Atlantic-sized threat to Premier League?

Earlier this month the Premier League roundly rejected Phil Gartside (the Bolton Wanderers’ Chief Executive)’s plan for a two-tier Premier League.

Celtic v Rangers - from Guardian.co.uk

Celtic v Rangers - from Guardian.co.uk

Most notably Gartside’s plan included the Scottish giants from each side of Glasgow: Celtic and Rangers.   There was also much criticism of Gartside’s planned ‘licensing’ idea which would, in effect have made ‘PL2’ a closed shop.  Gone would have been the hopes of teams dreaming of ‘doing a Wimbledon’ (as it was known in my day) or these days may be called ‘doing a Burnley’.

Either way – the plans were rejected.  Celtic and Rangers headed back over the border stung by rejection once again.

It may have been the biggest mistake the Premier League will ever make.

Let me be clear.  I am no fan of Gartside’s plan.  However, from the point of view of self preservation or at least self promotion the Premier League may live to regret their decision.

Talk has now, once again focussed on the idea of an ‘Atlantic League’.  For those unfamiliar with the idea it is, in essence those too big for their small ponds banding together to form their own version of a European Super League.  Albeit, it may not be so super given the very biggest fish won’t be in it.

A league with the likes of Celtic and Rangers; Anderlecht and Standard Liege (from Belgium); Dutch clubs like Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord; Portuguese sides like Benfica and Porto – would still make for interesting viewing, not least for these respective club’s bean-counters.

Let us be honest.  This lot haven’t a hope of winning the Champions League these days.  Their fans may argue against it – Porto fans with some justification (not to mention recent history) on their side.  In the main, however, their hopes are slim if not non-existent.  Most struggle to make it to the second group phase – assuming they even qualify in the first place.

Let us assume that the Atlantic League will go ahead.  We’ll ignore the questions about promotion/relegation; Champions League qualifying places and all the headache of away games and away fans.  There’s enough aggitation for this to happen – it is surely inevitable, eventually.

Arrogance or optimism?

What’s interested me lately is – will there be English representation?  Safe to say, I think, the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool would reject any invitation (should it come) with a “thanks, but no thanks.”  They have bigger fish to fry and also no requirement for access to bigger pots of money.

The ambitions/arrogance/optimism of the likes of Everton, Tottenham and Aston Villa may cause them to reject an approach too.  No matter the odds against it, these clubs harbour a hope of breaking into the mythical ‘top four’ in England.  Make that a top five these days, with Moneybags City of Manchester elbowing their way into the elite group through sheer weight of spending.

How far down would you have to go to get a club that would seriously consider it.  Would, or more importantly ‘could’ a club like West Ham or Fulham turn it down?  What about clubs on the up like Sunderland?  Even the most optimistic fan starts the season hoping for ‘top seven and a Cup-run’ – i.e. seventh place at best and not getting KO’d early in the FA Cup.

Silverware is a once in a blue moon opportunity.  The title is almost laughably out of reach – there’s more chance of finishing in the bottom three than the top three.

An Atlantic League would offer more prestige and, most importantly more money and more chance of actually winning something.  Could they turn it down – especially the “more money” part.

What if the Atlantic League had an additional two, or even three Champions League places on offer?  West Ham, Fulham et al would surely fancy their chances of finishing ‘best of the rest’ rather than the eternal quest to hang on to the coat tails of the English giants Man United and Chelsea?

Celtic & celtic derbies?

Let’s assume the Premier League close ranks and the riches of the giant $ky ‘goal-den’ goose are enough to keep them here.  Would yo-yo clubs be able to resist?  Are the league-skewing parachute payments enough to sustain them?  Birmingham is England’s second city.  What about West Bromwich Albion or Gartside’s own Bolton?

Cardiff v Swansea - from Guardian.co.uk

Cardiff v Swansea - from Guardian.co.uk

If the Atlantic League is serious about gaining interest around the continent and raising hard cash – what’s to stop them being more mercenary about it?

Why focus on the Premier League?  Some of the most well supported (and therefore more financially appealing) clubs aren’t even in the top flight any more.  Would Mike Ashley’s Newcastle be able to reject the Atlantic League’s advances?  What about Leeds?

Representatives from Wales would surely be welcome.  Cardiff City and Swansea City would jump at the chance – if they had any sense.   They’re currently enjoying quite a renaissance, fighting for promtion to the promised land of the Premier League.  If they think they’re going to be able to compete and survive there that’s optimism indeed.

The monied hand of an Atlantic League may be hard to resist.  Imagine the celtic-derbies – Cardiff v Rangers; Swansea v Celtic!  The interest in those matches alone would be huge.

Yes, even allowing for RyanAir/Easyjet etc.  away games would be tough on the fans.  Granted.  However, the promise that every other week the likes of Benfica, Rangers, Ajax or Celtic would turn up may cushion the blow slightly.

If you did have to travel several hundred miles to an away game, would you rather go to Scunthorpe or Lisbon?  Sorry Sunny-Scunny.

The overly self-inflated egos and self-importance of the Premier League chairmen may see ‘smaller teams’ like those listed as a drop in the ocean.  If that ocean ripples into being the Atlantic League the waves of regret may flow only one way.

Advertisements

Uefa choke = Uefa joke

In the most unsurprising story since Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid, Uefa have overturned their own ban on Arsenal striker Eduardo.

The Brazil born Croatia striker had been banned for allegedly diving to win a penalty in Arsenal’s one-sided Champions League qualifier against Celtic.

As predicted here on Thoughtsport Arsenal appealed and quelle suprise the ban was over-turned.  Uefa choked it.
Now I’m not saying Eduardo should have been banned – the evidence was borderline at best – but Uefa chose to draw their line in the sand and should have stuck by it.

Instead they look more lilly-livered than David Beckham pulling his sore toe out of a tackle and allowing Argentina to score in the 2002 World Cup.

The status quo is restored: the big clubs know that no matter how loud Uefa crow about tackling this and doing something about that, they can ride roughshod over any rules (or rulings) they don’t like and do as they’ve always done – namely whatever they want.

Uefa President Michel Platini’s latest crusade is against clubs “doped with debt” as some put it.  Don’t be surprised if, by the time this comes to being enforced, it’s heavily watered down and then completely ignored by the clubs who, as ever, will find ways around it.

Well done Uefa, what a brave stand that was.  It lasted less than two weeks.

Eduardo: Scapegoat or smokescreen?

We’ve all seen and read (endlessly) about Eduardo’s ‘dive’ against Celtic in what amounted to a Champions League qualifier.

Much wringing of hands all-round.  “Diving.  Terrible thing.  We must stamp it out.” etc.  Uefa (under pressure from the media and Scottish FA) have made an example of the Arsenal striker – with a two match ban.

Gunners manager, Arsene Wenger, is understandably upset.  Much as we’d all like cast-iron honesty from all managers and players, did anyone expect him to do anything other than defend his player?

Precedent?

Uefa have, it would seem, set a precedent.  The next round of European matches will be extremely interesting.  Will all divers receive the same punishment?  Doubtful if not impossible.

The question I find myself wondering is why they have acted at all.  The pressure of the repeated media coverage has been cited but if that were the case every other refereeing decision would be treated in this manner.

The pressure applied by the SFA must have been key – big-wigs at Uefa being Scots cannot have hurt either.

Uefa President Michel Platini is an outspoken critic of video evidence.  Instead he advocates (and is trialling) a system of Additional Assistant Referees (AAPs) situated behind each goal.

What is this retrospective punishment of Eduardo if not trial by television?

The referee is hugely undermined and a precedent impossible to follow has been set.  It cannot be the answer.

Imagine if the incident had instead occured in the Champions League Final.  Eduardo dives (work with me  – assume Arsenal made it for argument’s sake); wins a penalty; scores and Arsenal win 1-0.

Under even more pressure, Uefa look at the video evidence and ban Eduardo.  Meanwhile, the Croatian is sat amongst his team-mates on a open-top bus tour of north London with the Champions League trophy.

Would you risk diving to win the sport’s biggest club competition?  Many (many) players would.  What’s a two-match ban to a place in history?

Additional referees are a far better answer.  Punishment would be instantaneous and results would stand, with authority.

If Platini supports this view, Eduardo’s ban is at best sending mixed messages – at worst it’s just a smokescreen – doing something for the sake of being seen to do something.