGs parade themselves more like the chavs which Lord March complains about at his racecourse, Goodwood, than class acts.

For many observers, it's all as black and white as New-castle United's strip, (though perhaps not like the club's books that new owner Mike Ashley's people are said to have belatedly scrutinised, which apparently contain rather too much red for their liking). It's about Them, the avaricious, cheating, disloyal mercenaries, and Us, the poor dupes whose purchase of season tickets and satellite subscriptions featherbeds their lavish lifestyles.

The reality has never been quite that simplistic. Yet the truth is that never before have the players been under such scrutiny – and indeed, one could say the same of the Premiership as a whole – as they luxuriate in a warm bath of enhanced tele-vision income. It will require, though, more than a dash of cleansing salts to restore the reputation of a sport damned at times by an insufferable complacency as its participants continue to indulge in cheating, foul-mouthed backchat to officials and inoff-field shenanigans.

It is a season for justification. The performers – among whom Darren Bent, a £16 million purchase by Spurs, comes perhaps unfairly but most readily to mind – must vindicate such extravagant outlays on their supposed talent. Clubs such as Tottenham must produce profit from such largesse. Finally, the Premiership has to endow itself with a considerably greater ethos of competition and cast off its impression of being a three-tier wedding cake, with the happy couple, Chelsea and Manchester United, entwined at the top.

Wishful thinking? Not in the mind of the Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, who claims he can see another team coming through and winning, as Blackburn did. "I'm sure the amount of money going into teams like Manchester City, Newcastle and Aston Villa will make the League more competitive," he said this week. "We would like a team to come from nowhere and win it." Frankly, Scudamore's vision requires rather more suspension of belief than J K Rowling asks us to employ in her Harry Potter books.

The rebranding of the old First Division was brilliantly conceived and executed. Scudamore reminds you of the bride at a Greek wedding who has money pinned to her for good luck. But the institution has been gravely damaged by the Tevez affair and the findings of the Lord Stevens inquiry. One also suspects we have by no means heard the last of Thaksin Shinawatra's takeover of Manchester City.

Perhaps, more destructively in the long term, the sheer excesses of the participants, whether in the form of grasping players and their advisers or chairmen prepared to throw good money after bad players, has gradually made cynics of us all. Roy Keane, a newcomer to the boot sale better known as the Premiership transfer window, claims, with untypical diplomacy: "It's a ferocious transfer market, but there's a lack of quality players."

Some may wish to put it more damningly in this era of environmental awareness: has there ever been a summer of so much recycled waste? Already the whingeing and back-covering has begun among the have-nots and those managers of clubs who will not entertain fracturing their fragile transfer policies and salary budgets. There is a certain irony that Sam Allardyce, whovacated a sinecure at Bolton to advance his career, appears to be questioning whether the Newcastle he signed up for (the one which over the years has been carelessly spendthrift) is thetightly administered one it has morphed into over the summer. If it is correct that he has only £10m to spend, Newcastle's chances of "coming from nowhere" to claim the title are several compass points north of remote. Football may be one of the purest markets, but when it is dominated by desperate instincts, the only beneficiaries are the selling clubs, and the players. However, one cannot attribute all of football's ills to the players any more than one can expect fans to question the background of their clubs' owners.

In the latter respect, we have entered new territory; possibly ominously impenetrable territory for the Premiership to negotiate. A City follower was recently heard in a radio vox-pop protesting vehemently that other clubs are also run by some dubious foreigners. But this is Thaksin we are talking about. Allegations of human-rights abuses have never been proven against the former prime minister of Thailand, but after the Stuart Pearce-John Wardle era, the installation of Thaksin and Sven Goran Eriksson, the latter determined to repair a career tainted by failure at the highest level of international football, engenders not so much a sense of awe as incredulity.

For all Scudamore's desire, the Fantastic Four will be just-about untouchable again. For once, in recent years, the heat is off Jose Mourinho. The recently self-styled Mellowed One is not under the siege of commentators demanding to be appraised of the limit of his ambitions. It is Sir Alex Ferguson being asked the dreaded question. The Scot's answer, according to the headlines, was: "We Can Win All Four Trophies". Actually, Ferguson said: "We'll have a go," as though you would expect anything else.

Make no mistake, though, another championship is the least that will be expected of Sir Alex Ferguson this season. And as for Liverpool's Rafa Benitez, heady anticipation will roll down the Kop in the wake of his 15 acquisitions, the most conspicuous of these being Fernando Torres of Atletico Madrid. But this season demands something greater than a battle for power and glory and survival within this multimillion-pound jamboree. It expects that, after a summer of reflection, all concerned will have signed up to an unspoken treaty that will elevate the old game from the pit of contempt in which it is perceived by too many. It's a little radical, one accepts that, but as it is the national sport there is no reason why football should not seek to establish values rather than continue to suffer in comparison with other sports.

This week, it was revealed that United had signed a precocious nine-year-old, Rhain Davis, who hails from Brisbane. He isalready said to possess some of the traits of Cristiano Ronaldo. In roughly seven years' time, if due progress is made, the young man will begin his attempt to emulate last season's footballer of the year. The coming months will have much influence on what the Premiership will become. Will it be a renewed source of pride or a continued depository for derision?

Ten reasons why John Terry is worth £135,000 a week: soccer-weblog.com.

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