Monday, December 21, 2009

What Money Hath Wrought: Premier League Edition

I wrote a bit about this yesterday in a more reasoned capacity for the Pitch Invasion Sweeper, but this being my own blog, with its own grammatical errors, errors of fact, quotes without citations, photos without attribution etcetera, I'm going to dive in exactly the sort of way that doesn't win web awards.

It could be "anecdotal" (all meaningful truth in this life is based on anecdotal evidence—at this time of year in Toronto you accept the sun has risen on anecdotal evidence), but it seems to me the only supporters left on the entire planet who are completely unaware that, rather than an innocent competitive table featuring twenty teams competing on equal terms in a thirty-eight game home-and-away schedule, the Premier League is in fact a major global business concern in which the majority of revenue is derived from the continued, televised success of the same popular four clubs year after year; are supporters of those same four clubs.

Let's roll the clock back on the whole Mick McCarthy incident, when the middle-of-the-road Wolves manager charged with doing what many managers of his pedigree have tried and failed to do before him—namely, to keep his newly promoted side from falling ass-backwards back down into the Championship—decided to rest his first team against Manchester United mid-week in the hope of getting all the points against Burnley on the weekend (he did, btw).

Suddenly, there was a barrage of criticism lobbed at McCarthy. "You're ripping off the hardworking Wolves supporters," cried one, "you've denied those long-suffering fans from a chance at taking on one of the big boys" whinged another. The Premier League chimed in too, "asking" why Mick made ten changes prior to their 3-0 loss to United on Tuesday, a bit in the same way bankers content to hand out mortgages to people with dubious credit histories "asked" why so many people ended up foreclosing on their homes.

Let's be fair here; there were chants of "we want our money back" from Wolves fans during the reserve squad's game against United, but this was hardly black-armband slow-march stuff. I'd bet memories of Tuesday's loss have already disappeared with the fact Wolves, scraping bottom, are three more points the better after this weekend.

But this won't go away. That whingeing sound you're still hearing isn't coming from Wolves fans. It's coming from Arsenal supporters, Chelsea fans, even some deluded Kopites, who, rather than admitting like Arsene Wenger had the grace to after Tuesday's game—that they only care because title-rivals United got the points "for free"—are instead pushing the notion that fans of "smaller clubs" (a dead giveaway) are getting "ripped off" (says the banker from Crouch Hill with his Champions League package locked in the safety deposit box).

This is what has made my blood boil over the weekend, the presumption of the Big Four supporter that he or she knows what's best for Wolves fans in deciding what sort of team Mick should have put out, the same supporter who buys and then skips out on tickets for the Big Four Carling Cup matches featuring their club's reserve squad. "Yes, we want the Premier League to remain equally competitive on the day, look what happened this weekend," they tell me. Well yesterday's results were great, but we've seen similar results in every league season since 1992, and lo and behold, almost every year since then the same four teams have managed to grab the same four top spots. And the rate of relegation is still significantly higher for newly-promoted clubs too?

This my friends isn't "competition," at least in the traditional sense. No, this is more competition of the "market" variety, you know, free enterprise.

If you don't believe me, look at Manchester City. Now this is a club with no delusions about what "competition" means in a post-neoliberal age. With the efficiency of a quarterly report, Mark Hughes' firing was justified along lines more suited to a plant-closing. "Two wins in 11 Premier League games is clearly not in line with the targets that were agreed and set" reasoned representatives of Sheik Mansour, Man City's money-man whose wealth generation can be attributed to the business-savvy decision to be born with status in a country with oil under the ground ( little less apt perhaps than Roman Abramovic, who like many others knew how to take advantage of a little post-Soviet "shock therapy" to do the self-making for them, but you get the idea).

With experience in that sort of "market competition," the Sheik was made for Scudamore's Premier League. I'd say it's only a matter of a season or two before they strip Top Four status from downgrade Liverpool. Sure, some of the transfers have been duds, but then you just keep going until it works. Keep player wages high, get your hands into the European academies and reserves, promise parents a Kensington flat with commuter service to Manchester. With this sort of set-up, Hughes was a sort of earnest Fezziwig, always destined to get squeezed out.

What was a shock, as I wrote yesterday, was that he was kept around for the first half of the season. I wouldn't be surprised if even that was just a little PR move to keep fans and critics placated with the illusion that money prizes loyalty. That illusion is of the same genus as the belief it was somehow "unsporting" of Mick McCarthy to calculate the easiest and safest way to keep his team in the Premier League, and no, not for glory, but for Wolves' long-term financial stability. Or the illusion that it's inconceivable England's Brave John Terry would take ten thousand pounds in cash to give a private tour of Chelsea's training ground.

Yes kids, it's about the green. It's enough to make you yearn for the nervous innocence of Don Garber and the CBA.


Ted Harwood said...

Great post as always, Mr. Whittall. I can't argue with the logic of McCarthy in this case. I do have to admit, though, that there is a small part of me that wished that we lived in a (perhaps magical and impossible) world where even managers of smaller clubs in the Premier League could go balls-out the whole way. Sadly, though, not even managers of the big four can do that, although certainly they have more wiggle room than clubs on the cusp.

Jim said...

All good stuff. But what is more frustrating even than this wretched state of affairs is the fact that some of us were talking about this as long ago as 1989 - twenty years ago - when the Superleague, the first imaginings of SkyPrem were but a twinkle in Martin Edwards' eyes. Don't forget, all this came about because greedy First Division chairmen wanted to keep a) all their gate receipts for themselves and b) wanted to stop sharing their TV revenues with the lower divisions. 22 chairmen signed up for this - and now some of them are whinging about money ruining the game, while one or two or more - the Gartside cabal - are busy trying to devise an insurance scheme to prevent their mid-range club "doing a Leeds". Meantime, wages carry on getting stupider, agents keep getting richer and the fans become even more docile as the game becomes less interesting than the NFL i.e. than watching paint dry.

Lanterne Rouge said...

One thing that hasn't been mentioned in this affair is that it's very difficult to pick out the definite best eleven Wolverhampton Wanderers players. Of those who turned out at Old Trafford, we have a one time England squad player, Michael Mancienne, the best full back in last year's Championship, Kevin Foley and a man with 35 appearances for Ecauador, Segundo Castillo. McCarthy is still to settle on his absolute best XI and, like my own club Reading in our Premier League days, it could be argued that Wolves have 18 or 19 players who are much of a muchness, thus allowing for less hesitation when it comes to rotation. I agree that fans of the Big 4 should sit down and shut up, but I do have sympathy for those who forked out the 42 quid. Given I was walking down a street to visit a friend in Crouch Hill yesterday, I do feel a bit embarrassed to comment!