December 12, 2013
It’s show time again
LONDON — At last week’s press conference to inaugurate the English Premier League season, its executive, Richard Scudamore spoke of the increased income which has left all 20 clubs rich. No wonder! Their latest TV deal, until the end of the 20156 season is for US$8.25 billion, in spite of which they never seem to make ends meet with higher salaries and ever higher transfer fees. No wonder, he also said that spectators are not that important as they once were — sounds like Argentine FA chief Julio Grondona — and they are basically there to provide the crowd noise for TV.
Of the above mentioned TV deal, US$2 billion of the money comes from sales abroad. It is calculated that over 800 million homes worldwide have pay channels to watch the games on. To this must be added people who watch matches in bars and whose numbers cannot be calculated.
“My priority,” Scudamore said, “is to put on the best show possible.” It was a revealing expression. Soccer used to be just a game, but not any more and that is something many lament. The Premier League today is part of the entertainment business and as the success of films or theatre plays depend mostly on its stars, so does the Premier League. Scudamore, in answer to a question, denied that there would be an exodus of star players, but it already looks like it. No top stars, the household names, have come to the League during this close season and instead have gone to Italy and Spain — Tevez and Neymar, for example.
And the quality has suffered, according to José Mourinho, back at Chelsea, after being unpopular at Real Madrid. Pundits say he will add character to the game. Mourinho says there is not a single outstanding team in the league. If he is right, that should make for closer, more interesting games and perhaps a league winner out of the four usual champions. From the few games I have seen so far, he may be right. Other journalists feel that the Premier League may now be fourth in quality behind Germany, Italy and Spain, and still slipping with France and Russia close — all depending where the big stars go.
Scudamore also lamented that the long drawn-out transfer sagas of Gareth Bale, Luis Suárez and Wayne Rooney had not been settled before the season started. He would prefer the transfer window to close before the start of the season, but they have to conform with the rules of the European Football Union (UEFA) which closes the transfer register on September 5. Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, the longest-serving coach at one club now that Alex Ferguson has retired, feels that the January transfer window should be abolished and UEFA’s president, Michel Platini agrees. He agrees that a lot of managers are unhappy about it because it can change their team in the middle of the season.
Uruguayan Suárez’s fight to leave Liverpool, although his contract has not expired, shows the lack of discipline shown by some players. But no wonder that Liverpool does not want to let him go. According to statistics, Liverpool had most shots at goal per match in the Premier League — 19.4 — and that was mostly Suárez’s doing as he smashed shots at goal from all — even impossible — angles, often after dribbling past three defenders.
Tottenham Hotspur is asking a high price for Bale, arguably the best player in the league. Last season the Welshman scored 38 percent of his team’s goals — an average of one every other game — and without his goals they would have been 27 points worse off and would have finished down in joint 10th place.
The case of Rooney is comical. Originally, he left Everton because, he complained, that his teammates were not good enough. Now he wants to leave Manchester United because his teammates are too good and he is not a regular first teamer. But Rooney is still an England international and Manchester United needs him.
GLASGOW RANGERS. From England to Scotland next, as it is difficult to ignore the shambles of what was once the country’s top club and is still its leading title-winner. In the past, this column said that it was a serious error for Scotland’s Premier Division clubs to vote them out of their league. Glasgow Rangers became bankrupt and were wound up with unusual Scottish FA strictness. A new club was formed and, as all new clubs do, they were ordered to start again in the bottom division. Yet, they were given the chance of a vote by top division clubs and all but their great rivals, Glasgow Celtic (who abstained), voted against Rangers’ re-entry. It was a pity and they lost lucrative gate money from matches against them.
Now, of course, Rangers have a much weaker, and cheaper, team and last weekend were eliminated in the first round of the League Cup. But now the club is in the middle of a destructive civil war. A group of shareholders, led by billionaire Jim McColl, is trying to overthrow the current Rangers board to end the influence of controversial major shareholder Charles Green.
All this leaves coach Ally McCoist in a precarious position. Green has called it the worst Rangers team ever. But one has to sympathize with McCoist — a legend at Rangers — who is doing his best under the circumstances and one must also sympathize with the 34,000 loyal fans who bought season tickets to see “the worst Rangers team ever.”
It is likely that things will get worse before they get better, but also for Scottish soccer and its national team, which is not enduring one of its best periods. Celtic, who is expected to run away with the title again, is not getting any better either, with a lack of strong opposition.