English Football is no longer a domestic affair in which teams play every week for the happiness of the locals. No, the English Premier League (EPL) is a global brand, in the same style as the NBA or the NFL. Clubs have a worldwide fan base, the matches are watched by millions all over the world, and the players are instant millionaires, again, in the same way as the American leagues.
But does the EPL offer the same quality as the other above-mentioned global leagues? From today's match, involving the two strongest teams in the country, Chelsea and Man Utd, I would argue it doesn't.
For a start, the underneath logic for the EPL teams is different from those in American sports. Whereas for the former, it is all about the result, for the latter, it is about the result while providing entertainment. In Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby argues that for the true fan, football is not about entertainment, but rather about suffering with defeats and celebrating victories. For entertainment there are theatres and cinemas. Football managers do think that way too.
Today, Alex Ferguson left on the bench Nani, Tevez, and Giggs, and Ronaldo only came on in the second half. Any of these players can provide the tricks and plays that make the highlights of any international network. But for Ferguson it was all about getting the result. He chose a more defensive team that actually ended up doing a good job for most of the match, even if not playing the most attractive football. Any local fan would agree with Ferguson that a draw at Stamford Bridge was more important than playing in an entertaining way. I'm not so sure the millions of football fans all over the world that watched the match as a neutral would share the same opinion.
The money and global visibility surrounding the EPL is no longer due to the local fans but to those neutrals that want to be entertained by Ronaldo's flicks and Tevez goals. They are pure consumers, looking for value-for-money.
In today's match most players were on 100k a week, much more than the average worker in the UK and certainly much more than what former football players in the same teams used to earn, even 10 years ago. Nonetheless, the football played on the pitch was in general poor, at times clumsy, certainly indistinguishable from many Division II and III matches that at the same time were being played all over the country.
When you watch an NBA or an NFL match you do expect to see and you do generally see, not only the best players in the business, but the best plays, great shots and huge entertainment. Basically, you expect to see the best playing at their best, doing what you think is impossible, reaching limits you thought unreachable. That hasn't happened today, and to be honest it rarely happens when these two teams meet.
I don't think the American sports logic can be fully applied to Europe or in this case to English football. Entertainment will, for the time being, not be as important as the result. But I do expect that someone that receives more in a month than most people in a life-time to be able to minimally justify why they are above that majority. The problem is that today I just saw 22 ordinary men running after a ball.