10 Predictions for the Next 10 Years in English Football
The Noughties was a good decade for English football—indeed, some would say it was a great one.
The Premier League established itself as the most popular and lucrative competition on the planet, attracting star players and increasing the quality of football on display to an ever growing audience.
The next decade—is it the Teenies, the Tennies, or something else?—has the potential to be equally groundbreaking, with England likely to host a World Cup and many respected officials in the sport widely predicting the emergence of a European Super League.
In this slideshow I will take a brief look at just ten changes I believe will come into effect by the time 2019 draws to a close.
Still no video replays...
...and so still a lot of controversy to discuss down the pub.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter invokes the ire of fans for a lot or reasons, but in light of the recent Thierry Henry affair perhaps the issue he gets most heat for is his insistence on blocking the introduction of TV replays to the game.
Most other team sports — almost all with far smaller budgets, audiences and 'stakes' than football — now regularly employ state-of-the-art video methods to ensure decisions are correct and miscarriages of justice do not happen.
FIFA, however, have steadfastly refused such a move in football—and will almost certainly continue to do so.
Arguably, that is justified. One of the beautiful aspects of football is that it is a game that is intrinsically the same from grass-roots level right through to the World Cup final—the same shaped ball, pitch and goal dimensions, and number of players.
Utilising technology would destroy that—and not just between the professional and amateur games. Once it has been decided who will pay for the technology in the Premier League (you can bet clubs will resist footing the bill, as will the Football Association or Sky), who will pay for it to be deployed in the Championship or Leagues 1 and 2?
Their audiences might be smaller, but they are no less deserving of accurate officiating. A situation like we currently see in cricket, where the host broadcaster or international games decides which technological aides (Hawkeye, the Snickometer, Hotspot) are available to the third umpire, should never become a part of the beautiful game.
At the moment, however, video technology would almost certainly only cater for the biggest and most expensive games—which is not what football is all about.
Until that changes, and such technology becomes affordable enough to be deployed at all professional levels (which will surely take ten years), then FIFA are perhaps right to resist the desire for change.
A major club goes bankrupt, and football finally wakes up...
...but the Premier League keeps making more and more money.
Something of a shoo-in, arguably, what with Portsmouth’s current travails with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HRMC) and their problems playing debts of around £3.5 million.
While the South Coast club will doubtless survive this particular scare (at the minute, every 'big' club seems to have umpteen 'get out of jail free' cards), eventually this decade a Premier League club will fill foul of the culture that dictates clubs must spend right up to (and sometimes beyond) their means in order to maintain their position in the league.
With the 20 Premier League clubs currently a combined £3 billion in debt, it is a scenario that surely cannot continue for too much longer—especially as Michel Platini wants all teams in European competition to be debt free by 2012.
Clubs lower down the footballing pyramid have long fallen foul of such financial problems (Luton Town being a perfect example) to shamefully little concern from clubs, chairman and administrators at the highest level. It will be interesting to see the reaction when crisis finally, inevitably, hits one of the ‘big’ boys.
Perhaps then football will finally wake up to its house built on sand. What is worrying, however, is that in the meantime countless lower league clubs might go under, with only their long-suffering fans to mourn them.
African players go from strength to strength...
...and become a force to be reckoned with in international competitions.
In recent times, it has become as predictable as the World Cup itself—every four years Pele tips an African team to win the tournament.
The reality of course, is that once again Pele is about 15 years ahead of his time. African countries have a smattering of truly world-class players; Enough to form a formidable All-Continent side but not enough to make them genuine World Cup contenders.
With infrastructure and organisation also a problem systemic to the continent's game, it would take a performance of epic individual proportions if an African side were to come away with the World Cup trophy in South Africa next summer, or in four years time.
Towards the end of the decade, however, that might change, as the generation of players inspired by the examples of the likes of Didier Drogba and Michael Essien begin to emerge, aided in their development by the greater amounts of aid and financial backing given to footballing academies in certain African hotspots.
Most of these academies are run by Europeans, however, and it is unlikely the stars of the future will ever play in their domestic leagues. But they will head to Europe in greater and more developed numbers than they do now, and eventually reach a stage where their national teams become a match for any side in the world.
English clubs relinquish their grip on the Champions League...
...with France and Germany poised to capitalise.
One the face of it, English football dominated the European game during the Noughties. English teams made up six of the twenty Champions League finalists of this decade, and all of those came from 2005 onwards.
In the process, members of the 'Big Four' became the teams to avoid for all the other major nations across Europe (the exception being Barcelona, although even they had their troubles from time to time).
Such a period of domination will not last however, which is disappointing as English teams only managed to win two of the finals they were involved in.
Both Manchester United and Chelsea might continue to compete for the next few years, but eventually their constrained finances (as both clubs, and the English Premier League as a whole) will cause them to lose competitiveness.
Manchester City might have the financial might to wrestle their way to a similar level, but they will do well to compete for the Champions League on a consistent basis in the next few years.
Who will fill the gap? Spanish teams will remain strong, but perhaps France will re-emerge as a top-tier European league. Both Bordeaux and Olympique Lyonnais are looking strong this season, and with slightly relaxed immigration laws (from former colonies, at least) are perfectly placed to take advantage of the ever-growing African talent pool.
If they can find a way to balance out the financial disparity between them and England, Spain and Germany (another league that looks perfectly positioned to excel in future seasons) then UEFA President Michel Platini might have even more reason to be smug in seasons to come.
Individually, the decade will belong to Aaron Ramsey...
...talented midfielder primed for the big time.
Ponder this fact—come the end of the next decade, Aaron Ramsey will have just turned 29.
If his final performance of 2009, where he was instrumental as Arsenal breezed past Portsmouth, is a sign of things to come, Ramsey is set to take the next 10 years by storm.
It's easy to forget, but the young central midfielder has barely started on the journey that will be his career. Yet he is already a competent performer in one of the most technically demanding teams in world football, only kept from more regular starts by the presence of one of the most gifted players in the world.
When Cesc Fabregas—undoubtedly the star midfielder in the league this season—says he cannot afford to relax as he is afraid Wenger will replace him with Ramsey, that is as high a compliment as a young player can receive.
But it is not misplaced. The former Cardiff City prodigy looks accomplished beyond his years, benefiting from playing ‘the Arsenal way’ with incisive passing and enviable technique.
The English media spent much of the last decade lamenting Ryan Gigg’s nationality, noting how perfectly he would have solve England’s left-sided problem.
As Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard reach the end of their respective careers, expect them to spend much of this decade rueing the same issue about Ramsey.
A non-English team will grace the Premier League...
...but it won't be Glasgow Celtic or Rangers.
Wait, what?! Believe it, because it will happen—and it won't be one of the Old Firm sides.
Both Celtic and Rangers might be flirting with the prospect of joining the Premier League, but even as faster and better transport links make such a move logistically quite simple, the reality is a European super league is likely to be developed instead.
While that might take a good few years yet, that still leaves plenty of time for one of the Welsh sides currently thriving in the Championship to make the step up.
The Noughties will not be looked back on too fondly by fans of Welsh football, with the highlights (beating Germany at the Millennium Stadium) outweighed by the near-misses (losing to Russia in a Euro 2004 playoff) and lowlights (failing to get anywhere near qualification for Euro 2008 or the 2010 World Cup).
But that might all change in the next ten years. With Aaron Ramsey at the forefront of a group of talented young players that includes the likes of David Edwards and Wayne Hennessey (both Wolves), Gareth Bale and Chris Gunter(both Tottenham), John Toshack has a core of young players that have to potential to develop into players that could find a place in many international sides. Given the right manager — and an advantageous qualifying draw — a first major tournament appearance since 1976.
But it is at domestic level where progress will most likely be made. The Premier League has yet to have a Welsh side grace it, but that should all change in the next ten years with both Swansea City and Cardiff City knocking on the door to the big leagues.
One of those two great rivals should finally make that elusive step up in the very near future. The battle to be the first might just become one of the most intriguing of the new decade.
The end of the Saturday 3pm TV rule...
...recognises the fact that England is just a small part of the league's audience.
It’s perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of the current TV licensing laws surrounding the Premier League, that viewers in Asia and America can often watch their pick of the 3pm (GMT) Saturday kick-offs while fans from England have to wait until long into the evening to catch extended highlights of games.
As the league looks at ways to make even more money from their product, surely that will change in the near future, opening up Saturday afternoon matches to a wider (but probably subscribing) audience.
The fear, of course, is that showing such games will diminish attendances, as fans prefer to stay at home to enjoy the game. The product will also thus be diminished, as the site of empty stands and lack of any atmosphere at grounds will invariably turn away viewers over time.
Perhaps adopting a system similar to that used by the National Football League in the United States would work, where games are ‘blacked out’ (not shown) in the nearby area (i.e. where the home team's fans might reside) if the stadiums themselves are not filled to a certain capacity.
With TV channels paying teams more to show the games, ticket prices could be subsidised somewhat, allowing fans who do brave the elements to see games for less — and the atmosphere would still be great for those sitting at home.
Either way, it is ridiculous that British fans cannot watch certain domestic games while viewers from thousands of miles away can at the click of a remote. The remains of an archaic system, surely that will change in the next 10 years.
Re-emergence of the other cup competitions...
...gives middle-tier clubs something to strive for.
The demise of the UEFA Cup as a desirable trophy (and the complete loss of the Cup Winners’ Cup) is one of the great unpredictable outcomes of the last decade.
Back in 2000, Arsenal were losing to Galatasaray on penalties in Europe’s second club competition (pictured), and the year after that Liverpool defeated Alaves 5-4 to complete a cup treble (including the FA Cup and League Cup) that was widely lauded.
In more recent times, arguably a similar achievement would be less heralded, such has been the diminished value of all three competitions. But this decade might see them all return to some sort of prominence.
UEFA need the Europa League to succeed, for financial as much as sporting reasons, and the unexpected arrival of clubs like Liverpool and Juventus in the knockout stage this year will hand it some much needed and immediate legitimacy.
Whether it can build on that where it really matters (in TV audience figures) remains to be seen. But on the field, it would be nice to see England’s lesser lights viewing the competition as one worth winning, rather than an unnecessary distraction.
That has also been the case with both the FA Cup and League Cup in recent times, with attendances and viewing figures far lower than for Premier League games. But as clubs search for silverware to appease fans slowly becoming tired of self-preservation being the only target in the league, they will surely quickly return to fashion.
Either that, or die a sorry and little-mourned death...
English managers come back in vogue...
...but perhaps not in England.
It's one of the sadder aspects of the Noughties, that English football became so unsure of its own ability that it became convinced even its best was not good enough—continuing the Nineties trend forpreferring foreign imports to homegrown talent on the pitch, and foreign 'head coaches' to English managers.
But that might change in the next decade, as English managers begin to reassert themselves on the world game. Ironically it is Steve McClaren who has begun the trend, despite inflicting arguably the lowest point on English football last decade, as the Three Lions failed to qualify for Euro 2008 (pictured).
With a number of English players, who have spent most of their careers learning from the most astute foreign tacticians, nearing the end of their career and doubtless prepared to make the move into management, suddenly club chairman across the country (especially at the very top clubs) might not be so ready to entrust roles to foreigners.
And, if more follow David Beckham's (and, umm, Jermaine Pennant's) example by plying the footballing trade abroad, perhaps in time we might see a return to the days of English managers like Sir Bobby Robson strutting their stuff on touchlines throughout Europe.
Finally, another gay footballer comes out...
...and highlights the changes and advances in English society.
It’s either one of the greatest statistical anomalies in history, or one hell of a cover up.
Judging by the number of homo-erotic celebrations fans witness every week it’s probably the later, but the fact that Justin Fashanu (pictured, who committed suicide in 1998) is still the only openly gay player in professional English football’s long history is something that will surely change in the next decade.
Welsh rugby legend Gareth Edwards’ recent confession about his sexuality caused nothing like the stir some media outlets hoped it would, instead invoking a general sentiment of acceptance.
Perhaps that indicates that things are changing, even in one of the most macho of sports, and perhaps will encourage players of the round ball game to make a similar leap—although that currently looks unlikely.
Fear of abuse from the stands might play part in the reasons behind players keeping the personal lives under wraps, but that doesn’t explain why no-one comes out after they hang up their boots either.
Surely, over the next ten years someone will break the taboo. English football, and society, will arguably be the better for it.
So, there are just 10 things I believe might happen during the next decade. Of course, it's often easier to over-estimate the pace of change, but it will be interesting to see just how things are different by, say, the World Cup in 2018.
England should play host come that tournament—if the bid committee can finally get their act together—but whether they will win it is another matter entirely.
What do you think we might see in the next ten years of English football?