Monday, 2 March 2009

Glory of Secondary Importance to Football PLC

Last week both Spurs and Aston Villa played weakened sides in the UEFA Cup and were subsequently knocked out; and Manchester United played a weakened side in the Carling Cup Final against Spurs and only won on a penalty shoot out. The message is clear - no tournament apart from the Premiership and Champions League is worth a damn to English teams, because those are the only two tournaments worth any money. Forget that Spurs or Villa winning a European trophy would be worthy of glorious celebration from their fans: it doesn't earn the club enough money to be taken seriously. It's far more important to Villa to finish 3rd instead of 4th, or 4th instead of 5th, in the Premiership, than it is to win a European trophy. It's far more important to Spurs to finish 14th instead of 15th, 16th instead of 17th, than it is to win a European trophy. Why? Because of the cash cow of the Premiership. The potential celebration of the fans means nothing. In 20 years, in 50 years, nobody will remember that Spurs achieved 14th in the Premiership in 2009, but they certainly would remember if they won the UEFA Cup in 2009. But it's only fans who care about such irrelevancies as trophies these days: clubs, managers, owners, only care about cash flow.

The English Premiership is so money-swollen that no other competition can matter to EPL clubs, bar the Champions League. Man United's Carling Cup Final appearance meant nothing to them - key players like Rooney, Berbatov, Fletcher (!) and Van Der Sar weren't even named on the bench for such an inconsequential match. If winning a Cup Final means nothing to Man United where it doesn't come with a huge financial pay-off, there's only one conclusion: football is a tangential operation to Manchester United plc.

What has happened to football? When money becomes more important than glory, the integrity of the game dies. When AC Milan care more about mid-season glamour friendlies in Dubai than they do European trophies like the UEFA Cup - because guess which one is more financially lucrative - the whole structure of the game is left in doubt. This breathtakingly ignorant article by Paul Wilson in yesterday's Observer exemplifies the problem. I could honestly tear apart every single sentence he's written there. He claims that the UEFA Cup is a total waste of time, basically because it doesn't provide as much money to competitors as the Premiership or the Champions League.

Yes, and? The aim of a game of football is not to earn money; the aim is to score more goals than the other team and to win the match. Not every club in Europe is either a) in the English Premiership or b) in the Champions League. That doesn't make those clubs or their football meaningless. Paul Wilson's stance ascribes irrelevance to any club unfortunate enough to not have access to the most moneyed competitions in the world; so fool him, this so-called football journalist, who seemingly thinks football outside the very highest level is not worthy of anyone's time. I'm sure Zenit St. Petersburg, who won the UEFA Cup last year, were incredibly proud of their on-pitch achievements; the financial rewards were, as they should be, a secondary consideration. Sadly that's no longer the case for desperate English clubs whose only aim is to remain in the Premiership.

Well, if you can spend £17m on a player like David Bentley who can't even simply put a penalty on target, it's no wonder finances are tight.

Paul Wilson's views on the matter are scandalous, and it's sad that they were even deemed publishable. Clearly it was naive to think a football journalist might actually love the game of football.

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