15 May ~ How happy is the blameless football administrator's lot? A cursory read of Richard Scudamore's interview with the Guardian last Saturday makes clear his optimistic disposition. You might expect a chipper world-view from a man so devoted to maintaining the Premier League's holy flame. While all around was recessionary panic, Scudamore stood tall and negotiated a new TV deal that looped into the kind of surreal, ten-figure sums the Greek government are currently struggling with. No wonder he's pleased with himself.
Here, for instance, is his take on the debt epidemic that claimed Portsmouth, and that could yet pull Manchester United or Liverpool under: "It's an accolade [the clubs are] that valuable [they] can attract that much borrowing." It's a compliment, lads, that's all. Presumably the sub-prime crisis was triggered because the banks wanted to be nice.
Not that Scudamore isn't also a man of the people. "I also understand that the country is caught up in a 'debt-is-bad' culture," he says, as if debt is a particularly annoying contestant on Britain's Got Talent, an economic Jedward that will eventually be nothing more than a kitsch footnote. The chaos at Portsmouth is breezily reduced to a local irritation: "I don't think they [the worldwide media] are spooked about it... the UK media is at the epicentre of negative things about the Premier League. The further you travel away from here the more positive the reflection back to us is." But that's because – as Scudamore well knows – the worldwide audiences see teams like Portsmouth as little more than token opposition, the Washington Generals to Chelsea's Harlem Globetrotters. If Pompey go under, they'll simply be replaced by another bunch of stooges. The market has spoken.
Unsurprisingly, Scudamore is against UEFA's plans to eradicate what Michel Platini has called "financial doping". Scudamore's preference is for sustainability, a concept he curiously explains by invoking Fulham, and asserting there's no problem "if Mr [Mohamed] Fayed wants to take X millions of profit from his business and invest that over time". But that isn't sustainable. Fulham are only safe for as long as Fayed is willing or able to invest – when that particular well runs dry, they're in big trouble.
In Scudamore's defence, club owners and chairmen should, and do, take the most responsibility. As he says, "these are successful businessmen in their own right who understand risk, who understand a balance sheet, understand what they're doing. It's just that there's something in football that drives them to an irrational place." But rather than this worrying Scudamore, it thrills him – he believes Tottenham wouldn't have qualified for next season's Champions League qualifiers if the Premier League were a "completely centralised, over-regulated kind of world". In such a world, however, if all clubs were on something like an even financial keel, Spurs finishing fourth wouldn't seem such a triumph over adversity. At the very least, excitable chairmen wouldn't be so seduced into visiting that irrational place to compete.
It's all a little disingenuous, as is Scudamore's defence of the doomed 39th game model. He tries to justify this lumpy sporting imperialism by remarking on the lack of public outrage when England played Brazil in Qatar last November. The difference between a one-off friendly game and a competitive, round-robin league system is so vast, I'd rather not insult your intelligence by explaining it. When Scudamore talks about the global opposition to Game 39, the optimism returns: "It's a fantastic advert for our competition that people are so worried about us altering any of it." Nothing at all to do with the plan's obvious flaws, its arbitrariness and flawed rationale.
Scudamore's doctrine is that football clubs are commodities like any other, subject to the ebb and flow of laissez-faire market forces. It may be economically justifiable, but football clubs inspire a deep emotional and tribal response in their supporters and local community, unlike any "normal" business. Market forces and owners are volatile, but the clubs themselves should be constant. It's a little worrying that, beyond the smiles and the optimism, the game's authorities seem indifferent to this idea. Karl Sturgeon