How 'English' Is The English Premier League? Part III

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How 'English' Is The English Premier League? Part III
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In this final instalment of the series that examines ’How English is the English Premier League’ , I want to conclude the threads discussed in Part I and Part II of the article.

I’d like to firstly highlight one other important aspect of foreign influence in the English game following on from Part II – – and that is club ownership.

Foreign Ownership of English Clubs

As with players and managers, there were an insignificant handful of foreign owners through the early years of the EPL who either partially or wholly owned clubs.

The football landscape was changed beyond recognition in 2003 when Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch, bought Chelsea. Legend has it that Abramovich decided to buy Chelsea after seeing an aerial view of Stamford Bridge from a helicopter during a ride across London.

Apparently, he also wanted to buy other stuff but he was told that they weren’t for sale and that they belonged to the Queen.

What was significantly different was that unlike other foreign club owners who came before him, Abramovich pumped an obscene amount of money into the club – £700 million and counting to date.

His sole aim was to move Chelsea from the obscurity of mid to lower table mediocrity and turn them into the biggest football club in the world.

Assessing whether he has achieved his goal depends on which side of the bread you’re buttering, and I’m conscious this article isn’t about the rights and wrongs of foreign ownership per se – but more about the impact it has had.

However, I will say this– it’s a hell of an expensive way to try and achieve world domination, and I believe that Abramovich himself has acknowledged how unsustainable the path he took was.

Writing off a £350 million loss and turning another £350 million into equity in the hope that you might one day recoup it says a lot about a businessman who realises when it’s time to cut his losses.

Setting aside the rights and wrongs of this ’sugar daddy’ model of ownership, what Abramovich did was to open the flood gates for other wealthy individuals to venture into ownership of EPL clubs – with varying results I must add.

You have the owners who used leveraged finance like Hicks and Gillett of Liverpool and the Glazer family who own Manchester United; and you have the filthy rich Abu Dhabi Investment Corporation who pretty much print the money from the mint attached to the back of their office complex.

Without delving into the merits or not of this new breed of foreign ownership, the issue as relates to this article is that the influx of the obscene amounts of money pumped into football by these filthy rich folks has had a substantive impact on both the administration and the technical side of football.

  • Wages and expectations of player and staff remuneration have spiralled out of control because of what the rich owners are willing to accept as normal.
  • Other clubs have had to resort to the ’cheque book’ culture of management where unsustainable debt finance is used as a first resort to chase glory and survival in equal measure
  • The gap between elite clubs and clubs in the lower echelons of the English leagues has grown wider and wider.
  • The media and football establishment circus who only seem interested in self preservation and curving out careers for hacks and pundits have perfected the art of misguided and sensationalist cheer leading. Considering that this very media is the last bastion of imperialism – it goes without saying what influence they can have over the masses when it comes to shaping opinion and culture.

Conclusions

I want to conclude by drawing on the core thrust of this article series and reflecting how xenophobia creeps into a culture where the football establishment views what is ’foreign’ with suspicion

Again, I want to use Arsenal as an example to illustrate my point. In a recent article I wrote, I posed the question as to whether Anti-Arsenalism is a reality or a myth . This article will give you a bit more depth about where I’m coming from on this anti-Arsenalism angle.

The football media in general, and pundits and commentators in particular have openly shown bias to Arsenal for the simple reason that Arsenal is not ’English enough’ for their liking.

It’s become common practice to here openly xenophobic statements from journalists and presenters on the air waves and news columns like:

  • ”Arsenal will never win the EPL without an English backbone” (whatever that means)
  • ”I can’t believe Arsenal and their fragile glove wearing foreigners are not men enough to play in the snow” – this is in reference to the cancellation of a home tie against Bolton on Jan 6th 2009
  • ”These cheating foreigners have brought their dodgy ways of playing and we don’t want it in our honest game” – diving, anyone? Notwithstanding that the 2 saints of English football Gerrard and Rooney have perfected the art of diving that the same commentators call ’being clever’ .
  • Constant negative references to the number of foreign players in Arsenal’s line-up and reference to the falsehood that Wenger is responsible for killing English football.
  • Constant references to Arsenal allegedly not having – wait for this – ”Good old fashioned English grit and steel – or passion and commitment” , as if the attributes were a preserve of the English brand of football.

It’s ironic in that Wenger is castigated for not following the blue print of what is seen as quintessentially English – whether it be his training and development methodology, his brand and style of football, or his unwavering commitment to total football and the belief that you can win championships by playing beautiful football.

The net impact of the collective xenophobia bandied around in the name of self preservation of English football is that Arsenal have become the ’whipping boy’ of the ”…they are not English enough” band wagon.

To the establishment that is openly or inadvertently fighting for the endangered species that is the brand of English football, Arsenal are a visible representation of all that is supposedly killing English football.

The truth is that English football – in terms of quality, technique, development and style – really needs to move into the 21st century like other cultures have moved on. It’s a trait that needs instilling right across the board from the Hackney marshes to Wembley, and from the youth ranks of 10 year old kids to the senior national team.

In Holland for example, kids from the age of 9 or 10 are taught the virtues of total football. They’re taught how to caress and seduce the ball; how to use it well and how to enjoy the game.

They are taught the value of team spirit and mental attitude and they’re taught not to be afraid to express themselves out of a tight spot on the pitch. By the time these kids are senior professionals, technique and total football are a way of life.

In England, football still seems to be stuck in a time warp when it was cool to play a certain brand of football. The type of football that focuses more on physical strength and the push, kick, shove and run mentality to get the ball to the other side of the pitch.

When technique and skill are devoid, characteristics like grit, steel and graft are openly promoted in substitution as total virtues in the game.

Let’s face it, some of this ”we’re well ‘ard” mentality just promotes thuggery sanctioned as association football. The media for example, openly embraces teams that have pre-match team talks as ”the only way to play Arsenal is to get into their faces, up their noses and kick them” .

Off the pitch, such statements (printed in the press) can easily qualify as a crime of conspiracy to cause ABH or GBH.

I feel that the xenophobia then kicks in when ignorance takes over and the foreign influence is misguidedly seen as endangering English football as we know it.

My sense is that the English footballing establishment should go back to the drawing board and totally re-think how it approaches football. They might find out what ails English football and stop blaming the ’foreigners’ in the English league for the decline in the standards of English football.

To be honest, if there weren’t any foreigners in the English Premier league, it wouldn’t be the English Premier League.

The powers that be in the establishment wouldn’t do any worse than spending a week at London Colney with the Arsenal youth and reserve teams – which incidentally, is full of technically gifted and promising English players.
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