Last Monday's match was so inept that it introduced impartial observers to the effect of mistaking Valium for coffee sweetener
Thursday 10 April 1997
This, more, or less, is what the Leeds United manager, George Graham, stated on Sky Television last Monday following his team's goalless draw with Blackburn Rovers, a match so inept that it introduced impartial observers to the effect of mistaking Valium for coffee sweetener.
Frustrated in his attempts to build on the sound defence he has put in place, Graham said that there is too much money chasing to little home- grown quality. "The problem drives you abroad, and I have been all over Europe this season," he said.
From the looks on the faces of Sky's presenter, Richard Keys, and its analyst, Andy Gray, you could imagine that they were braced for a blast down the line from headquarters. After all, allowing managers to emphasise deficiencies in English football is way out of sync with the marketing philosophy laid down by Rupert Murdoch.
In Sky's manual of disinformation - and this applies equally to coverage of boxing - there is no such thing as a thoroughly bad performance. If this is also true of the terrestrial channels (ITV is irritatingly partisan when matches involve foreign opposition) Sky carries it to ludicrous proportions. A bad game is less than a good game; a good game becomes tremendous. Simple passes that any journeyman pro should be able to perform are acclaimed as evidence of burgeoning standards; commonplace ball skills as proof of international equality.
Football continues to boom but there is no guarantee that the trend is permanent. The importance in Graham's remarks is, then, that they raised questions about the Premier League related to the recent influx of foreign players. Perhaps the most pertinent were that clubs must invest in the development of players and chairmen should be more accountable for issues like the present controversy over fixture congestion.
It is difficult to support Alex Ferguson's plea for an extension to the season but in view of Manchester United's probable commitments where was the club's chief executive, Martin Edwards, when the Premier League conceded, ridiculously, to an Easter-free programme?
Who calls the tune anyway? The Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates was incensed by the Easter cancellation and has suggested that a breakaway by leading European clubs from their national associations is possible. This suggestion is highly improbable. Nevertheless it indicates considerable dissatisfaction in club circles.
On the blinkered basis of lost revenue an odds-on bet is that the majority of Premier League chairmen are vehemently opposed to the proposition of an 18-club Premiership, which would ease the strain on players and has been suggested by John Barnwell of the League Managers' Association.
None of the chairmen, I'm sure, agreed with Joao Havelange, who is shortly to step down as president of the game's governing body, Fifa, when he said there is now too much professional football. "It has become a problem," he said, "because everyone - directors, managers, coaches, players and doctors - want to profit from football's popularity."
Money, on a ridiculous scale in some cases, persuades foreign players to turn out in the Premier League. And money pouring in from Sky helps to create an inflated market, transfer fees out of all proportion to ability and unforeseen difficulties in bringing young players forward.
This is what Howard Wilkinson has taken on as the Football Association's technical director, and what occupied Graham's thoughts on Monday. Without financial input from the clubs where is the next generation of players coming from?
This is not something that television can be expected to embrace with any enthusiasm. In their garden the roses are always blooming. Thunderclap trailers, marvellous matches, individual shortcomings glossed over by the mumbo jumbo of analysis and reference to vague roles in the tactical scheme of things.
Even allowing for the threat Blackburn are still under, last Monday's match was awful. In not making that point, stressing instead the effects of pace and congestion, Sky's employees did football a disservice and insulted the intelligence of viewers. Seems that the truth does not sit easy with them.
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