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Shrink the Premiership


After Germany’s complete demolition of England yesterday there will be many post-mortems, starting with demands for the head of Fabio Capello. But the English players never once looked fresh, energetic and as if they were enjoying themselves. They came into the World Cup tired and stale after a season in which most of them had played some 60 games: not only far too many but far more than any other national football schedule requires. The English game is also weighed down with foreign imports. The results were all too obvious yesterday, with a thirty-something English team run off the park by a German team which is the youngest in the tournament and bounding with energy. English football lacks an upcoming generation like that because their place it would occupy is already taken by foreign professionals. If England wants to do better than this, it should cut the Premier League to 17 clubs (providing a 32-game season), restrict each club to two foreign players and abolish the League Cup.

This is not entirely guess work. Tim Noakes, the director of the Institute for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of Cape Town, has done thorough tests on the long-term fatigue suffered by sportsmen who are over-played and has shown what a major disadvantage this constitutes, with at least a 20 per cent fall-off in performance. In particular, Noakes showed that even though an athlete might be rested between games, get adequate sleep and remain fit, none of this could prevent the build-up of long-term fatigue over a season. Despite the greed of the South African Rugby Board and its tendency to arrange more and more international tours, Noakes’s warnings were heeded before the last rugby World Cup, and the national squad was given a protracted rest before the tournament. South Africa went on to win the Cup easily. However, for such lessons to be learnt and acted on requires that the sport’s governing body put the interests of the national team above that of the clubs. This is not an easy matter and what we seem to have ended up with in rugby here is that the interests of the clubs predominate most of the time, often producing tired national teams, but in a World Cup year the priorities are reversed.

In English football the clubs are far more dominant and many club bosses would faint clean away at the thought of the reforms suggested above. Fewer games and fewer foreign players mean lower incomes and lower wages. That in itself might be tolerable but the Premiership thus reduced might no longer command such a huge world-wide TV audience. That is what really drives the English game now and only determined government intervention could change things. On balance, English football would vote for a lucrative world class league over winning the World Cup.

Argentina, who strode through masterfully into the last eight, illustrate the opposite. They are now at least joint favourites to win the Cup but Argentinian league football is not famous, not that loaded with stars, and not on the world’s TV. The nation’s greatest players are scattered abroad and only come together on occasions like this. And it is difficult to look at the overweight, foul-mouthed figure of Maradona with his history of drug abuse and think that Argentina has particularly good management. Capello is by far his superior, though that may not save his job. But if England react to this failure merely by once again sacking the manager, spouting a lot of hot air but avoiding structural change in the English game they have settled for second best. Or perhaps 16th best.

Comments on “Shrink the Premiership”

  1. gharris says:

    “If England wants to do better than this, it should cut the Premier League to 17 clubs (providing a 32-game season), restrict each club to two foreign players and abolish the League Cup.”

    1. Cutting the Premiership to 17 clubs would concentrate all that cash in the hands of even fewer clubs. Not a good thing for club football, which let’s face it is more important to fans than the World Cup.

    2. Blaming immigration for England’s footballing failures is something that as far as I know even the BNP doesn’t stoop too. Besides, restricting the number of foreign players would be against EU law in the case of European players.

    3. Abolishing the league cup is a good idea though.

    “it is difficult to look at the overweight, foul-mouthed figure of Maradona with his history of drug abuse and think that Argentina has particularly good management.”

    Since when have being thin, polite and teetotal been top of the list of managerial skills? Judging by results, Maradona’s a hell of a lot better than Capello. It’s arguable that managers make next to no difference to a team’s performance, but if Maradona does make a difference it’s in inspiring his players to believe they’ve got what it takes to win (which Capello signally and fatally failed to do). All that hugging and kissing and patting on the bum and hopping about on the sideline – it may be unorthodox, but it seems to be working. I don’t know about strategy and tactics, but in terms of giving his players inspiration and self-belief, Maradona’s not only arguably the greatest player of all time but the greatest manager too. Incidentally (and prematurely, Germany could well knock them out in the quarters) has anyone before won the World Cup as both captain and manager? Viva el Diego!

    • Camus123 says:

      So how do you rate Carlos Dunga? Or J. Löw? Both suave, well-dressed, and very supportive of their players. The Brazil and German teams don’t play too badly in spite of the lack of bum-patting. Let’s talk again on saturday evening, when Germany have beaten Argentina 3-1. (You read it here first.)

  2. Martin W says:


    “has anyone before won the World Cup as both captain and manager?”

    Franz Beckenbauer (1974, 1990).

  3. Phil says:

    hopping about on the sideline

    Most unorthodox, for anyone who doesn’t remember the 1970s. All he needed was a camel-hair coat. (The outbreak of toilet-roll throwing during that game was also oddly nostalgic.)

  4. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yeah, well, I’ve done thorough tests on the fatigue caused by the England team looking like Edwardian cricketers cricket. This is what a proper team looks like.

    it is difficult to look at the overweight, foul-mouthed figure of Maradona with his history of drug abuse and think that Argentina has particularly good management
    Why should any of that affect his management?

  5. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Ha! “R.W.” stands for Bill. You can’t keep these things hidden nowadays, you know.

  6. Camus123 says:

    Now for some serious analysis. The World Cup works because basically Football is still a game that inspires enthusiasm among millions, and the FIFA moguls organise it quite well. (I still want to know how much they earn – especially Blatter – but these are secrets waiting to be unfolded.) Certainly one of the problems of English Football is too many games. Let’s combine the four (or is it five?) British teams and produce a side that has Scottish guts, Welsh wizardry Irish elan (Bring back Danny Blanchflower) and see what happens.

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