(Reading’s Graeme Murty, ready to take his star power to Raymond James Stadium just as soon as a coach ticket can be booked)
After yesterday’s announcement the Premier League — no doubt taking a tip from the NFL, NHL and MLB, two of whom have already staged regular season contests in the UK recently — will consider playing one additional match per club at international venues (to be determined by bidding), the Independent’s Sam Wallace writes “it may wound those among us who recoil at the prospect of, say, Liverpool playing home games in Bangkok but it is probably a bit late to start complaining about foreign influence in football now.”
Eighty thousand Saudi Arabians sitting desolate through a 0-0 draw between Middlesbrough and Derby. A stadium full of Taiwanese all wondering why Wigan are playing five in midfield against Blackburn Rovers. Lots of Koreans politely applauding as Dean Ashton misses the only chance of a game that cost them a week’s wages to attend.
The Premier League goes global and suddenly every Kuala Lumpur native who thought it was all about Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba is dealt a hard truth. Shanghai? Get ready for Chris Baird. Sydney? Graeme Murty’s coming your way. When the exotic worldwide highlights goal-fest becomes the 90-minute reality does the Premier League really think it will conquer the world?
Here is one thing you can be sure of: the Premier League’s plan to play league games all over the world will be opposed on the spurious grounds that it betrays the honest English football fan, or whoever that is these days. Already there is a collection of self-appointed fans’ group worthies claiming to speak on behalf of every English supporter. One even came up with the brilliant suggestion of putting it to a vote, although he failed to identify who exactly would qualify as the democratic franchise.
This is the reality. If 20 Premier League chairmen, chief executives and club owners want this to happen then “ guess what? “ it probably will. As for some kind of fan revolution, let us just say that it can go into the same file as the opposition to the Glazer takeover of Manchester United and the grumblings about the launch of the Premier League back in 1992. Doomed to failure. What is far more important here is that the principle of the league itself is protected “ and that is comfortably the biggest thing English football stands to lose.
The plan is this: one extra game played in January; top four seeded to avoid playing one another; ties drawn like a cup competition. The reality could work as follows. Manchester United draw Spurs in Singapore and only get a point. Arsenal draw Derby in Seattle, win the game and, in May, take the title by a point. After the final game Sir Alex Ferguson tries to bring himself to say that the best team won it over 39 games “ but he cannot, because this league is not a league any more.
That is what English football stands to lose: that old principle that a league season constitutes two games against each opponent (home and away) and the best team wins it. As long as that exists then, whatever happens, there is a connection right back through English football from the present day, to the first league championship in 1888 and what it constitutes to be champions of England. Lose it, and the Premier League blows the most valuable asset it has.