The summer has seen an unedifying series of legal tangles around West Ham’s right to remain in the Premier League having broken its basic rules. The verdict of the game’s rulers was that they should simply be fined rather than booted out to the lower leagues. The subsequent cack-handed PR failed to convince a soul outside die-hard Hammers fans that the whole process had been anything other than a big money stitch-up. No word of remorse or proper explanation was forthcoming. West Ham proceeded to pursue the overpriced signature of players with some of the least edifying of soccer’s public images.
Meanwhile, ex-England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, widely viewed as a laughing stock, returned to multi-million pound employment in charge of Manchester City. The same club was recently bought by a deposed developing-world dictator accused of massive abuses human rights, which could yet end up with his arrest. Curious that, in an age when consumers demonstrate ethical concerns about the working conditions under which imported soccer shirts are manufactured, football fans don’t seem to care who owns their clubs.
Or do they? Could it be that the growing disquiet has not yet found full expression among fans still seduced by the hope that foreign billions will bring Abramovich-like piles of silverware? More likely, I suspect, that in a season when 331 foreign players from 66 countries will line up in a largely overseas-owned Premiership, fans may begin to feel a fatal alienation.
The players, foreign and the English minority, do not always help the image of the game. No one can blame John Terry for holding out for top dollar and pushing Chelsea into paying him £135,000 a week for the next five years. But wouldn’t it have been great if the player pictured giving up part of his summer helping global landmine victims had been Mr Terry or one of his contemporaries? Instead it was Bobby Charlton, an England 1966 World Cup winner now approaching 70.
The marketing of the Premiership is a global business phenomonen. Even so, a disconnect in the UK between the game and its fans could have a major impact on its credibility. The PR challenges for the Premiership clubs and players are greater than ever this season.
Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun