Sports

What England’s Premier League Did for Football

Thirty years ago, English football changed when the top clubs announced they were leaving the Football League.

(Washington) Elected members of the United States Congress promised on Saturday to release ten billion dollars in aid for Ukraine during a virtual exchange with President Volodymyr Zelensky who, for his part, renewed his request for manufacturing planes Soviet.

“We will quickly release this 10 billion to help the Ukrainian people economically, humanitarian and security,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told him, according to a source briefed on the content of the discussions that took place by Zoom.

“Elected officials from the Senate and the House (of representatives, editor’s note), Republicans and Democrats, took part in this call. We are united in support of Ukraine,” added Republican Senator Steve Daines on Fox News. “We must vote for this aid of 10 billion, which would be half humanitarian, half military,” he added.

For his part, President Zelensky has called for tougher economic sanctions against Russia, including a ban on imports of Russian oil and gas, and the suspension of Visa and Mastercard credit cards in Russia, according to elected officials.

He also “made a poignant appeal for the countries of Eastern Europe to provide him with Russian-made planes […] and I will do everything possible to ensure that the administration facilitates their transfer”, added Chuck Schumer in a statement.

“There are planes available in some NATO countries that the Ukrainians know how to fly, but the United States is part of the problem and not the solution,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, however, in a video posted. online on Twitter.

“Let's give them the planes and the drones they need,” he continued without giving further explanation.

The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell said last Sunday that EU states were ready to deliver MiG-type fighter jets, which Ukrainian pilots know how to handle, but the countries concerned, including Bulgaria, Poland, or Slovakia, then showed more restraint.

Roman Abramovich

But the most influential figure in the Premier League was not a player, but a Russian oligarch, who, in 2003, decided he wanted to buy a football club in what was then emerging as the most fashionable sports competition in the world. Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club, then about £80 million in debt. He made good on the debt and, over the next 18 years, splurged £2 billion on transfers, that is, the amount paid to clubs to release players from contracts. Following Abramovich’s example, moneyed business leaders from outside the UK began buying Premier League clubs, usually without any hope of breaking even. Despite the media and sponsorship income, clubs managed to hemorrhage money, mainly because of extravagant player salaries.

After the 2021 takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, there were 14 (of 20) top-flight clubs in overseas owners’ hands. Chelsea lost £145.6 million last year, Manchester City £125.1 million, mainly because both teams spent so much on transfers and paid high salaries; COVID-19 contributed, of course — the clubs lost income from spectators. Having benevolent owners means the clubs now operate less as businesses, more as foundations (like endowed colleges or charities).

Proponents of grassroots sports despair at how what was once a working-class game played by factory teams and supported by industrial workers has been hijacked by international plutocrats. Their intention has never been to cultivate local talent but to attract the world’s most glittering names. Last year, Chelsea paid £97.5 million to Inter Milan for Romelu Lukaku. In 2016, Manchester United forked over £89 million for the services of Paul Pogba. Both players’ salaries are £12-15 million per year. Some argue this squeezes out aspiring young local players. Others suggest it inspires them.

Losers

What of the clubs that remained in the Football League, now rebranded as EFL? They were cast adrift and left to face the full brunt of market forces. Practically every club in the three divisions that make up the EFL struggles financially and many have declared themselves insolvent. There is little chance they can prosper outside the Premier League. Hence, they aim to secure promotion. Ironically, these clubs might have benefited if the ill-fated European Super League, which attracted interest from several leading Premier League clubs, had taken off.

At the start of the 20th century, money was, for many, a pestilence that would destroy the core value of fair play. Today, it could be argued that it was English football’s savior. Like every other professional sport — and all major sports are now professional — football has been embroiled in corruption, doping, violence, and other activities that have despoiled sport’s central precept. All had their sources of money. Yet money is arguably the prime mover behind every single development in contemporary sport, and that is especially true in English football.

The Premier League is emblematic of recent developments in sports. It thrums with avarice, ruthlessness, triumphalism, and an indifference to the collectivist principles that originally brought football into being.

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