Lack of Irish firepower concerns O’Neill
The survival of the grassroots game is on the line as 127 FA council members prepare to vote on a sale
time to pick his spot and took it, but with just Kasper Schmeichel to beat, curled a shot wide. He should have scored, although perhaps it was best, on this occasion, that he did not given the uproar it would have caused.
“He was totally unaware, I’ve spoken to him and he did not know they were trying to put the ball out of play,” said Ireland manager Martin O’Neill. “I think we would have probably had to let them score one straight away if that had happened.
“We are trying to rebuild a little bit after the Wales defeat and the team looked solid, we’ve kept a clean sheet which is very important, but we are still trying to find a little more going forward.”
Neither team impressed in open play and became almost totally reliant on set-pieces for their goal threat. That is never a good sign, although Pione Sisto did hit a post in stoppage time for Denmark, cutting in from the left before trying to curl a shot into the far corner.
The visitors also came close early in the second half when Arter cleared Simon Kjaer’s header off the line, but the game was already meandering its way
Like most industries, football has those terms designed to put a polish on the second-rate aspects of the business or at least make them sound more palatable, those polite damnedwith-faint-praise parts of the lexicon like “utility man” or “most improved player” or “Europa League”.
Then there are other times when the language of people in power really lets you know how the elite game thinks, which was immediately notable in the remarks made this week by Bruce Buck, the Chelsea chairman. As a long-time representative on earth of his boss, Roman Abramovich, and an experienced New York attorney, one can only assume that Buck picks his words carefully.
Buck was outlining his opposition to Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin’s view that there needed to be a check to restore some competitive equality to the European game. Buck had a point, given that Uefa has bent over backwards so that failing old giants like AC Milan can raise their coefficient, even if he had one hell of a way of expressing it. The American said he was opposed to any measure that would “make all clubs the great unwashed”.
If “the great unwashed” is how the elite see the rest, then it was never more pertinent in a week when the English game is voting to sell the family silver – Wembley Stadium – in order to save a grass-roots game that is dying. They are doing so because the Premier League money that trickles down to them is not enough. Buck’s close friend, Richard Scudamore, did his bit as chief executive to persuade the clubs to redistribute some through the Football Foundation. But when Scudamore goes later this year, you get the feeling that this generation of club owners, chairmen and chief executives may feel rather differently about the great unwashed.
The most lucrative two decades in English football, culminating in a 2019-2022 television deal worth more than £8.3 billion, has coincided with a decline in the provision of grass-roots facilities that has become a crisis. It cannot all be laid at the door of the Premier League, especially in these times of austerity, but it is the clubs’ problem. It is from the grass roots that their players emerge, and the grass roots where their customers develop their love for the game.
The decision facing the 127 council members of the FA over Wembley must keep them awake at night. Selling up is, they are being told, a once-in-alifetime opportunity to cash in on the last asset the game has in order to ensure there are pitches suitable for children to play on, and basic facilities for them to get changed in. The question that naturally absorbs the FA is whether to vote yes or no to a Wembley sale. The real question should be: how has it come to this?
The FA is predicting a huge uplift in investment from selling Wembley, albeit a little hopefully, counting on generous interest rates as well as shaming the Premier League and Government into matching its funding. The potential extra revenue quoted in the FA document circulated to the 46 county football associations is huge, and it is not hard to see why they would be tempted.
There is, for example, a predicted 767 per cent increase in investment for the Berkshire and Buckinghamshire FA, equating to £124 million post-sale compared to the £14 million invested since the turn of the millennium.
Sussex would benefit from a 693 per cent increase. Guernsey, which has had no investment in the past 18 years, would benefit to the tune of £6 million.
The message to the counties is very clear: all that complaining about poor facilities, the cancelled games, the waterlogged pitches, the disappointed kids? This is the opportunity to do something about it.
No one denies that the grass-roots game is in crisis, especially not those who draw up the fixtures themselves and book the referees. Of course they want the money, but they do not want to feel pressured into selling the
Thierry Henry, Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and John Terry all with managerial and coaching careers launched within months of each other, and at varying levels of the game. Henry has got the pick of the jobs, but he still had to wait until his old club Monaco were 18th in Ligue 1 to be appointed. Giggs is managing a Wales team who failed to qualify for the last World Cup. Gerrard took the Rangers job that many greatest asset the FA has ever owned in order to do so. After years of decline, the FA is offering this as a one-shot option, with no alternative to rescuing a terminal grass-roots situation.
At the other end of the deal is Shahid Khan, the American billionaire who sees an opportunity to transform his Jacksonville Jaguars from being the NFL’s 25th-most valuable franchise into the top eight by relocating to London. He has already seen the Jaguars double in value to around $2 billion (£1.5 billion) since he bought them in 2011, but a move to London could see that rise to $4-5 billion.
That is why Khan is prepared to pay £600 million for Wembley, a stadium that cost £757 million to build but makes very little money. What is Wembley worth? On a metric of 10 times the operating profits it only gets to £120 million, which makes Khan’s £600million valuation so attractive.
There are no other bidders because no one other than a rival NFL franchise wishing to move to London would be in need of a 90,000-capacity stadium in the city. In the language of the modern sports executive, no one else has the live content to fill Wembley regularly.
All of which means that the men and women who know most keenly the crisis in the grass-roots game have a decision to make: sell their one asset to make a rich man even richer, or face the blame for more waterlogged pitches and decrepit changing rooms. Another Hobson’s choice for modern English football’s great unwashed, who know there is no prospect of anyone else coming to their rescue. considered a poisoned chalice. Lampard joined Derby County in the Championship. Terry is only an assistant at Aston Villa.
No one would suggest they are starting at the bottom, but they are certainly not starting at the top. There was always a question mark whether these multi-millionaire players would be ambitious enough to pursue management, but for the most of them it seems like the pull is irresistible.
Flare-up: Jeff Hendrick argues with Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel and Simon Kjaer after the Irishman played on when the visitors expected him to kick the ball out of play
Up for grabs: Wembley is the one asset the FA has to sell that can solve its dilemma