Monday 11 February ~
There have plenty of contenders for the title of The Man Who Ruined Football. Silivo Berlusconi, Rupert Murdoch, Roman Abramovich chief among them. Now a new contender is gaining a groundswell of support. It's Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League. Until how he’s seemed quite a colourless character, to the extent that has has often been confused in print with a previous Scudamore, the jockey Peter. Now, however, he's surged to the fore.
Scudamore has taken a lot of flak for his announcement last week that the Premier League is considering playing an extra round of matches overseas (dubbed Game 39 by those organising against it). But it’s not entirely clear whose idea it is. It may have been an initiative by Scudamore himself, given that it was announced months ahead of the Premier League meeting at which it would be officially discussed (something that annoyed Sir Alex).
Or could it have been that a group of club chairmen got their office boy Scudamore to simply read out a message that they had concocted? Scudamore himself is now implying that his hand was indeed forced – certain owners’ shadowy plans pushed him into suggesting a preventative measure: “There are four or five clubs who will do this anyway. They would make X-million pounds and the rest would make nothing.”
That seemed plausible given the willingness of certain clubs to jet out to Asia for a couple of days between League fixtures. But it has been undermined by the revelation that the American owners of Liverpool were not in favour when the suggestion was first aired three months ago. Arsenal are one of the clubs endeavouring to build a worldwide fanbase but Arsène Wenger doesn't seem to think it's a good idea either.
The Football Association has not yet come out against the plan, which at first glance is a little odd given that only two years ago they were lobbying for a winter break as a means of overcoming player burnout. Then again the FA is very unlikely to seek confrontation with the PL given that club chairmen such as Bolton’s Phil Gartside and David Gill of Man Utd sits on the FA’s Executive Committee, as does the PL’s chairman Dave Richards. Nevertheless, the fact that UEFA president Michael Platini instantly dismissed the plan as "strange and comical" suggests that it won’t be allowed to develop much further even if the Premier League chairmen vote to press ahead.
Plainly the idea demonstrates contempt for English League football and those who watch it, as well as for the leagues in the countries in which these extra matches would be be played. If it’s duly dropped in the teeth of overwhelming opposition from supporters and across the football media, will Richard Scudamore carry the can? In the press conference called to announce the Game 39 plan, Scudamore argued that "football can't stand still”. Indeed – it ought to spring into action and propel a certain chief executive out of the door.