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A Summer of Discontent

Posted on 15th September 2009. 2 Comments

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“The Premier League can no longer claim to be the greatest league in the world..”

premier-league-trophyBarring one night at Wembley when England took their sweet revenge over Croatia to book their place at next year’s World Cup, the summer of 2009 will not go down as being a particularly memorable one. At least, not for the right reasons.

 Crowd trouble, diving, transfer embargos and player misconduct have been taking most of the headlines, but perhaps even worse for the Premier League is that with the departures of Christiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso to Spain, combined with the failure of any of the leading clubs to attract top players from abroad, it can no longer claim to be the greatest league in the world. 

Neutrals may argue that a weaker ‘Big Four’ means a more open league and thus a better one, and purely in terms of wanting a competitive domestic league this is perfectly true. But proof that the Premier League just isn’t as strong any more may come sooner rather than later, as this season’s Champions League gets underway. 

Whilst Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich (to name but a few) are all noticeably stronger, player sales and few notable additions have left England’s top clubs in a weaker position going into this year’s competition. Chelsea are perhaps the one exception as they have retained their best players, but their transfer embargo combined with the African Cup of Nations will almost certainly weaken them come the start of next year. It seems the days of English teams dominating the latter stages of Europe’s top competitions will be a thing of the past. 

Back home things haven’t been too great either. In Man City’s recent game against Arsenal, Adebayor did his best to further sour the public’s views of the behaviour and conduct of footballers. Eduardo may have had his diving ban overturned, but the majority of the nation still holds the opinion that he went to ground far too easily that night at the Emirates. And he’s just one of many players who all too often find the need to use deceit and deception, rather than skill and ability, to win matches. 

“…All in all, it doesn’t seem a great time to be an English football fan…”

But it’s not just the players who have been making the front page headlines this summer; the crowd trouble at Uptonfootballviolence_wideweb__470x307,0 Park was the lowest moment, but there have been increasing signs of unrest in the stands, most notably at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground when rivals Derby came to visit, and of course in the away end at Eastlands, when Adebayor seemingly forgot which fans he now needs to celebrate in front of. 

With the appeal of their transfer ban still pending, a full condemnation of Chelsea will have to wait. But it seems their case is simply the tip of an iceberg so damaging it could sink the Titanic. Chelsea probably weren’t the only ones doing it; they were just the ones that got caught. As seemingly a different French club every day makes a new accusation regarding the poaching of their young players, the rest of the ‘Big Four’ face a nervous few weeks. 

All in all, it doesn’t seem a great time to be an English football fan, yet in the summer of 2009 there were several reasons why this may change in the near future. England’s domination of their qualifying group to waltz into next year’s World Cup should ensure a relatively successful national team for at least as long as Fabio Capello remains in charge. 

“The future of our national teams has been helped even further…”

But beyond that the future looks bright as England’s U21 and U19 sides both made it to major European finals this summer. A feat the U21 side hadn’t managed since they won it in 1984, and in Stuart Pearce the team isn’t just shaping future England players, but perhaps a future England manager as well. 

Even England’s women made a name for themselves as they reached the final of the European Championships; the greatest achievement in their entire history.

 The future of our national teams has been helped even further by the recent addition of a rule that states that as of next season all Premier League clubs must have at least eight ‘home grown’ players in their squads of 25. Whilst far from many people’s desire for at least half the starting line up to be ‘home grown’, these sort of rules do encourage the top clubs to sign English players; it’s debatable as to whether Rafa Benitez would have spent so much on Glen Johnson if he didn’t fit in with UEFA’s new Champions League guidelines regarding ‘home grown’ players. Johnson’s strong start to the season suggests Benitez’s gamble will pay off. 

Ultimately the summer of 2009 will go down as a step backwards in many ways. But looking beyond the cheating players, rioting fans and numerous player departures, the future of our national side at least looks to be a bright one.

Tom Brown

2 Comments »

  • Vicki said:

    Nice article Tom!

    I agree there is some cause for concern for the Big Four, but I think the fact that Chelsea and Manchester United very deliberately kept out of a hugely inflated transfer market (thanks to Real Madrid and Man City) skews this summer’s spending slightly as a one off. After all, Madrid are the foreign team who have benefited most by far and Bayern, for example, have only kept Ribery admist swirls of rumours that he has effectively agreed to sign for Madrid in 2010.

    The home-grown players rule is an interesting one – do you think it could lead to more ‘player poaching’ in England? As far as I understand it, the players concerned don’t have to have been ‘grown’ by the clubs in question – might we not just see the cream of the best homegrown players siphoned off to the ‘Big Four’ anyway?

  • Tom said:

    Yeah, I agree the home grown player rule could lead to that, but if all our top players are playing regularly in the Champions League that can only be good for England.

    The weirdest thing about the rule though is that because the players just have to be trained in England for three years before the age of 21, they could be foreign. They should just say ‘home grown = English’ and be done with it!