the state of the premiership 2009

- in good shape or not ?

15.02.2009

I have been a Spurs fan for more years than I care to remember and have particularly fond memories of the cup successes of the early 1980s, especially the UEFA success of 1984, when I was lucky enough to be at the Lane for the second leg of the final.  Anyway Iíve been giving a lot of thought lately to the state of the Prem in 2009 Ė partly as a distraction from Spursí own relegation worries (lol) Ė and for what itís worth these are my views.

First the good news Ė shell  loads of more money will be coming into the Prem as a result of the new TV deal.  Also, it looks likely that the stale year after year occupation of top four places by the same four teams could be under serious threat Ė from  Villa and maybe even Everton.  Indeed, due to the freak situation where much of the league is within about six or seven points of each other basically everyone has something to play for deep into the season. Also there are many world class players playing  in the Premiership Ė Torres, Robinho, Ronaldo to name but three.

So what are the negatives?  Well most clubs are living way beyond their means  and have massive debt.  Also more are owned than ever before by investors who care more about turning a profit than about the club and its fans, with this emphasis on money and prestige meaning that they look for instant success rather than gradual team building by an astute manager. Chelskiís sacking of a World Cup winning manager half way through his first season after backing him much less in transfer market than his predecessors and therefore not letting him mould his own squad sums up how farcical things have become. Normal football values have gone out of the window.  Spurs spent most of the January window trying to re-sign players who they had sold only within the last year, one of whom (Keane) had asked for a transfer before leaving.  Citeh themselves were successful in signing two players who although under contract had made it clear that they didnít want to play any longer for their  present club (Bellamy and Given). Much the same happened when Berbatov left Spurs last summer. 

Now as fans we naturally are mainly focused on our team being as strong as possible but never has money talked and contracts meant so little as is the case now.  How can managers except at the very richest clubs build a team when their star player can decide to up sticks at any time?  This window has seen West Ham, Wigan and Pompey all lose star players due to combination of the player simply wanting to go and money talking with most clubsí finances in a pretty parlous state due to overspending to try to keep up with the top teams and sometimes just to retain Prem status and owners of clubs being badly hit by the recession.

Indeed even at the richest and biggest clubs the pressure from club owners to succeed  means that, even if those clubs can attract and keep the best players, instant and repeated success is the only way that the manager will keep his job and give the club any continuity or direction.  And while this season has seen a welcome challenge to the usual dominance of the top four we are still a long way away from a club outside those four actually winning the league. And the money flowing from Champs League involvement (even more success in it as United had last season)  makes it very hard to see that changing. 

My other big gripe is that at a time when even under the present TV deal clubs are bringing in massive sums they are charging fans a frankly disgraceful amount in ticket prices. At a time of recession this needs seriously looking at. Indeed I think that Premier League admission prices have been much dearer than virtually every other European league for some time now.  Fans are in many ways part of the package which the Premiership markets for the likes of the Far East where the atmosphere at games is valued Ė ok I donít exactly expect us to be paid to attend games (lol) but the price of tickets does need seriously looking at.

I still love the Prem but there are a lot of aspects of it that need changing - fundamentally more clubs challenging at the top of the league would be healthiest change for the league in my opinion. But in spite of Villa thus far doing well this season it is the change which looks least likely.  Salary capping and limits on expenditure by clubs as happens in Rugby League or a draft system like in American football would create a more level playing field for all, but with football being the world game that it is it is very hard to see how such change could be made unilaterally, especially  with the likes of EEC directives to work around.  It is great that there are so many great players plying their trade in the Premier League but too many are at too few clubs in my opinion.

As I say, I love this league but there are problems and and in the midst of a recession how long will fans pay big admission prices to go and watch mid or low ranking Prem teams who have no real prospect of moving up to the next level ?  We are a long way from the days when Forest could win the old First and Second Division in successive seasons. 

For now Iíll just be happy if Spurs survive this turbulent season without being relegated (and Iím of course assuming that weíll win the Carling Cup !), but I do have wider concerns for the future not just of Spurs, but of this league.

Iain Bishop

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