Friday, 26 November 2010

The State We're In: Why the latest criticism levelled at the Premiership needs to be acknowledged not ignored

There are two articles that have particularly caught my eye over the past couple of days. There is this one about the levelling out of the quality of the Premiership and this story about Carlos Tevez once again threatening to quit football in his prime.

To save you having to read them to understand what I am going to go on to talk about, here is, in my opinion, the essential parts of the respective articles. These are two quotes concerning the state of football in England (which is ultimately what each article is concerned with).

Zeljko Petrovic, Avram Grant's No. 2 at West Ham until he was sacked: "Everybody has great words for the Premier League but it is a myth... The Premier League is a crap league, it is nothing. In truth the level is shocking. Every team has just three good players. If you take those players out of the teams, then there are only players left who would not be playing in the bottom team in Holland. The Bundesliga is far better."

Carlos Tevez: "Football is only about money, and I don't like it. There are so many agents with really young footballers... it's awful, as these young players are not interesting in winning titles, they only want money. The young players think that they have won something in football because they have two mobile phones and a house."

Now these views are, of course, not representative of the footballing world. They are, however, indicative of the waning reputations of both Premiership football and footballers in the Premiership.

Petrovic's less than favourable view of the Premier League is undoubtedly distorted by his recent dismissal by West Ham. To put the quote in context, the Guardian's Paul Hayward was writing about how the Premiership has become far more open due to improvements from smaller combined with a faltering big four.

Ultimately, the big four no longer exists. With Tottenham and Manchester City now bridging the gap, Liverpool struggling and teams like Bolton exceeding expectations, the league, thankfully, no longer conforms to the predictability of just four teams competing in their own elite league while the other sixteen are left fighting for scraps.

The recession unquestionably impacted upon Premiership clubs. The money was no longer available clubs to draw in the the star players when needed and this has, to an extent, taken away the advantage the big clubs held over the rest of the league for so long. Whereas they once could afford the better players now they, like the rest of the clubs, are having to make the most of what they've got. The rather uninspiring strength-in-depth of many squads, as highlighted by the untested youngsters now making their way on to the substitutes bench, reflects this trend.

The new found fallibility of the big four comes as a welcome relief to most Premiership fans. Nevertheless, it illustrates Petrovic's view that the quality of the Premier League is in decline. The big teams have lost their dominance over both domestic and European competitions. Big name signings, excluding Manchester City's spending sprees, have largely dried up and the thinning number of ageing stars are being replaced by, as Tevez says, young players who “are not interesting in winning titles.”

Tevez's criticism too is almost certainly a little harsh. Like Petrovic though, he touches upon a genuine problem in English football, namely, the attitudes of the young up-and-coming stars. It is something I wrote about back in October when Ryan Giggs shared a similar sentiment. The money and fame that is thrust upon footballers still in their teenage years can only be of detriment to their growth both on and off the field.

The preoccupation that young players reportedly have with securing bigger wages and sponsorship deals detracts from their focus on what really matters – winning football matches and winning titles. Andy Carroll and Jack Wilshere, too of England's brightest young talents, have both faced police action this season for their behaviour off the pitch. They are not necessarily to be blamed though.

They are the products of a new footballing culture that has been created in England. A culture that places the tag of 'celebrity' on footballers and the attention, money and fame that this in turn brings is often too alluring for players to resist. Cameras are shoved in their faces and ludicrous sums of money are deposited into their banks accounts having a negative impact upon them as footballers and as human beings. This is, whether we like it or not, part and parcel of the modern game and the disillusioned words Carlos Tevez epitomises the problem.

This culture hinders England's ability to produce players of the required quality in the necessary quantity. With the big names no longer coming in and the new stars not emerging at a rate that the FA, or any England fan for that matter, would be content with, it is easy to understand why England's stronghold over European football five years-or-so ago has come to an end.

It need not be all doom and gloom, however. The example of Aston Villa's emerging core of young and exciting English talent is reason for genuine hope. Moreover, the very fact that the quality of the so-called big four is not what it once was has resulted in the Premiership being more exiting than ever as, to use the old sporting cliché, the playing field is becoming far more level.

The Premiership still remains in the top tier of world football, even if it is no longer at the very top. The current lack of excessive spending could be to the advantage of English football, too. If the media and fans in England can learn not to create and then destroy the reputations of young players with such speed and ease then green-shoots could appear.

There is a lesson to be learned from the quotes of Petrovic and Tevez which have prompted this post. Although they may be overtly critical, they ought not to be ignored. Their views are based on elements of truth which English football, whether it be the FA, clubs, press or fans, should acknowledge and attempt to correct. The climate, from my viewpoint, is becoming increasingly suited for these changes to take place or at least gain recognition. In the aftermath of the World Cup the inquiry has begun and these are just a few of the issues that now need to be addressed.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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