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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.