Deal that might be best thing for English football
Saturday 16 February 2008
Richard Scudamore now knows why he gets paid that reported salary of £1m. Nine days that shook English football, the Premier League chief executive under sustained attack and barely a peep from a single club owner, chairman or chief executive in support. He has been left alone on stage like Saddam Hussein's doomed spokesman who preached defiance while the American tanks rolled into shot behind him.
The personal attacks aimed at Scudamore are starting to look like bullying and ignore the fact that he is only attempting to maintain the financial unity of a particularly greedy group of masters who prefer to stay in the shadows. There is no doubt that the chief executive of the Premier League has taken some serious hits this week but, crucially, he is still standing and he is on his way to see Sepp Blatter no matter what the Fifa president might think of his plans for a 39th game in January 2011.
Leave aside the details of the proposals for the Premier League playing games overseas and consider that there is a deal to be done here. It is a deal that could reverse the trend that is making the English footballer an endangered species and could safeguard the future of the England football team. At last there is an incentive for the Premier League to accept imposed quotas of English footballers in their first XIs if they are to get their way with Fifa and play competitive fixtures abroad.
Never has there been quite such an effective lever for the world governing body to persuade the world's most successful domestic league that they have to discriminate in favour of the English footballer. Fifa may not get their target of the "6+5" quota – six nationals plus five foreigners in every European domestic club team – but they might just get close enough. For the survival of the English footballer it would be a price worth paying.
Scudamore v Blatter: the former with plans to make his Premier League global; the latter defending the principle of strong international football and national leagues stocked with native players. The Professional Footballers' Association's recent definitive survey on the dwindling number of English footballers found that last season only 191 Englishmen started Premier League games from a total of 498 players. In the Premier League's first season, 1992-1993, that was 363 out of 511. They are dramatic figures and they require a radical solution.
How could it work? Ditch the extra 39th game and take 10 from the regular 38-game season to play abroad. Clubs lose one home game every other year and promoted clubs inherit the status of those they replace. That protects the integrity of the Premier League as a competition and no-one has to play Manchester United three times a season. In return the future of English footballers would be enshrined in Premier League rules. Every manager from Arsène Wenger to Gareth Southgate would have to start planning for a future where four, five or six Englishman in a first XI was mandatory.
In the tarring of the beleaguered Scudamore, a few complexities of the situation have been overlooked. The Premier League chief executive was trying to achieve one thing above all when he launched his ill-starred proposals last week: that all 20 clubs would benefit from the global reach of the League's biggest most powerful clubs rather than just those rich clubs themselves. Ultimately, Scudamore's aim was unchanged: as ever, he just wanted to keep the League together. That alone is a laudable motive; the problem has become the lengths to which he believed he had to go to achieve it.
It is a sorry day when one of the only ways the Premier League chief executive can effect solidarity among his clubs is by floating a proposal all their supporters have rejected almost unanimously. That Scudamore's name has been on these plans has been a convenience for the club hierarchies of the Premier League. Having given their chief executive the green light to explore those proposals last Thursday, the clubs have melted away over the last nine tumultuous days and allowed him to become the scapegoat for their own greed.
The clubs will dictate whether Scudamore is allowed to do a deal with Fifa on quotas in return for them passing the international round. Once again the argument against those who oppose the international round is that they stand in the way of progress and innovation – a handy little argument that has been used throughout history by just about everyone wanting to force an unpalatable argument on a doubting populace.
Progress? I'm all for it. How about splitting all clubs' merchandising profits equally 20 ways? How about a greater percentage of television revenue being spread equally? The silence you can hear in response from the big clubs is exactly the same empty vacuum that Scudamore has encountered for the past nine days. The big clubs only like progress on their own terms but if they have to pay for it in return for a quota system, it may be a price worth paying for English football.
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