All Stars Get No Stars!
Chelsea’s American owner: Todd Boehly has suggested the Premier League learns a “lesson from American sports” and create a North vs South All-Stars game. So far his proposals have been dismissed and met with recoil and derision from fans, pundits, and Premier League managers. Could it ever really work? Or should Mr. Boehly be waiting until he understands our game, for what it truly is, before he starts messing with it?
So far, Gary Lineker, Jurgen Klopp, and Gary Neville have been amongst the more notable objectors to pour scorn on the idea. In fact, Neville went as far as to say: “US investment into English Football is a clear and present danger to the pyramid and fabric of the game. They just don’t get it and think differently.” Which as much as anything was likely a thinly veiled attack towards the Glazers, who own his beloved Manchester United.
However, he does have a point, and Boehly or anyone else that buys into English football should, first, understand this:
The Institution of Football
Our game is over 150 years old. Its popularity has never waned, it has only grown. This tiny nation is home to 92 football league clubs along with Non-league and Grassroots teams, and that’s just for the men’s game. The women’s game is ever-growing in popularity and structure whilst continuing to attract some of the best foreign talent. The national side has just been crowned European Champions.
Football in this country is an institution. The very fabrics of towns, cities, and communities are intertwined with its rich history and passion. Supporters are protective of their clubs as it provides them with something to identify with, to be a part of – a sense of belonging.
Unlike any other sport, Football is built on Tribalism. Fierce rivalries have been established throughout the years, built on the raw emotions of love and hate passed on by forefathers. Its frenetic pace, combative nature, and tendency to produce ecstasy often provokes primitive emotions in those that follow it.
The chants, the anthems, and the call to arms are sung by fans in their thousands lauding their own and goading their opponents. Spurred on by the baying crowd, the troops on the pitch can often become embroiled in the emotion of it all. Pushing, shoving, and tackling, they engage in a frantic battle for victory and 3 points.
This is football, this is the Premier League, an exciting, global brand watched by millions. A product that attracts the world’s best talent, it produces incredible financial rewards for those involved and what it cannot accept is being diluted by the way of irrelevant exhibition matches that will simply hinder the already congested football calendar.
As Gary Linker rightly says “we already have All-Star games. They are called internationals.” When domestic rivalries are set aside and we come together as a Nation. Again, particularly in competition, these games stir feelings of pride among supporters and for some sparks a strange nostalgia. Still dwelling on the victories of the two world wars, hooligans see a trip abroad as their opportunity for a D-Day re-enactment. Because like it or not, for some, football is a war and not something to be interfered with.
A Premier League All-Stars game has no value to players or supporters. Nothing is at stake. It would be played at a pedestrian pace like a testimonial match and even then it’d still hold lesser meaning.
A Non Event
How seriously is it expected to be taken? Would the players that are chosen be expected to join a training camp with their respective teams? Who would coach them? There are often tugs of war between club and country for the custody of their players for international friendlies. How likely are these clubs to release their prized assets for a non-event like an All-Stars match? A non-event that will subsequently struggle to garner much, if any, interest from even the most ardent of supporters. Could a Manchester United fan really relate to their Northern side given they’d have to share it with the likes of their sky blue counterparts and Liverpool?
Then there is the issue of a calendar already teeming with fixtures in the league, domestic cups, and Europe. Players only get a short break to jet off on holiday before coming back to take part in pre-season and then promptly resuming with competitive matches. Where does one shoe-horn this match?
It has been mooted that it should replace the Community Shield, the season’s curtain raiser that already provides for charity and lower league clubs. “It is a final” as Jurgen Klopp has pointed out. A trophy (or shield) and medals to be won. It represents a chance for the winners to lay down a marker on the eve of the new season and awaken that winner’s mentality.
We shouldn’t also forget Boehly’s suggestions for deciding relegation when as it stands, can be just as enthralling and nail-biting as a title race.
Todd Boehly and his co-owners are proven and highly successful businessmen. They have shown themselves to be more than capable of running a sporting model or few. Chelsea Football Club and its followers can be sure it’s in capable hands.
However, it is just that. They own a football club, not football itself.
Perhaps getting retired players or celebrities to play would be a more acceptable approach to his All-Stars vision but trying to unpick and re-stitch a sport followed by an already tightly knit fanbase probably isn’t the right way to go upon your introduction to the game.
Gary Neville says they don’t get it so perhaps a visit to a North West Derby, or even a trip up to Scotland for an Old Firm match, is in order. Then just maybe they’ll get a better understanding of why our game doesn’t need their interference.
Let us know what you think on our Twitter page: @aftermatchftbl. Is a Premier League All-Stars match a good or bad idea? Is Boehly being innovative or interfering?