OLIVER HOLT: We owe Todd Boehly a debt for reminding us that danger to our game still lurks
Let’s start gently and give new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly some leeway for his suggestion that the Premier League should “learn a bit of a lesson” from American sport by hosting an all-star game.
As proposals go, it was ridiculous, arrogant, stale, thoughtless, impractical and condescending, but other than that it was relatively harmless.
It did get some support here and there. A radio host denounced the opposition to Boehly’s idea and pleaded with us to stop enjoying football. And some of us thought watching football was fun already. It depends, I guess, on why you like football and what your idea of fun is.
Chelsea owner Todd Boehly has suggested an All-star Premier League match should be held
So, sure, if you’re not interested in sport or competition or danger or dedication, if you have to be repeatedly hit in the head with two hours of made-up slapstick in an orgy of fawning and self-happiness that most of the top players will have fled anyway, yes, then an all-star game might be for you.
I would have more fun watching my dog chase her tail in the backyard, but then I loathe friendships and anything like that. A friendly match or an exhibition game, of which an all-star game is a variation, is something that masquerades as sport. It’s not a real sport. At the core of those who play and watch, no one cares about the result. We need less of these occasions, not more.
Oh, and as for Boehly’s claim that the game would raise money for the lower divisions, please do me a favour. Forgive my cynicism, but we’ve been here before. We know when owners want to do a land grab because they start preaching about how much it will benefit ‘the pyramid’.
Boehly’s idea is arrogant, thoughtless, impractical and patronizing, but relatively harmless
American sports such as basketball, baseball and NFL host an all-star game every year
If Boehly really wants to help the pyramid, what about a broader revenue-sharing system in English football? I won’t hold my breath.
The all-star game isn’t even a fresh idea. I saw someone describe it as ‘lateral thinking’. That’s laughably funny. Come on, it’s an old tired idea that’s been around for decades, rapidly declining in popularity in the United States, and wouldn’t work here anyway. Jurgen Klopp had the correct answer when he asked if Boehly planned to take the Harlem Globetrotters with him.
Look, American sport is full of things to admire. The NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and Major League Baseball are all better, more responsible, and more creative than the Premier League. But isn’t that the point?
American venture capitalists — led by smart men and women who have made big bucks in business and want to make even more — watch English football and see a myriad of opportunities that don’t exist in their own leagues.
For example, a salary cap in English football would stop owners like Boehly, Sheik Mansour and the Glazers from stocking players. The revenue-sharing system in the NFL, which goes far beyond TV money, would be a barrier to the so-called Big Six clubs from perpetuating their dominance in English football and, if extended to the Football League, would breathing life into all of the top four divisions.
Jurgen Klopp laughed at Boehly’s idea and asked if he would bring the Harlem Globetrotters
A design system would revolutionize our competitions by helping the weakest and punishing the strongest. The Rooney rule, which requires teams to interview at least one ethnic minority candidate for a vacant head coach position, would help fight discrimination.
There are so many measures developed by American leagues that we would have to try harder to match them, but many of them would limit the opportunities for club owners here to maximize profits.
Perhaps that was why they were all absent from Boehly’s incoherent manifesto for the Premier League that he outlined at the SALT conference in New York last week. Instead, he stuck with proposals such as the all-star game, a tournament to decide who will be sent to the third relegation place and a plan to establish a network of Chelsea feeder clubs around the world, with the Red Bull franchise as its template.
Boehly might have been better advised to stick with his advice until he at least proves he can lead Chelsea successfully. He didn’t get off to a particularly impressive start.
Boehly sacked Thomas Tuchel after spending £230m on him over the summer
The new Blues owner boasted that Kevin De Bruyne was a product of the club’s youth system
He set a new record for single-window transfer spending, spending £230 million on new players and then sacking his Champions League-winning manager, Thomas Tuchel, after just six league games into the season.
Tuchel, it has been reported, began to become disillusioned with Boehly’s input around the time Boehly suggested playing a 4-4-3 formation and pressured him to agree to the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s a rumor.
The fact is that Boehly boasted that Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah were products of the Chelsea youth system when De Bruyne was acquired from Genk and Salah was bought from Basel.
Most disturbingly, Boehly’s admission that he hadn’t ruled out the idea that Chelsea were rekindling their interest in participating in a European Super League. “I never give a hard no,” he said in New York. “I like to keep my options open.” That set off alarm bells. Loud.
“The sentiments that led to the Super League fiasco are not dead,” Jamie Carragher wrote in his newspaper column on Saturday, “just hibernate.”
I’m sorry, but if you don’t understand the vehemence of the reaction to Boehly’s statements, you have the memory span of a distracted mosquito. You have already forgotten the ESL and the damage it would have done.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez led the proposals for the European Super League last year
Boehly does not rule out the idea of Chelsea reviving their interest in participating in a Super League
The vehemence of the reaction wasn’t about the all-star game, even if that was the headline of stupidity. It was about Boehly’s comments about how English football should be taught lessons. It was about the open-minded attitude towards the ESL. It was about the threat of what lay beneath.
Gary Neville was even more forceful in his criticism of Boehly’s comments. And he was right. The charges of xenophobia against him for having the audacity to remind those who had apparently forgotten the prominent role American owners played in this country in the formation of the ESL were pathetic and absurd.
Let’s say it again: the transition to the ESL, a semi-closed league with 15 permanent members, which was championed by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Juventus chief Andrea Agnelli, and in this country was run by the family Glazer at Manchester United and FSG at Liverpool, both American owners, are said to have destroyed both the Premier League and the Champions League.
Xenophobia claims against Gary Neville – who criticized Boehly – are pathetic and absurd
Chelsea supporters protest European Super League plans outside Stamford Bridge
It would have gone on and the fabric of English football would have been destroyed were it not for the massive popular uprising of fans against it.
It was only when there were demonstrations outside the stadiums that the owners of United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester City and Chelsea lost their nerve, withdrew from the ESL and offered obsequious apologies.
The suspicion has always been that it is only a matter of time before the owners of many of Europe’s major clubs try again. Greed does not sleep. It just waits. In a way, we’re grateful to Boehly for reminding us that the danger to our game posed by Perez, Agnelli, and the owners of the Big Six still lurks.
We are deeply indebted to him for reminding us that the arrival of an independent overseer for our game to protect it from predators can’t come soon enough.