In these challenging economic times, it is either encouraging or unsettling to observe the way that English and European clubs can still continue to spend vast amounts of money on new players, and even explore new sources of potential revenue to help them push on to that elusive next success.
However, such actions have come at a price. Arguably—particularly in the Premiership—the league has never been less competitive at the top, and many clubs exist in real financial peril.
TV money keeps many clubs afloat—but for how long will BSkyB be able to offer such outlandish sums for coverage that is becoming less and less engaging?
Looking ahead, then, it seems highly probable that something about the infrastructure of football will have to change. Perhaps when the time comes it can learn something from the sports across the Atlantic—those that seem to operate on a wholly more stable financial, ethical, and entertaining footing.
Below are just five potential US-influenced changes that could improve the sport:
1) The Salary Cap
In many ways, European football—and the Premier League in particular—has already learned a lot from the NFL about the art of promotion and expansion. While the much-discussed “39th Game” is yet to happen (unlike gridiron’s International Series), the reality is that it will surely materialise sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, perhaps football would do well to take another leaf out of America’s game, and adopt a salary cap.
The reasoning—especially in such financially insecure times—is sound. A salary cap would level the playing field amongst European clubs, and hopefully end the ever-increasing monopoly on trophies that just a handful of clubs possess.
Even better, limiting the salary cap to a percentage of the club’s income would ensure that all teams run on sound economic principles, and would prevent the unfair advantage created by billionaire foreign owners and their “soft” loans.
With all this in mind, arguably baseball’s version of the salary cap would fit best. Applying a luxury tax on clubs that break the salary cap would allow the teams with greater incomes (e.g. Manchester United) to spend some of their money gained, but the fine they would then have to pay to the league (which would then be re-distributed amongst the cap-abiding clubs) would ensure that the playing field remained as level as possible, allowing the smaller clubs to still attract top players.
How the transfer fee mechanism would fit into this system is more difficult to assess, but if clubs are limited by their wage bills then it is unlikely they will be able to complete the same number of multi-million pound transfer deals without the requisite multi-million pound player wages.
A redistribution of footballing wealth would be inevitable.
2) The Distinction Between “Personal” and “Technical” Fouls
A doff of the cap to Paul Gardner of World Soccer Magazine (a man I have not always agreed with) on this idea. In recent times, the rise in dissent and cynical fouls in football has gone unnoticed by very few people. But for the referees, doing something to counter it has proved more difficult.
Following basketball’s lead by creating a distinction between types of fouls (technical and personal) could provide the answer. At the moment, a player who takes his shirt off while celebrating a goal (technical) is likely to receive equal punishment to a player who goes in late and high on an opposition striker (personal).
This is quite clearly wrong. So why not create a distinction?
For example, it could be possible to allow players four technical fouls (dissent etc.) before dismissal, but just two (depending on severity) for personal fouls. That way, perhaps players will concentrate less on shackling their opponents, and more on getting their own creative juices flowing.
3) The Video Challenge
It is commonplace in tennis. It arguably first found favour in cricket. It is now an integral part of American football.
The video replay has permeated almost all the mainstream sports that could benefit from it, and FIFA’s reluctance to embrace the modern technology is a stance that should change.
Following the system as it works in the NFL, allowing club managers to challenge a referee’s decision (or lack thereof) at the next available dead-ball situation would ensure that questionable judgments (Stuart Atwell’s “ghost goal”, anyone?) could be overruled by a TV-assisted fourth official.
In the modern game, where managers’ careers can hinge on the decision of the man in black, they at least deserve the right of appeal.
Limiting the number of challenges to three a game, and removing a substitution for every failed challenge, would ensure the privilege was not abused. And maybe, just maybe, it would finally silence those managers so happy to blame the referees for their side’s shortcomings.
4) The Commissioner
The Football Association is hardly the most popular of organisations with fans and clubs alike—which is no mean feat. Years of poor decision making and woeful demonstrations of weakness has eroded its power to the point where, in all honesty, the bigger clubs seem to be able to run riot.
So bad is the situation that Sir Alex Ferguson was last month named the most influential person in British sport by a prominent daily newspaper. What does that say about the integrity and impartiality of the Premiership?
In this respect, restructuring the organisation to create a Commissioner could be beneficial.
In American sports, the Commissioner is the powerholder in the sport he heads. What he says, goes. Cross him at your peril.
He hands out fines, and oversees the sports administration. Given enough power, he would quickly be able to ensure that the likes of Ferguson and Rafa Benitez refrain from lambasting the FA’s fixture scheduling to the press, amongst other frequent sideswipes that demean the game’s organisation.
More importantly, he would be able to move the Premiership in the best direction for all concerned—not just for the benefit of the “Big Four” that currently seem to instigate change.
5) The Hall of Fame
Believe it or not, Britain already has a football Hall of Fame, at the country’s National Football Museum. Unfortunately, it is a completely different animal to the likes seen in North America.
For a start, David Beckham is already in the British version of the HOF, despite still being an active player in both domestic and international football. His legacy is yet to be cemented, and yet he has already been immortalised. Interesting.
Furthermore, the HOF was only introduced in 2002, and yet already has over enshrined over 40 members.
Devaluing the award—or making up for lost time? Perhaps the jury is still out.
Whatever the case, an end of season HOF celebration—like the kind seen in the NFL and other top American sports—would be a great chance for the sport to recognise those that have brought the sport to where it is today. Inducting four or five retired players in front of a TV audience every year would give both the players and the fans another chance to recognise the achievements of yesteryear—and perhaps force those young fans who idolise the latest superstar winger to realise that, hey, the old boys could play a bit too.
Yes, it may be harder to implement than in America, but it is somewhat ironic that a country that is so often criticised for its lack of history is so much better at remembering and lauding its sporting past than a country that prides itself on such tradition.
And Finally, One From Rugby Union…
6) Reward Goalscoring
As the number of goals scored in tournaments and leagues continues to decrease as coaches place an ever greater premium on defence, inevitably the quality and excitement of football has also begun to decline, especially—and most disappointingly—in the biggest and most significant matches of all.
A system of bonus points, as the Guinness Premiership so gainfully employs for its egg-chasers, could prove the perfect antidote. If a point was awarded for every goal scored—meaning a 3-2 defeat would be more beneficial than a 0-0 draw—then maybe, just maybe, we might see teams start with more attacking intent.
And wouldn’t that be great?
So there you have it, just a few potential changes that perhaps the EPL, and football in general, might do well to adopt. As it is, the bigwigs probably only have eyes for two—the controversial game abroad, and the removal of relegation (preserving the money-making ability of a privileged 20). But would both changes really be in the best interests of the game?
Any other American sporting elements that football could adopt? Let me know in the comments below!