TV money and big team bullies

Like a badly made ‘who dunnit’ the main culprit for football’s latest shambles of an idea is obvious but this time there are some big time co-conspirators.

The premise is simple, you take the best supported clubs in European football and guarantee them a place in the Champions League. This is the idea being toyed with by television companies and clubs such as Arsenal, Manchester United and AC Milan. The 2018 competition could see teams like this seasons high flying Leicester lose out to a so called ‘bigger’ club if they had the audacity to finish in the top four.

MUFC

Whilst these clubs have no right to decide the fate of who can qualify for the competition beyond their own performances, the offer could prove to be an attractive one to TV broadcasters who pay huge sums of money for coverage of Europe’s premier competition.

Clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool who have little chance of qualifying for this years competition would make the grade as a ‘big’ club if the rule change is ever allowed to pass. The whole idea leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and although it is a long way off from being agreed, the lure of TV money may once again win the day.

This cannot be allowed to happen. The idea goes against everything sport in general stands for. It is anti-competitive not only for the Champions League but for the Premier League too.

Drinkwater

There is little incentive, beyond money, to finish in the top four for clubs like Leicester if they know there is no chance of a European place. To make matters worse clubs with rich history and pedigree in the both competitions have little motivation to compete in The Premier League knowing European qualification is pre determined. Their best players could and probably would be rested in domestic fixtures thus diluting the quality.

Make no mistake Leicester City, and clubs like them, will see this as an act of bullying by the rich European elite. For the good of the game the ban on hunting clubs like the Foxes must be enforced.

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The steady decline of national expectations

There was a time in the not so distant past where every football fan in England would be buzzing with anticipation for tonight’s fixture in Spain. A chance for hopefuls to set out their stall and make their case for selection in next year’s Euro 2016 squad. To add a bit of spice to the occasion the game will be played against a Spain team who have dominated most of the last decade in international football and team made up largely of players from the great Barcelona and Real Madrid teams. So what’s changed? The answer is relatively simple: Expectation has changed.

Pic credit - Guardian

Pic credit – Guardian

For years long suffering England fans convinced themselves there was a decent chance of England winning a major tournament. ‘Why not’? You would hear people say ‘individually we are as good as anyone’ was another overused conversation starter heard in pubs up and down the country late in May every two years. In recent times the golden generation with Becks and co have come and gone and still we are no nearer to seeing an English pair of hands on a major international trophy.

Given the amount of time that has passed since that famous victory in ’66 you would think expectations would have died off a long time ago. Unfortunately a few England teams dared to flirt with the idea of winning something and these brushes with glory made us all believe when really we had no place to. Gone are the days of building up the weight of a nation’s expectations and then unfairly placing them firmly on the shoulders of one special talent. Nowadays England fail collectively and people like Gareth Southgate are even allowed to become manager of the under 21s. In 1990 it was Gazza, 96 saw Shearer banging them in for fun and in 98 we had we had the precocious Michael Owen terrorising defenders. The last person we built up to shoot down recently became the nation’s leading all time goal scorer but in truth the last time he was winning matches single handedly was 2004. England it would seem no longer expects.

The average football fan has become more cynical. There are many who see international football as an unwanted distraction from the Premier League and more recently the Champions League. No longer does the World Cup or European Championship hold mystery. Through foreign talent coming through the Premier League, saturated European football tv deals and YouTube we have seen them all before. There are very few talented players off the radar that no one has heard off and as a result the big international games have lost some of their magic.

There is even an air of ‘less is more’ from the hierarchy at the FA. The appointment of Roy Hodgson a while back will have pleased a few who were looking forward to having an English manager again but without disrespecting the current gaffer, he wouldn’t be on a shortlist for many other big jobs in the world of football. In the past England had lured masters of Europe in the form of major dissapointment Fabio Capello and before him Sven had a few bites at the cherry with England’s so called ‘golden generation’. Roy has done a great job against bad opposition in terms of qualification but his tournament record is not a highlight for his CV. You get the feeling with Hodgson that he is mere moments away from becoming the new ‘wolly with a brolly’.

Perhaps this is all entirely wrong and England will shine against Spain and from that take the inspiration needed to go on and win the Euros next year. A few years ago some would have been able to get on board with that fantasy. Getting carried away with a performance in a friendly was perfectly acceptable. Nowadays? Anyone booked their tickets for the final?

International Football at its best

Last night saw hosts Chile beat Ecuador 2-0 at the start of the 2015 Copa America, an international football tournament with a difference. Flare in this part of the world is a by-product of the expansive, quick game most sides in South America play. It isn’t thought of as unnecessary or an act of showboating, no flare in this part of the world is just another tool to get the ball in the back of the net.

Logo_Federación_de_Fútbol_de_Chile

Fans of Pep Guardiola style possession football might want to give this display of pacey, through the pitch football a miss though. The ideology of most sides in this tournament is to get the ball from back to front with blistering pace and no side in world football showcases a talent for the style more than the current Chile squad with Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez spearheading their attack.

The only drawback to feasting your eyes on such a spectacle of pacey, frenetic football is the time difference which means most games will be played at 00.30am at the earliest. If you are a night owl you are in for a very special treat.

Whilst the world cup offers a rare insight into many sides and players you would not always be able to see, it cannot offer the quality of games played in the Copa America. Every game, it would seem is played as though each side’s life depends on it. Absolutely nothing is left on the pitch.

As well as providing an opportunity to see established super stars such as the Barcelona front three playing for their respective countries, the tournament showcases future raw talent. Make no mistake Premier League sides will have sent their scouts here on mass and it would be no surprise to see some previously unheard of players lining up for sides across the country next season.

Despite their humiliation at the hands of Germany at last year’s World Cup, this tournament offers Brazil the chance of redemption. They can banish the awful memory of that semi-final defeat on home soil with a win here in Chile. Brazil will always attract viewing figures; they are a far more robust side under Dunga and still the samba kings whilst in Neymar they have a successor to Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo’s crown.

Then there is Argentina and Messi. The little magician is back to his frightening best after finally overcoming his injury problems. He is due a big performance for his country and given how he finished the domestic season who would bet against that happening in Chile?

In spite of the late nights to come there is plenty to look forward to in this tournament over the next month. Your boss probably won’t thank you for it but missing out on a few hours of sleep has got to be well worth it. Let the football fiesta begin!