Accrington Stanley, Who Are They?

Accrington Stanley, Who Are They?

A catchphrase made famous from a milk advert before the Premier League existed, and best sums up attitudes displayed by that organisation this week. Accrington Stanley’s chairman, Andy Holt, attempted to highlight how life in the lower leagues was a struggle while those in the top flight lived in luxury. The response: a veiled threat to remove all financial support for Stanley and the other members of the EFL.

Mr Holt also suggested in this tweet, that the Premier League was a destructive force:

To begin with, let’s deal with an insinuation the Premier League levelled at Andy Holt. Since the new TV deal (with oversea rights, this now exceeds £8bn) the Premier League upped its contribution to the EFL and grassroots football by 40% to £1bn. Okay, that sounds a very large figure but it needs be placed into context.

The increase in TV revenue was 70%, so already there is a disproportionate redistribution of money. On the bottom line, the Premier League donates a smaller – albeit larger final sum – percentage of its revenue to those below them in the nation’s football pyramid.

Of that £1bn “donation,” the majority of it actually goes to teams relegated from the Premier League in the form of parachute payments. Suddenly that large cake on the table has a big chunk missing.

Before the deal, 3% went to grassroots, now the twenty clubs in the top flight agree to invest £112m a year into this programme. Again, context is required here. Grassroots is a place the top clubs circle like predatory sharks without fronting the sizeable bill. Between them they can just about muster £112m when Manchester United alone are willing to give an agent £41m for a single transfer.

This is where Andy Holt’s fears about the state of football hold the most water. Top clubs are able – and have no qualms – to allow money to leak from the game. Just as boxing promoters act as vampires on the sport, financially benefiting from the skill of others as the grassroots decay, football agents walk away with money that could prop-up entire divisions.

With the best fiscal management in the world, the harsh reality for lower league clubs is a yearly battle with rising costs and increasing debts.

The Premier League has gone past the tipping point when it comes to moral obligations. The desire to be the NFL of soccer has made it lose sight of certain facts. The NFL model works because there is nothing beneath it other than college football.

By the time the Premier League is finished, there won’t even be suitable football training in our schools. They have allowed a cancer to enter the revenue stream of the beautiful game and failure to ignore the final cries for help from people like Andy Holt, is like refusing lifesaving treatment.

Such is the arrogance and disconnect with the real world, the Premier League thought ensuring all staff members at top flight clubs were on the minimum living wage was a show of grace. It was the absolute least expected.

It has made no efforts to control ticketing prices for fans, meaning the working-class man in the terraces hasn’t seen the benefit of increased revenue passed down to him.

Too many clubs in the EFL, like Leeds, Blackburn, Nottingham Forest, cripple under their own weight as they take massive infrastructure into a landscape that can’t provide. It’s a wonder teams haven’t already started dropping out of existence. But that day will come, and it will affect the big and the small in the EFL, because they all have one thing in common: they have been made to sit on the poor table.

The tone of the Premier League’s reply gives the impression they enjoy teams coming to them like Oliver, bowl in hand, begging for more.

The Premier League has forgotten that the football pyramid in this country used to be a symbiotic relationship. That’s what the FA Cup used to symbolise: all ninety-six professional teams and all the non-league ones below that enter, on a level playing field of equal importance.

Nowadays the notion is played with by the Premier League in the same way a cat toys with a dead mouse. The idea of a shared national game is just a novelty to those at Lancaster Gate. They’re not bothered about Andy Holt’s opinions on the matter because they’re not bothered about the EFL, grassroots, or Accrington Stanley.

Who are they?

Exactly.

 

EFL Short-sighted

EFL Short-sighted

The English Football League (EFL) demonstrated ignorance and a lack of understanding with wider issues this week, in doing so it deepens a rift between its member clubs and the administration of the EFL. The much derided EFL Trophy, now renamed Checkatrade Trophy, was always a bone of contention. Now the fears of lower league clubs have been manifested in the form of ridiculous fines.

The concept of the revised EFL Trophy was after the lower tiered Football League clubs spoke out against the proposed League Three option, fearing the inclusion of Premier League B Teams would be a further example of looking after the big clubs at the expense of those without. Also, it would have damaged the accessibility of the current loan system.

The Football Reflective was a fan of the idea (Fair and Three) as it took a holistic view. The current loan system hasn’t proven to be beneficial for the donor clubs. Aside from Manchester City, who appear to frequently send their coaches to assess and assist those loaned out, once a player has left the nest they are under the guidance of lower grade coaches using lesser facilities.

The FA, after years of mounting evidence that suggests the national team has a bleak future, is desperate for a solution. When League Three was written off, they needed a halfway house. A trial to see if there would be the appetite for B Teams to mix in competitive ties with lower league clubs.

They took the essence of a good idea and managed to turn it against itself.

The EFL Trophy in its former guise was a good opportunity for the teams from the bottom two tiers to have a day out at Wembley. Not many cared for the competition until that chance was on the horizon, but when it appeared a play-off final vibe arose.

Adding select upper league clubs’ under-21s to the mix destroyed that slight fantasy. The idea of Stoke U21s v Wolverhampton U21s at Wembley doesn’t have any of the romance. All it would do is confirm to the smaller clubs that football in this country only cares about those higher up the league pyramid.

But the clubs that bemoaned the idea of League Three do need to take some responsibility. Their fears have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, acted out during the EFL Trophy.

Most blame has to go to the EFL itself. This week they fined twelve clubs, ranging from £3,000 to £15,000 each, for fielding weaker sides(five players must have appeared in the previous game, or contain the five most used players from the season as a whole). A format they didn’t trust has now hit their pockets.

Luton chairman Gary Sweet summed up the disparity best when he remarked he shouldn’t be paying fees to give his youth players experience. To make matters worse, his club’s youth defeated a side from the higher tier. So, is the Checkatrade Trophy only about developing youth players from big clubs?

The fear of the voiceless now realised with the opening of a cheque book.

The EFL Trophy fines come at the same time as talks to restructure the EFL to four leagues of twenty teams collapsed. Here the clubs and league are equally short-sighted. Chief Executive of Shrewsbury, Brian Caldwell, has been one of the most outspoken against. His concern, one mirrored up and down the country, was a reduction in fixtures would mean less money.

The EFL countered this by promising more Saturday fixtures, seen as a way to avoid the lesser attended midweek matches, claiming this would actually increase overall revenues. That plan was supposedly scuppered by the FA’s latest oversees TV deal for the FA Cup. The weekends they’d planned to use are now locked in for FA Cup ties.

By removing themselves from the negotiating table too soon, the EFL has failed to see its strong hand. Without the EFL clubs there is no FA Cup. The football league could have driven the demands for better distribution of wealth and proceeded with the reformation of its structure.

Not compromising for a few FA Cup weekends means its platform stays stuck in the past.

The Championship may be the fifth most watched league in the world but it has the weight of the entire lower tiers on its shoulders. It can’t thrive unabated like the Premier League, there is a glass ceiling imposed due to the EFL’s overall structure. It may carry the load but it is the EFL that should shoulder the burden.

Doing nothing will only see the gap between the haves and the have-nots grow.

By being overly defensive of the FA and Premier League’s intentions, the EFL and its members have only spited themselves. If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, the road to obscurity and obsoletion is paved with paranoia.

What £100m means in Manchester

What £100m means in Manchester

The two clubs baring Manchester in their name have both spent big this summer. But that is where the similarity ends. In the centre of Manchester, Pep Guardiola has spread his cash as he rebuilds and reimagines The Citizens style of play. Over in Trafford, their new man at the helm José Mourinho, also faces a reshaping job. But he has decided to take a big, singular gamble. There is a reason for these two differing approaches.

The irony of United being the club to break the world transfer record, when it was “City ruining football” with their accelerated growth period, won’t go unnoticed with football fans around the country. But the protracted Paul Pogba transfer is the peak of a continued period of United high-spending.

Moyes, Van Gaal, and now Mourinho, have all been supported by the Glazers in the transfer market.

The ethics of a £100m move have been widely discussed. Regardless of opinion, the truth is football’s finance has been heading this way for a long time. The new TV money should have found its way back to the pockets of fans but this was always going to be difficult when chairman saw it as a way to increase the ransoms on their top players.

Juventus have only done what Everton have been trying for the last two summers, and this despite the Goodson Park outfit benefitting from the increased TV revenue and a new, presumably richer, owner. The Italian club have a tighter budget, if they hadn’t broken the world record fee with United’s money, Real Madrid would have stepped in and come close.

What makes the move murkier for United, are the reports the Frenchman preferred a move to the Spanish giants. A few eyebrows must have been raised from Sir Alex Ferguson to Sir Bobby Charlton, when the realisation hit home that a player who left for a tribunal fee, looked to be returning, somewhat underwhelmed, for a world record fee.

The debate about whether he is worth the fee is null and void. The moment a club are willing to pay a price, that is the market value.

What the Pogba debacle does, is detract attention from United’s net summer spend. The positive press campaign focuses on four acquisitions, one of them Zlatan Ibrahimovic for absolutely nothing. A player of such quality on a free transfer is more than a bargain, the only doubts surround his ability to step up from the tamer French league to the tough English season at the age of 34.

The other half of Mourinho’s summer quartet are Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly. At a combined fee of £68m they are hardly cheap supplements to the lofty pursuit of Pogba.

This is where the Manchester divide became a chasm over the summer.

As it stands City, who admittedly are still seeking reinforcements, have spent £114m and recouped £10m. Both of those figures are set to rise, with the imbalance increasing on the expenditure side of the equation.

For the price of one Pogba, City have brought in six new faces and still have over £60m to go before equalling United’s outgoings. This is without acknowledging the offloading process City are going through which is trickling some cash back into the coffers.

The reason the alternative approaches are so glaring is because both clubs had the same problem: they need complete overhauls.

José Mourinho even commented lately that he needed twenty players to undo the damage inflicted from the Louis Van Gaal era, and that his approach differed so wildly, it would take many new faces to adjust the style.

So why place all his faith in one big summer signing?

Because he lacks a luxury only Pep Guardiola can boast in the modern world of football: time.

The Spaniard holds a major advantage over José and it isn’t a bigger cheque book or even a better youth system. It’s the lack of urgency for immediate results. The Etihad board didn’t allow the Pellegrini era end with a canter to then make a kneejerk reaction with their long-term managerial target.

Guardiola knows he can take his time developing new signings like Marlos Moreno without fearing the need for instant success. That’s not to say he can fail to achieve minimum targets. Champions League qualification is a must to the big clubs. But even failure to meet that wouldn’t necessarily cost Pep his job.

Mourinho is breathing the air of a different planet. He is a proven manager that suddenly has everything to prove. After the Chelsea sacking, he can’t afford a slow start, let alone a disappointing season. He didn’t have the support of the entire United board but he was seen as a necessary evil.

That conjoined dilemma of club and man brought them together. Now they face a future where development gives way to desperation in the transfer market.

Mourinho is in the casino, play for high stakes risks, and Pogba is one big throw of the dice.

His inner-city rival can smile and take cab journeys with fans instead. He has the time to send players like Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus on loan, not worry about Ilkay Gündogan’s lengthy injury, or bend to transfer fee demands he feels excessive. And all the time he works the current crop – whom many now seek redemption – into his mould.

Leicester proved last year that money doesn’t guarantee success, this season Manchester will see if patience pays dividends.