It’s a rich man’s league

Money speaks all lan­guages as foot­ball goes for broke

Townsville Bulletin - - Premier League Football -

Money talks louder than ever for the world’s favourite league. AN­GUS MacKIN­NON re­ports

IF it was not Ro­man Abramovich spend­ing $75.15 mil­lion on 30-yearold An­driy Shevchenko, it was Ash­ley Cole flounc­ing out of Arse­nal in a hissy fit over their ‘dis­re­spect­ful’ of­fer of a new con­tract worth $138,000 a week.

No sooner had the ink dried on a fore­cast-bust­ing new television deal than Dubai’s ac­coun­tants were por­ing over Liver­pool’s books with the aim of wrap­ping up a $1.13 bil­lion takeover of the five-times Euro­pean cham­pi­ons.

Money has never talked louder in English foot­ball than it did in 2006.

And with the en­hanced television cash that will kick in from next sea­son act­ing like a dose of fi­nan­cial vi­a­gra, never have the coun­try’s top clubs ap­peared so at­trac­tive to suit­ors from around the world.

By this time next year it is con­ceiv­able — even likely — that half the Premiership’s 20 clubs will be in for­eign hands.

If the Dubai bid goes through, Liver­pool will fol­low in the foot­steps of Chelsea, Manch­ester United, Ful­ham, Portsmouth, As­ton Villa and West Ham.

Ever­ton, Manch­ester City and New­cas­tle look good bets to take a sim­i­lar route in 2007 as global in­vestors scram­ble for con­trol of busi­nesses which have seen their out­look trans­formed by the prospect of shar­ing broad­cast­ing rev­enues that will ex­ceed $5.01 bil­lion over the course of the 2007/08, 2008/09 and 2009/10 sea­sons.

Arse­nal man­ager Arsene Wenger has warned that the in­flux of for­eign cap­i­tal threat­ens ‘ the soul of foot­ball’.

But the buy­outs of As­ton Villa (by Amer­i­can ty­coon Randy Lerner) and West Ham (by an Ice­landic con­sor­tium) this year have gen­er­ated few com­plaints from those clubs’ fans, while the hos­til­ity of most Manch­ester United sup­port­ers to Mal­colm Glazer’s 2005 takeover at Old Traf­ford melted away as re­sults im­proved.

United’s re­vival — which be­gan at the tail end of last sea­son — has served as a re­minder that the cor­re­la­tion be­tween money spent and suc­cess in foot­ball is not al­ways a di­rect one.

Given how eas­ily they can­tered to the 2005-06 ti­tle in May, it was wildly as­sumed that the costly summ e r a c q u i s i t i o n o f Shevchenko, Cole and Michael Bal­lack would make Chelsea ir­re­sistible for a third suc­ces­sive sea­son.

That could yet prove to be the case. Jose Mour­inho’s boast that United can­not match the depth of qual­ity in his squad is not an idle one.

But Shevchenko has been only a spo­radic con­trib­u­tor to the Chelsea cause while Bal­lack too has yet to re­pro­duce the kind of ma­raud­ing form on which he con­structed his rep­u­ta­tion.

United in con­trast have pros­pered largely on the strength of ex­ist­ing re­sources, the in­creas­ing ma­tu­rity of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Wayne Rooney be­ing com­ple­mented by the In­dian sum­mers be­ing en­joyed by the home-grown duo Paul Sc­holes and Ryan Giggs.

Even al­low­ing for the sched­uled short-term ar­rival of Hen­rik Lars­son in Jan­uary, United do look vul­ner­a­ble to in­juries dur­ing the ti­tle run-in.

But for the first time since Mour­inho’s ar­rival at Chelsea in 2004, the year is end­ing with gen­uine un­cer­tainty about the des­ti­na­tion of the ti­tle.

Most neu­trals will be pleased about that but the switch from a one-horse to a two-horse race will not be enough to as­suage con­cern about the gulf be­tween the top clubs and the rest, for whom a run of three de­feats can mean a lurch from chal­leng­ing for a place in Europe to the rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle.

The over-rid­ing im­perat i v e o f a v o i d i n g t h e fi­nan­cially calami­tous con­se­quences of a drop to the Cham­pi­onship was be­hind the pre-Christ­mas sack­ings of Iain Dowie and Alan Pardew at Charl­ton and West Ham.

B o t h m e n c o u l d jus­ti­fi­ably ar­gue that they should have been given more time, Dowie on the grounds that he had only been in the job for four months, Pardew on the strength of a record that in­cluded win­ning pro­mo­tion and tak­ing the Ham­mers to the FA Cup fi­nal.

There is also a worry that the fi­nan­cial fear fac­tor is mak­ing teams more cau­tious, re­sult­ing in the Premiership cur­rently pro­duc­ing the low­est num­ber of goals per game of any topf l i g h t com­pe­ti­tion i n Europe.

It could equally be ar­gued that the qual­ity of de­fend­ers is im­prov­ing in a league in which half the reg­is­tered play­ers come from over­seas.

But Ar­jan de Zeeuw, Wi­gan’s vet­eran Dutch cen­tre-back, thinks oth­er­wise.

‘‘When I first came here ev­ery­one played 4-4-2 and you knew what you were go­ing to get,’’ de Zeeuw said re­cently. ‘‘Now you see teams with one up front and five in the mid­dle most weeks. And one of the five will usu­ally be in the Claude Makelele po­si­tion, pro­vid­ing an ex­tra level of defence.

‘‘Ev­ery­one is more cau­tious now be­cause there is such a big gap be­tween the top three or four and the rest. Once you go be­hind against Chelsea they won’t let you back into the game, so teams are think­ing first and fore­most about how not to con­cede.’’

That might mean prob­lems lie ahead but for now the Premiership can bask in its sta­tus as the world’s favourite league.

SE­RI­OUS ROU­BLES . . . Chelsea’s $75.15 mil­lion man, 30-year-old Ukraine in­ter­na­tional An­driy Shevchenko, in ac­tion for the club

Ro­man Abramovich

WELSH MA­GI­CIAN . . . ever­green Manch­ester United for­ward Ryan Giggs in ac­tion against Ben­fica

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