Thursday 21 September 2017

James Lawton: High time for some payback from football's mega bucks

Premier League pockets all the money but what happened to the need for respect

Van Gaal proved, apart from the fact that, despite his imposing coaching record, he can play an ass quite as profoundly as his most formidable protege, Jose Mourinho, that he too is part of a culture which has apparently removed any serious requirement of self-analysis, and still less self-criticism.
Van Gaal proved, apart from the fact that, despite his imposing coaching record, he can play an ass quite as profoundly as his most formidable protege, Jose Mourinho, that he too is part of a culture which has apparently removed any serious requirement of self-analysis, and still less self-criticism.
James Lawton

James Lawton

However you cut it, and maybe most outrageously in proposed parachute payments of £100m for its three relegated participants, the Premier League's five billion TV bonanza inevitably leaves one huge question on an extremely dishevelled table.

You might, in the inflationary circumstances, value it at around the 64-million-dollar question. It surely asks if ever so much has been spent on quite so little.

Oh yes, there is plenty of individual talent. There is no Ronaldo or Messi, the world's two best players by some distance, but there is Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa, Machiavelli in shorts, and on his more committed days Yaya Toure is still capable of igniting any arena.

But then let's talk for a moment about bedded-in values, a sense of some basic understanding of what might reasonably be expected in return for such mind-boggling largesse.

THRILLING

The league's chief executive Richard Scudamore did it at some predictable length in the glow of the signed deal with Sky and BT. He talked about the world's most thrilling league even as Chelsea pushed a little closer to making the title race quite processional.

He spoke about the radiating benefits in the community even as Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson escaped free of official censure for a piece of physical aggression towards an opposing player that might well have led to prosecution had it happened in the street.

What wasn't addressed, once more, was the dispiriting sense that if anyone had anything to celebrate it was the agents gleefully measuring new margins of profit rather than those who remember the solemn promises made when the league was born more than two decades ago.

How many now remember the bedrock one that the new age of football would accept the obligation to foster the national game, develop its best resource of young, native talent?

There was going to be a streamlined, 18-club league and a new emphasis on developing international football. It wasn't a grab for gold but an investment in the future. Whose future? Whose values?

If you wanted a measure of the huge gap between promise and achievement you needed only to note the extraordinary reaction to the progress of Tottenham's Harry Kane, and to a lesser but still hugely encouraging extent, Liverpool's Jordan Ibe, in recent days.

Both displayed a maturity and a conviction which a discerning critic like Michael Owen, who once showed he had all the resources to make a significant impact on the world game, reacted to with something like wonder.

Here, he seemed to be saying, were two native-born players with the nerve and the nous to stand amid the legions of imports and proclaim their capacity to perform at the highest level. So it was wonder rather than some matter-of-fact noting of the effect of the all the years of ever-burgeoning wealth.

So, of course, as the record-breaking new income was announced, there had to be a most compelling question: where were all the others?

And, when you thought about it, where were all the value-for-money games which in the new financial regime will be rated at £10m a go.

Certainly not at Upton Park where Sam Allardyce mocked the paint-by-numbers game of Manchester United and Louis van Gaal felt obliged to defend himself by waving, absurdly, diagrams and pro-zone stats.

Van Gaal proved, apart from the fact that, despite his imposing coaching record, he can play an ass quite as profoundly as his most formidable protege, Jose Mourinho, that he too is part of a culture which has apparently removed any serious requirement of self-analysis, and still less self-criticism.

Such an obligation is now being trashed on a weekly basis by Mourinho, of course.

It is an arrogance at an industrial dimension and perhaps more than anything else speaks of a business much more attuned to taking rather than giving.

In America, which first gave the world the concept of the super-league of mega financial rewards, it simply wouldn't be tolerated.

Ten minutes after an NFL game is over, the locker room is free for media invasion. Three days each week the club is required to make available for interrogation every player on the roster and the head coach for home-town press and television.

Mourinho's cavalier behaviour this season would have earned a series of significant fines. Every aspect of the game is carefully policed.

All contracts are carefully monitored by an office full of lawyers before an agent receives as much as a plugged nickel. The Pearson incident would have been pounced upon in a way that would not have merely provoked some airy platitudes from the offending manager.

Every coach and player is answerable for behaviour which cast his game, his business, in a negative light.

Yesterday an NFL official was as aghast by current levels of governance in English football as was one of his predecessors when he was told the details of the transfer dealing which ended with the former Arsenal manager George Graham's suspension. Then, there was disbelief that an agent could act for all three parties.

MOCKERY

Now there is similar surprise that a Mourinho can make a mockery of his obligation to speak to the media and a Pearson can put his hands around a player's throat as he sprawls across him on the touchline.

Said the official: "You just couldn't imagine that happening without consequences in the NFL. Every employee is reminded that he works in an extremely profitable industry and that he has an obligation to protect its image among the people who ultimately pay all the bills - the public.

"That is what NFL regulations in the matter of public conduct is all about. It is in protecting the product. When a player or a coach misbehaves, he is damaging the future prospects of everyone's livelihood - and the public regard for something which draws a vast income.

"This isn't cowing to the media - it is recognising the right to know about the people to whom it gives so much support.

"Everyone in the NFL accepts the need for accountability, for bad behaviour, bad results. If you make an investment by buying a ticket or the right to watch games on television, you have the right to know what is happening at your club in your sport."

It is a policy that has maintained the NFL's wealth since the days before the idea of a Wayne Rooney earning £300,000 a week was quite beyond the imagination of English football.

Without the huge weight of foreign rights which amount to roughly half the latest Premier League windfall, the NFL still has a huge reason to protect its image. Their current deal with American TV networks, from 2014 to 2022, is for $39.6 billion (£25.7 million).

As their man said yesterday: "Yes, that's quite a bit of money - and quite a bit of responsibility."

Maybe one day such a penny, in all the cascade of them, might just drop a little nearer home - and before it is too late.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport