A few years ago it was a relatively straightforward matter to feel depressed about the state of The World’s Favourite Game.
For a start, it seemed there was little that was beautiful about it any more, either on the field or off it.
Imagined or otherwise, it felt as though the richest clubs were getting substantially more than their fair share of the rub. Not only that but the governance of the game at the very highest levels, if it was not entirely worthy of the rubbish tip, was well on the way to it, as the whiff of corruption at all levels appeared beyond challenge no matter how pungent the aroma. The foundations of the status quo ran deep and, like the shady sovereign funds floating the subsidised ‘elite’ clubs, the source of the powers that had invaded our national game was both ephemeral and all pervading.
But now, things are starting to look up and a change is in the air.
This week, Platini joined Blatter as one of yesterday’s men, finally banned for a breach of the code of ethics apparently already in force in football (who knew?!). And the fate of ‘Platter’ (or Blattini, if you prefer) is just the symbolic tip of the iceberg of change now freely adrift at all levels of the game.
Last weekend, Leicester City FC became the new champions of England. Meanwhile, lower down the league (much lower), Chelsea set a new record for the worst ever defence of a championship, ever, by finishing in 9th place [N.i.n.t.h.].
Oh dear, and just as memorable, in its own heart-warming way, is John Terry’s latest two-match ban, perfectly timed to wreck his retirement-from-the-club party. Oh dear, oh dear, as the great and good might say.
In March, football’s new-era governors approved trials of video technology and a dozen or so Football Associations are now queuing up to take part with the trials due to commence in 2017-18.
Meanwhile, up in Scotland, after five years’ consultation, and following on from successful German and Austrian trials, 2,600 Celtic fans will now experience the delights of Safe Standing at every home game from the start of the 2016-17 season.
Ch-ch-ch-changes, as D Bowie once sang.
Added to that is the long overdue over-hauling of the Rules of Football, an 18-month project led by former ref David Elleray, that reduced a 22,000-word document to a more streamlined, consistent and apparently less sexist 12,000-word diktat that will come into effect for the first time during June’s European Championships. Whilst the detail of the changes may be a tad underwhelming, it’s the desire to modernise, on the part of the game’s rule-makers, that is significant. (And, in case you were wondering, it will no longer be necessary for the injured to be forced off the field for treatment, the ball can now be kicked in any direction at kick-offs and the ref will be able, for the first time, to send malcontents back to the dressing room before a ball has been kicked. Marvellous stuff.)
In mid-December I wrote an article for PA discussing the storm of change pulsing through English football. It’s been triggered by the avalanche of cash now entering the game at unprecedented rates. Crucially, the wide distribution of that cash throughout the league is what separates the EPL from its Spanish counterparts and the world’s other two- or three-team dominated leagues.
Unlikely as it still seemed in December, the possibility of Leicester going on to do what is now known as ‘a Leicester’ was already impossible to completely dismiss.
And here we are in May with the genie well and truly out of the bottle.
And yet more cash is about to swamp the English game, with next year’s bottom club (Chelsea) expected to win £99 million for coming last. £150 million will go to the new champions (Arsenal) on top of fees for televised performances (more Arsenal games than Chelsea. Trust me.).
The desire for change in the game is difficult to quantify, but impossible to deny.
The chronic long-term pimple of boredom with the ‘big four’ always winning the league was finally lanced with Leicester’s 2016 triumph and few neutrals will mourn their achievement.
In theory, the clubs with the deepest pockets should always win out but when all the clubs have deep pockets then a new hypothesis is surely required?
Yes, Leicester benefitted from the element of surprise and no inquisition would be complete without a nod to team spirit and her eager bedfellows ‘hunger’ and ‘desire’ in the plucky midlanders’ journey to the top. The game in England desperately needed someone other than United, Chelsea or City to win a fiscally carved up competition that many were rapidly falling out of love with.
The supreme irony that these vast, seemingly uncapped swathes of cash flooding the domestic game will succeed in levelling the playing field, in England at least, where the bureaucratically unwieldy and distinctly ‘European’ Financial Fair Play project all but failed to, is all but impossible to ignore.
Crikey, is nothing sacred?
Well, funnily enough, it seems not.
Let’s briefly consider what will happen to football now that video technology appears to be finally well on the way?
My firm prediction is that VT will never make the game ‘perfectly governed’. But it will eliminate the worst of the injustices, the most aggravating of the poor calls and crucially, the ever-pervading suspicion of foul play from on high. I’ve no doubt we’ll still merrily and good-naturedly debate the decisions. But the nature of those previously ‘dodgy’ refereeing decisions will surely change and with them so too the nature of the debate. The scope of VT will adjust over time but once out of the bottle, this is another genie that’s never going back. And the application of video, a prospect said to be welcomed by most refs, will not just help the men in black. Players, once recruited by over-ambitious but under-skilled managers to bend, break and destroy the rules – and with them that precious sense of fair play crucial to any genuine sport – will find the ability to play rather than foul, dive and cheat, become regarded as a far more valued asset.
Football without technology? In five years, how we’ll laugh.
And what of Safe Standing? Most fans, with some justification, associate the gentrification of the game and its attendant exorbitant costs with the arrival of all-seater stadiums and the diminution of ‘atmosphere’ at matches. The increase in costs have made the traditional father-son phenomenon of old a far rarer sight and there certainly appear to be fewer families going to the game these days. The decay of excitement in stadiums is one of the saddest sights of the modern game and the Lap Of Appreciation witnessed by the few who stayed on in Manchester on Sunday to say farewell to outgoing Championship-winning manager Pelegrini, was wryly described as a ‘Lapathy’ by one observer.
Or Circuit of Embarrassment, by me.
Regardless of the politics of the City situation, the empty stadium is hard to explain given Manuel’s recent trophies and an appearance in the Champions League semi-final mere days ago. Have all-seater stadiums and their near-universal high prices delivered us an unwelcome generation of customers rather than fans?
Has the fans’ love of the club – and of the game itself – been crushed by the weight of consumer expectation?
Is it the ‘customers’ and their ludicrously inappropriate sense of entitlement that currently infests the negative alley ways of social media? Naturally, we all want our clubs to do better (what fan doesn’t) and debate is no bad thing. But the difference between genuine, thoughtful, evidence-based discussion and the recent singing of songs anticipating the death of Arsene Wenger is more than a little extreme and this hatred of clubs by the clubs’ own fans is surely not a long-standing phenomenon?
It’s my hope that in time, the area behind both goals in all Premier League grounds will be re-designated Safe Standing. And that they will become must-have features of all modern grounds; affordable, buzzing with atmosphere, full of kids, their dads (and mums and grandparents) and those lost adults, genuine die-hard fans, all but priced out of the game in recent years. If nothing else, the widespread adoption of Safe Standing can and will facilitate the blooding of a new generation of youngsters who will fall in love with the game, as did we who now remember football before the Year Zero of the Premier League era. Good luck, Celtic, and good on you. With grateful thanks from football fans everywhere. Their success, so close to home, will be impossible to ignore from south of the border.
So the iceberg of change is upon us. Cash, governance, video-technology and safe standing are the melt water waves queuing up to wash over us all in the storm that will leave the game refreshed, energised and all but reinvented following the stale years of pent-up corrupt stagnation. We ain’t seen nothing yet but five years will see these changes come flooding through the game and not a single one can come a day too soon.
To describe this all as a ‘game-changer’ is to understate what lies ahead as nothing less than the entire climate of football will be transformed.
And assuming the heavily contracted World Cups in both Russia and Qatar go ahead in situ, we can but hope they will stand as a memorial to an era when the game was hijacked, kidnapped and bundled off, carved up, re-packaged and separated from the fans by an unholy collusion of government interference, greedy self-interest and naked opportunism.
Farewell, The Ugly Game, you won’t be missed.
Excellent, Andrew. A must-read for all
Top Notch AA
I thought Rich’s piece just posted a little while ago deserved a full audience so Ive cut and pasted it below;
Love that post of yours. The increasing use of the full bus against us has been rotten news for Theo.
It’s not like he can’t have any good moments against it- he might just, if confidence is high, lash in a beauty like his first vs West Brom last year- but it alters what he can do more radically than any player i can think of.
In space, behind a defence, an utterly devastating weapon; with no space, he will often struggle conspicuously.
The weekend highlighted what a different beast City are than any other team in the league. We’d be lucky to get the space for that 2nd goal, or for Theo’s trademark run on the right after Ramsey’s pass, when a goal or two ahead. City were leading!
Leicester’s success this year will doubtless inspire yet more commitment to the bus and counter-attacking in the league next year, especially when playing us.
I agree with your Wilshere and refereeing comment also. I can’t even dream about the prospect of Wilshere remaining injury free. The ref let Fernandinho leave a little on him every single time they came into contact, which was often; nothing looked dangerous but it’s what it means to provide such encouragement to always challenge him even when there’s no hope of getting the ball. Then there’s that he still won’t help himself by not throwing himself into dangerous situations where he can’t control the contact. After a year out and with the past he has!
A part of me would love to see him massively improve his chances of a full career and reaching his potential in a foreign, safer league (but I’m too selfish to actually wish for it)
Finally, these refs, eh. I’m intrigued to see the tension here between people I like whose opinions differ on it.
I despise the refs personally for the harm they do to us, and have zero trust in the majority of them. To answer the question of how I can persist watching in that case ; well, naturally (they can’t exactly grab the ball and throw it in the net, not even Atkinson) there’s enough scope, just enough sometimes, to always hope we can triumph in any game; and there’s also my hopeless addiction to the sport and the team.
But, yeah, logic is often against it. That’s very clear to me at times when my frustration and unhappiness and what not reaches a peak:
(Chelsea game at the start of the season was perhaps the worst ever- it was about to happen, an incident with Costa had been spotted, and Dean, perhaps only because of a damn interfering linesman, could not ignore it; Unbelievable, but we, we were going to get to be the ones who got to play a key game with an extra man; then it became apparent Costa would get away with it; then somehow Dean allowed the situation to go on and on, like he’d decided his yellow could cover any amount of shit so long as he wasn’t stupid enough to throw a punch or something, with Costa getting away with tons more shit after the original incident; then somehow- wait, wait, let’s see if we can get a real bite…bingo- the officials contrived to reduce us to ten men.
Nearly fecking killed me, and the irrationality and absurdity of continuing to watch when I was so convinced of the rottenness in ref Denmark was overwhelming)
I’d also have us as favourites if the refereeing here was good enough let alone great, but it leaves the question of whether there’s anything we can do to better counter-act it. Hope-without-an-object style (nectar in a sieve), I have to believe there is.
We have a great deal of information about how most of our players fare against the bus and against the ref challenge, which leads me to think it’s essential to introduce a new element or two. Fingers crossed”
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Chelsea have not finished 9th yet, but 9th is the highest they can finish, they could finish as low as 11th if results go against them, they lose to LCFC and Stoke draw or win, and Swansea win and it will be 11th for CFC
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AA I like you optimism for the game, but I really don’t think we are going to see much change in the game, VT will only be used very sparingly, and it will not change the type of reffing we seen on Sunday, where Jack Wilshere was taken out of it time and again after he laid off the ball, “advantage” was played, but crucially the ref “forgot” to go back and book the offender for the late challenge. We have this constant spectacle of players allowed a free one, if its early in the game, or if they have already been booked – well if they are not AFC players that is – I seen somewhere recently that once again this season that Arsenal players get booked at the quickest rate per foul committed. Arsenal have one home game left this season to actually be awarded a home penalty this season, will VT change this.
If there was an actual will to change the game and eliminate much of the cheating it could be done in an instant, refs should award penalties for pulling and dragging in the area, do this a few times and suddenly it would stop. Book players for any foul and abusive language to them and suddenly it would stop(look what its done for the game of Rugby),
You say that one of the new rules is that a player does not have to leave the field for treatment, well this is not strictly accurate, its that if its a minor injury the players does not have to leave the pitch after treatment, this is a good idea in principle but I suspect it will be a bad one in practice, it will lead to more feigning of injury late in games by teams defending a lead, if the governing bodies wanted to make a real change, why not again like Rugby, allow medics to attend an injured player while the game goes on, this would stop the fake injuries that are used to stop the flow of the game.
I would say that the governing bodies have no real desire to clean up the game(on or off the pitch), they have not given FFP real teeth, and when it come to the rules of the game, or even implementing the rules, they pay lip service to it, like with these latest few little changes, as my old day used to say, its all eye wash.
I seen an article by an ex-player journo/pundit and am inclined to agree with his view that what we are seeing now is the start of a real down turn in the game. where refs are deciding the outcome of games with poor calls or their style of reffing far too often, and that there is a massive rise in negative football, packed defenses, rotational fouling, thuggery, cheating, and where we are once again seeing a rise in preference for physical players over the talented ones. Excuses are being made for refs not calling fouls – early in game, late in game, would have had to send him off, etc etc – We have the silly practice of fines for indiscretions, that rich clubs and even FA’s laugh at, what will a £25K fine do to make a BPL club change their players bad behavior, £500,000, or £1M might, points deductions would certainly. By the way what happened to the CFC and THFC charges
When refs like Mike Dean are allowed to wrongly influence a game and continue on as if nothing has happened, then why should we think a little bit of VT will change anything.
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the malcontents having a meltdown over Bayern Munich signing Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels and Benfica midfielder Renato Sanches
Hummells was a youth player for 11 years at Bayern Munich.
Man Utd fans were in a tizz this morning thinking they had signed Sanches as he had liked them on his instagram feed. So their malcontents are up in arms now too.
by the way Bayern have paid Benfica €35m (£28m) for 18-year-old midfielder Sanches, in a deal which could rise to €45m
Arsenal’s Premier League finishes under Arsène Wenger:
1st: 3 times
2nd: 5 times
3rd: 5 times
4th: 6 times
so despite what many would have us believe, that Arsenal finish 4th all the time, anything other than a loss on Sunday v Aston Villa, will see Arsenal having finished as often 2nd or 3rd as having finished 4th under Wenger.
Dennis Bergkamp’s birthday today, in his 11 years at the club, Bergkamp won 3 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cup titles and 3 Community Shields.
Your stance on the refs makes me question myself, I must admit.
Most of those with the opposite view, I find relatively easy to dismiss (if they just speak for a while: e.g. ‘Rubbish! Excuses!’, or the even worse, ‘even if they are crap, that’s no excuse’), but as I agree with so much of what you say, that’s not the case with you.
If I’ve learned one thing thanks to the internet, though, it’s that we’ll surely never persuade each other to abandon these views of ours.
I’m not even sure I’d want to succeed, anyway. I lost a lot when I lost any trust in our friends/neutrals/bastards from the North.
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I thought Hummels shot his bolt in the Europa QF versus Liverpool.
Any last vestige of desire to see him in an Arsenal shirt rapidly ebbed away.
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Great Stuff Andrew.
Plenty to mull over in that blog – enough for 10 weeks over the summer to think about.
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Arsenal going all out for promotion in the U21’s, Coquelin, Cazorla, Rosicky, Chambers and Gnabry all in the starting 11
sorry not Rosicky, but Campbell
watch out for villa’s Andre Green, as Arsenal are trying to sign him.
Willock has started instead of Gnabry
10 minutes – Villa take the lead
35 minutes – Willock makes it 1-1. Cazorla twisted and turned over and over then laid it off to Coquelin, ball was quickly moved about and then a long pass set Mavadidi free and his good cross was fired home by Willock.
fucking idiot west ham fans fighting and causing trouble, leading to their last game at upton park having its kick off delayed till 8.30
Manchester United’s team bus was pelted with missiles as it tried to enter the Boleyn Ground
Replay will improve the sport in the same way that LBW referrals have changed cricket for the better.
In age of flat tracks and pneumatic bats it’s only fair the bowlers get the calls they deserve. Who would want to argue against, except save maybe the Indian cricket board *coughs*.
Football is only approx. Twenty/twenty five years behind *coughs plus hiccup*
Im looking forward to the football game on the weekend shame I could not make and take my nephew to the u21 match.
But by far the biggest disappointment this season was working on a deadline these past few weeks and not meeting up with the legendary Shotts or any other wonderful people from this forum. As they say in the footy, “I’m properly gutted”.
65 minutes – Willock with a fine cross and Mavadidi gives Arsenal the lead 2-1
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Hinds and Sheaf on for Cazorla and Campbell
I’m not sure he’s ever recovered from that twisted case of the bends after Cassano had his wicked way with him. Ignoring that the uber CBs for Germany at the WC were our very own BFG and the player Money City couldn’t hold onto (I didn’t blame Venga), Boateng
85 minutes – Mavadidi makes it 3-1
FT: Arsenal U21’s 3-1 Aston Villa U21’s
a well deserved victory, could easily have been more, great control of the game after going behind early on.
Macey – impressive under the high ball, and a few fine saves too
Pleguezuelo – solid, some fine tackles
Chambers – ok first half, good second half
Bielik – good first half, outstanding second half, has really developed into a fine CB prospect
Moore – very good, cool calm, reads the game very well, usually a right back but as he showed tonight, left back no problem to him either
Coquelin – good game,
Cazorla – some moments of real class from him
Campbell – in and out game, some great some not so, worked hard
Reine-Adelaide – you can see the talent, but he found it hard to influence the game
Willock – outstanding game, a goal and two assists, not bad for a guy not named in the starting 11 to begin with, but was thrown in on late notice. Looks like he really loves to dribble past his man and has an eye for a goal too.
Mavadidi – two goals, battled hard, assist too
subs – Hinds and sheaf had little time to impose themselves
Arsenal FC @Arsenal 3m3 minutes ago
A man bang in form tonight. Mavididi gets his second with a powerful effort #AFCU21
Arsenal FC @Arsenal 28m28 minutes ago
Mavididi gives the Gunners the lead with a fine header. Watch the last 25 minutes LIVE: http://arsn.al/VoA2Cy
Arsenal FC @Arsenal 1h1 hour ago
Three goals in two games for Willock… #AFCU21
Stephy Mavididi rounded off a fine season for himself in the U21’s tonight with 2 goals, and an assist, the lad does not turn 18 for another 3 weeks.
Mavididi has scored 13 goals in 15 + 4 games for the U21’s this season.
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What a lovely result for the Under 21s – and how good that next year the games will be tougher and more testing for our young guns, which can only accelerate their progress. A season or two (max) in the Under 21s, and then a proper loan spell away seems to me a great education. Not all (well, hardly any) will return to claim a Frist Team place, but one successful one a year would represent a pretty useful production line And it does seem to me that this is very much the way the club is thinking.
Great for the U21 last night. Fantastic and informative article by Andrew. Thanks!
Andrew – I’m late to this party – up to my eyeballs in old diaries and dusty 45s preparing for last night’s show – but what a wonderful, positive, well researched and optimistic read. Thank you.
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the malcontents tell us that the Academy is failing big time, so lets take a quick look at it,
U17’s became first English side to win the Futures cup
U18’s made semi final of FAYC
U21’s won promotion
I will not give a run down on all the players who have had great seasons for the youth sides, could easily mention up to a dozen of them, 3 or 4 or more have had exceptional seasons
Players in the first team
Bellerin in PFA Team of the Year
Iwobi putting a run of first team games together, a couple of man of the match awards and has become a full International for Nigeria
Wilshere only back from injury, not even started a BPL game but looks like he will be in the England squad for the Euros
Players we have out on loan
Szcseny has had a great season with Roma, and helped them get CL football
Toral had a great season with Birmingham, wining their supporters player of the year, their players player of the year, their goal of the season.
Hayden and Akpom have had up and down seasons, but have helped Hull make the promotion play offs
Maitland-Niles has had an up and down season with Ipswich, was doing fine till his loud mouth mother caused trouble for him again.
Zelalem has helped Rangers win promotion and was a penalty scorer as they beat Celtic in the Cup
Now please tell me how the Academy is failing.
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Whilst I agree with edu’s post May 10, 1:21, I also find this article from AA to be excellent. The info is so important and I like the optimism, esp. the idea of thinking how things may be in 5 years time! I could sit and dream of footy being reffed like a rugby match, though I really can’t see that happening.
Interesting times ahead. Great piece, AA. Thanks.
I wish I could’ve seen the u21 match last night.
Did anyone see the WH v Manu match in full? How was our friend Deanio? Who did he favour? Just wondering.
James Olley of the Standard has upset the malcontents, as he is reporting that Alexis is stalling on his new contract, not cos he is unhappy, but cos he wants assurances that Wenger is staying.
JO is also reporting that AFC are confident that both Alexis and Ozil will sign new deals. Also that we will sign Xhaka
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reports in Australia have linked Arsenal with a move for Celtic’s 23 year old Midfielder Tom Rogic. the Australian international has one year left on his contract.
Everton really are a shower of shite this season…..not doing us any favours this eve in the quest for second …..with Evertons performance against Sunderland looking like sending tottenhams opponents, Newcastle, down
Ed 12.33, would be so amusing if James Olley is right
Danny – diabolical misfortune – on a day I am sure he is at rock-bottom he may reflect that he is at a professional football club that looks after its injured players. He will have the time he needs.
I hope his surgery went well and his rehabilitation goes even better.
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What’s happened to Danny Welbeck is heartbreaking.
The injury curse just goes on and on and on.
Linked to obscure Aussi player.
Club going on a summer tour to Australia.
Something.. I can’t quite put my finger. On it.
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afcstuff @afcstuff 3h3 hours ago
Xhaka: “It may be that it is my last game [on Saturday], but while I’m here, I will concentrate fully on Gladbach.”
DC we are not going on tour to Australia till next summer, so doubt its linked.
I see both Norwich and Newcastle relegated with Sunderland winning tonight.
Glad to see Norwich and their dangerous camera pits gone from the BPL.
Even more glad that fan power has bit Newcastle on the arse and they have got what their Pardew hate mob deserve. Long may their stay in the Championship be.
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so we are a week on from the battle at the bridge, and spurs getting 9 players booked during the game, and a melee after the game, of course the FA acted very quickly and charged both teams with failing to control not only their players but coaching staff too, the FA even managed to quickly dish out a 6 game ban for Dembele for his eye gouge. So why is their not a sign of the outcome of the charges laid at both clubs. where are the fines, the suspensions, the docked points. Odd too that not one journo or media outlet is mentioning this odd delay from the FA.
Norwich….with their camera pits….and general propensity of shoving players into advertising hoardings.
Norwich have faltered, not impressed by their thug ball approach, or that similar style played by so many teams much higher than them, including those who sit top and second place at the moment. Some very lenient refs and a supportive media help this brand of the game to thrive.
It is a shame the traditional English game is alive, and kicking….literally
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is there 3 more over rated players at one club than Stones, Barkley and Lukaku