The Premier League’s classless celebration of largesse continues to lack intelligence when the football is technically impoverished, writes Desmond Kane.
When the Premier League was launched in 1992, footballer-turned-film star Vinnie Jones hammered a Wimbledon FC shirt into a billboard to celebrate a set-up with only 11 non-British and Irish footballers. It is fair to say that since battled-hardened stoppers like Jones rummaged around, the public have bought the Premier League lock, stock and two smoking barrels.
Yet at the ripe old age of 25, there remains a crude immaturity about England’s self-satisfied elite league. Not as crude as Vinnie perhaps, but new money has certainly not bought the Premier League the cosmopolitan class it craves.
On the cusp of a quarter of a century of Premier League seasons, it is difficult to rinse the memory of the torment Manchester United were subjected to by Real Madrid in the sweltering Macedonian outpost of Skopje on Tuesday night.
Jose Mourinho’s side are joint second favourites alongside Chelsea behind Manchester City for a first national title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s 2013 parting gift to them. They do so fresh from being reminded of their true standing in life.
Attempting to argue that the European Super Cup doesn’t matter to United is like arguing that Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t like a sun lounger. They lost 2-1 in a match that could have ended with Madrid six or seven goals clear.
Madrid attempted 592 passes, completing 528 of them. United attempted 332 passes, making 278 passes. So Madrid made 250 passes more than United. So Madrid are miles ahead of United. So go figure.
Mourinho said afterwards United would be ready in two years, but why aren’t they ready now with the amount of money and managers they have thrown to arrest their demise in recent years? Since Fergie left the building, they have unleashed around £625m in transfer fees and trusted David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho with the kitty.
“Before, the giants were the powerful ones economically, and now there are small clubs in terms of prestige and history, who are giants economically,” opined Mourinho. “That changes absolutely everything. I want the team to be on a par with the club’s history, which is something I’ve been lucky enough to feel at every club.
“Last season we won trophies. We’ll improve the team and try to be at that level, to constantly be improving. And I think we’re going to reach that level as a football team in the next couple of years.”
United are symbolic of a set-up that is not as good as it thinks it is. In 25 years of the Premier League, only United (1999, 2008) Liverpool (2005) and Chelsea (2012) have won the Champions League. La Liga have lifted it 10 times, including the last four to illustrate where the true balance of power of the world game lies.
The theory that Barcelona and Real Madrid compete in a two-team league has hardly hindered their ongoing pursuit of happiness. Or their ability to attract premium talent.
The Premier League is the world’s richest league bloated by annual television earnings of around £4.5 billion and watched by a TV audience of over four billion. It is the self-styled greatest show on earth, but the greatest of the technically gifted play their football elsewhere. Or else move elsewhere with Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale deciding to better themselves away from England’s green and pleasant lands.
Why on earth would Bale want to give up a white shirt by waving a white flag in returning to a scene where technical excellence is lacking if not the money.
United were given a going over that bordered on embarrassing. Madrid did not only beat United at football the other night. At times they seemed to play another sport.
Mourinho has already spent £145m this summer on Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic following a £145m splurge a year ago on Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and the wages of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Yet it is an indictment on the stature of the Premier League that you could not make a compelling case for United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham or Liverpool to win the Champions League this season.
Rather than preparing them for the club game’s finest tournaments, the domestic scene merely prepares these cash-rich behemoths for domesticity, like two zebras fighting over the right to be eaten by the lions.
But who cares when you are rich? The Premier League has never been more smug, insular, inward looking and bereft of a long-term vision than when it encountered piles of cash in an eye-watering broadcasting deal of £8.3billion back in 2015. It has more than a touch of the Brexit mentality about it, an unrealistic belief that it is greater than the world that revolves around it.
It is like the Boris Johnson of football leagues with a smattering of grandiose statements that don’t add up, clambering to the top of a greasy pole that is based only in monetary success and soundbites rather than a true vision to improve standards.
When it was launched as a whole new ball game, the idea of the Premier League was to enhance England’s football team.
Yet weirdly it cares not for national identity, and has little or no interest in seeing the England national team prosper in line with its own profit. If not, England would not have a solitary appearance in the semi-finals of Euro 96 as its best return at a major finals in 25 years of the Premier League. There is no hint of a winter break to assist creaking limbs.
Many poor workers at football clubs are not paid the living wage from the burgeoning gravy train. It is about the haves and have nots in every sense of the word.
Its only value is to enjoy monetary gain by appearing to lace the pockets of footballers and agents while over-charging fans for the right to watch the “product”. Premier League enthusiasts should only hand over £20 to see their teams, nothing more if the league really cares about the fans.
Once this was a sport for all. Back in 1992 it certainly was, but the Premier League has turned into a clique for the privileged. The nouveau riche have hijacked the sport, robbing the working class of a sport that belonged to them. Do billionaires from Russia, the UAE, Thailand, Switzerland, Italy and USA realise that this sport once belonged to local communities?
Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, appeared to suggest on Thursday that England’s elite 20 clubs should be proud of the fact that they did not meet Neymar’s £200m asking price from Barcelona.
“That is an unusual set of events I think. The Qataris – who own PSG – have suddenly decided they want to make a statement. And the rather perverse thing with having these buyout clauses is they are meant to prevent players moving.
“This one was tested and it does not worry me at all and I am kind of sitting here glad it was not a Premier League club who spent that much money on a player.”
Yet where are the perverse warning signs about a league that has already blown £1billion on players whose value simply does not add up with three weeks remaining of this transfer window?
Andre Gray, a striker who has never played Champions League football or represented England, joined Watford on Wednesday for £18m.
Brighton – a club who almost dropped out of the football league and liquidated two decades ago – are going to sign a winger from Club Brugge, José Izquierdo, for £13.5m. West Ham are interested in paying £27.1m for William Carvalho from Sporting Libson when they could be blowing bubbles. The road of excess as yet shows no signs of ruin.
Only another £118m is needed before the transfer window closes to signify this summer as the most expensive bout of spending in the history of the sport.
Manchester City have unearthed £218m with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte apparently unhappy because he has ‘only’ unloaded £130m on four players. In a month when the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich announced his divorce, Conte could be heading for a divorce from Stamford Bridge unless he is furnished with more resources.
Conte has somehow questioned the strategy of Tottenham because they have not joined the mad house.
“Every team has to understand what their ambitions are If their ambitions are to fight for the title or win the Champions League, you must buy expensive players. Otherwise you continue to stay in your level. It’s simple.”
Yet the only statement of intent that has made any sense has come from the Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, who has somehow managed to flog a jobbing right-back Kyle Walker to Manchester City for £53m.
It was Levy who rung the bell before setting the alarm bells ringing.
He used a trip to ring the Nasdaq opening bell in New York’s stock exchange last month, the very heart of the world’s market, to predict impending doom for football’s market forces. Particularly the Premier League where the level of spending makes about as much sense as Kenedy’s sojourn to China.
It is a bit rich, so to speak, to accuse China of losing a grip on fiscal reality in their attitude to buying footballers when the Premier League is tossing money onto a financial bonfire with less of a thought process than Montgomery Brewster.
“My view is that it’s totally unsustainable,” said Levy. “I’m not sure if that’s the view of the other Premier League clubs, but certainly the prices that are being paid for other Premier League players, I can’t see it being sustainable in the long term. We’ve managed the club, we think, in a very appropriate way.
“I think I am a custodian of this football club. This club has been around since 1882 and when I leave it will be somebody else. I think we have a duty to manage the club appropriately. I don’t think that long term for any club it’s sustainable to spend more than you earn.”
This season begins when Arsenal host Leicester on Friday evening. Arsenal were bludgeoned by Bayern Munich 10-2 on aggregate in the last 16 of the Champions League last season. They did not qualify for this season’s edition of the tournament. They have made the Premier League the be all and end all because they are simply not good enough to trouble the best.
For many, the answer is to spend more. Even if the buying lacks a true purpose.
“You spend £50m today for normal players, and you still must sell some shirts and some tickets to spend £50m. That is absolutely getting crazy..the prices have gone up tremendously.”
Football has become two sports: one that is played between 22 men on a pitch, and one that is being destroyed by the avarice of man.
The Premier League lacks class and clarity in its base mentality and the level of football it celebrates. At 25, time may not be on its side. A day of reckoning may not be too far away. What goes up, always comes down. The bubble will burst. Football is not somehow immune.
True supporters have been ransacked by the rich and fobbed off by their local clubs. Millionaire players have nothing in common with the communities they represent. In many respects, football in its current guise desperately needs a crash landing.
History tells you such insanity cannot continue without consequences.