The Premier League – the Way Forward?

Technology in the game needs to be brought in as an overall package of measures and not in a piecemeal, random way. Emphasis should be placed on dealing with dissent, simulation and making the job of the referee and his assistants easier.

Dissent in the Premier League could be virtually eliminated overnight with the introduction of miked up referees. Foul-mouthed rants and incessant whining will cease as the players will be only too aware that their lucrative sponsorship deals will be lost if they project the wrong image. This has certainly been the experience in the NBA in the US. It is inevitable that if you are aware that your every word is being transmitted then you are more likely to be respectful in what you say than otherwise.

Simulation is a huge problem in the game and is something that should be addressed as a matter of urgency. It is very difficult for referees to judge this (without the help of TV replays) in the context of a fast team sport with physical contact, but that is no reason to throw our hands in the air and give up. Diving should be subject to retrospective action and the Premier League should be in the vanguard on this. A few incidents a week can be looked at by a body, similar to the dubious goals panel, who can sit in retrospective judgement. In cases that are flagrant cheating with no room for doubt, the book should be thrown at the miscreants. A standard 4 match ban should ensure that a star striker is not tempted to throw himself at a leg in the area in a tight game in the title run in. Also if players are officially branded a cheat then it is not hard to imagine the potential damage to their image rights income flow.

The introduction of goal-line technology is a no-brainer after Bloemfontein and should be introduced in the very near future, whether the preferred option is a chip in the ball, cameras with instantly reviewed video replay or a full Hawkeye setup is for FIFA to discuss for 3 years over expensive dinners, but the Premier League should be willing to help with the trials. Extending technology beyond this would lead to the action being fragmented, thus unnecessarily interrupting the flow of the beautiful game and strong voices within FIFA will resist this strongly. FIFA have announced the optional introduction of  two goal-line officials, surely a retrograde step, but indicative of the current thinking to kick the issue of video evidence into the long grass. UEFA have announced that a 5th and 6th official will be used in their competitions this season. A major problem with technology, FIFA constantly tell us, is that football is a simple game and should be the same at all levels, so those playing on Hackney Marshes play the same game as the top stars. It seems to have escaped their notice that despite the respect campaign it is almost impossible to find three officials, yet alone five, at the amateur level. The professional refereeing pool will be severely stretched if this is instigated in the Premier and Football Leagues and it surely would make sense to use older more experienced refs as the goal-line judges by raising the retirement age for these largely immobile officials. This solution simply will not stand any serious scrutiny. Let us hope that the progressive thinkers hold sway in the discussions that will ensue in the coming months. 

It is hard to imagine that in the next two decades we will not be watching football on a hand-held device of sorts. The mobile phone football-watching revolution has largely been a damp squib because of the limitation of screen size, but with the advances in screen technology and the development of the iPad this could be a significant part of the football viewing experience in the future. Also 3-D advances will enhance the experience and be used, unquestionably, to extract more revenue from football fans. These revenues will continue to be largely spent on player’s wages as it is hard to see a salary cap that would have to be a European, if not worldwide, initiative and therefore incredibly difficult to negotiate, enforce and police. Certainly this is a task beyond the current UEFA hierarchy.

Manchester City will become a big player in the Premier League during the next decade and beyond if their initial forays into the transfer market are anything to go by. The most startling example being new £24 million signing Yaya Toure. He is reportedly being paid an astonishing £220,000 a week. This is an indication of the naked ambition of the new ownership, as it must be said, frankly, that Yaya is not the finest player on the planet. He is a defensive midfielder and was unable to hold down a place at Barcelona, where Busquets was preferred, but City have splashed the cash to the tune of a total package price of £79 million including transfer fee, bonuses and wages. City will raise the financial bar to such an extent that Chelsea and particularly debt-ridden United will have to find a way to respond or perish. Liverpool face a couple of seasons that are critical to their survival as a big-four team, as they need to get back on the Champions League rails quickly or resign themselves to mid-table mediocrity for a generation or as a worst case scenario complete financial melt-down.

The introduction of the 6-5 rule to increase the home-grown player ratio has been touted by FIFA and the potential effects on the English game much discussed. However it is illegal in the EU and as such is very unlikely to be enforceable. The problem that stops young players from developing in England is not the availability of mediocre talent from overseas, but the restrictive price of young talent in this country. Why would any manager who valued his job, buy a promising youngster from Millwall, when a proven international performer was available at Porto for the same price? Lower league clubs need to sell talent on to survive and are prone to overcharge their Premier League rivals, but the top-flight clubs are perceived as at fault. It is not as cut and dried as that. If there was a cap on the amount you could ask for young players, would that be the solution? It may well be, but the likes of Crewe would very probably go to the wall and no-one wants that. 

That England should be awarded the World Cup finals in the near future is beyond doubt and the boost to this nation and our league incalculable, but if they fail in their bid for 2018, it is hard to see any chance before 2030 with the likelihood that Africa and South America will take their turns in the natural scheme of things. Indeed it could be a longer wait as the influence of the American dollar and the marketing potential of the States make another ‘World Cup of Soccer’ a distinct possibility. To describe the 2018 English bid as shambolic would be flattering and the bid team in Moscow are handily placed coming into the final straight, we can only hope that the ‘Beckham factor’ kicks in.

Sean Mathias

 



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