This is the question posed at the first ever English Premier League Open Mic and my answer is simple: yes. I have been a staunch football follower for about 11 years, and in that short space of time, the game has changed massively, due to money.
The influx of finance from foreign investors has made the Premier League change almost beyond recognition. In 1997, there were very few foreign managers (let alone investors) in the league and there was a frightening amount of bright English talent, with the likes of Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham coming through the ranks at various clubs and filling us with such promise for England’s future.
Owners and investors merely remained in the background, and the managers were left to do their job. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were the men to envy as they built magnificent teams full of home grown heroes, playing exciting football. Liverpool, Leeds United, Blackburn, and Aston Villa formed part of a large chasing pack, again full of excellent British players.
Chelsea, Everton, and Newcastle were also threatening for European places. In season 1997/98, almost all clubs had a British manager, with the exceptions of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Christian Gross at Spurs, and Gianluca Vialli at Chelsea and Atillio Lombardo at Crystal Palace.
Three players also shared the Golden Boot that season: Dion Dublin, Chris Sutton, and Michael Owen. All of them English. Three English players taking the Golden Boot? The chances of that happening ever again are slim. A decade later, we see the increasing amount of foreign players, foreign managers, and foreign investment that has changed the game completely…and not for the better.
Don’t get me wrong, the English Premier League is probably the best league in the world, full of top class players, goals, exciting football and big names. It is also full of corruption, greed, and dishonesty. Some players are more concerned with money than playing football, Man City’s Robinho being a prime example.
Diving and theatrics is another ugly development of the league, with the likes of Ronaldo and Didier Drogba the main offenders that put referees in compromising positions and infuriate fans. The power balance is also beginning to shift, with owners and investors threatening to monopolise the game and exercise control over team affairs.
This is precisely why Kevin Keegan and Alan Curbishley left their respective clubs last week – they lost their right to be a manager. Billionaire investors such as Roman Abramovich and Dr. Sulaiman aim to attract the best players in the world and dominate the game, not realising that they are jeopardising their youth systems and making the Premier League a one or two-horse race.
The most powerful teams in the league at the moment are the ‘Big Four’ – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United. This is due to their huge fan bases, on field success, and financial power. The only way other teams can infiltrate the ‘Big Four’ is through foreign investment, as Man City has done with Dr. Sulaiman.
His big statements and promises of success have put the fans’ hopes up which turn heaps the pressure on manager Mark Hughes. However, what about clubs that can’t attract foreign investment? The gap between them and the big clubs will grow, and the league will become increasingly monopolised.
Since 1997 Leeds United rose to the dizzy heights of the Champions League quarter finals then plummeted to the depths of League One, thanks to money troubles. Leicester City and Wimbledon (who were both Premier League clubs in 1997) also went into administration, and countless others have followed suit due to their struggle with finances to keep themselves running.
The football stories that mainly make the headlines nowadays are to do with greedy players, undermined managers, and power-crazy owners. Football has become a mere side show for the dramatic off-field shenanigans at clubs, and it is all thanks to money.
I can’t see the state of the game getting any better, so all we can do as fans is support our team and watch the matches, because unless we have a few billions stashed away, we are powerless to do anything else.
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