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Wot No Players? Part 2

By: Todd Bontoft
Date: 14/08/2000

The game for its own self-interest and long term survival cannot allow the spiralling of wages to continue ad infinitum. Football's mass appeal is based on its penetration within communities with the amateur set-up and professional league clubs that cover like a patchwork quilt all corners of England. Should clubs start going to the wall, it may be more than the tiddlers that get fried.

The Premiership is now getting a taste of its own medicine. During the close season the already battered self-image of English football took another blow when Real Madrid paid £37M to Barcelona for Luis Figo. Enquiries were made by Moanchester United but ended at the first mention of the fee: arguably the world's richest club cannot afford arguably the world's top talents.

First Moanchester United failed to hold on to the European title that many partially sighted patriots had eagerly used as evidence that the Premiership is best.

Then Kevin Keegan's England was cruelly exposed at Euro 2000. The overriding reason given by the money grabbing Premiership chairman and the FA for the creation of the Premier League was ensuring the success of the national side.

Instead it has done little to improve the quality of the pool of players at the England manager's disposal. Some Premier league clubs have most of their first teams filled with second rate imports. In an interview published in the Observers OSM magazine Bobby Robson, celebrating 50 years in the game stated "it's bad for the national side, no doubt about it. We've even got, disastrously, some clubs whose reserves are full of foreigners, so where is the English player getting a chance?"

Not in the lower divisions as with so much at stake, young talent is not given the opportunity to develop as in previous years. A sore point with me is the talent of the likes of young John Oster. Sure it was potentially a good move for club and player, but why the rush? The club wanted the money, the player the opportunity but with hindsight would not another couple of first division seasons as a Mariner made him a better all round and experienced player? He would have been even more sought after by the top clubs. The pressure of success at Everton and latterly Sunderland, offered him only a brief chance before being relegated to the reserves, but at least the money's good.

But inflation has cascaded down the divisions bringing many clubs to their knees. The league's new arrival Kidderminster has seen its wage bill spiral and the club chairman expects to dig deep into his own pocket with at least £1M subsidy over the next three seasons.

You cannot even argue that the Premiership offers the consolation of the best football talent on offer. Before the start of this season England's top five clubs have spent £69M on new arrivals this summer. The Serie A champions Lazio alone has spent more than £70M.

Major continental sides simply buy the best.

Paradoxically, a league that has just sealed a world-record television deal worth more than £1.5bn is filled with the world's former best players looking for a final big pay-day in their dotage.

The Premiership has been handed conclusive proof that not only is it not the best league in the world, it is not even the richest.

Only the Lawn Tennis Association is in the same league with so successfully achieving the direct opposite of what it intended.

Wot no players? Must be the start of the 2004/2005 season.

Todd Bontoft

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