The author urges the EPL and its stars to concentrate more on quality and keep their conduct at par with how the most popular league globally should lead the way.
On landing Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I stepped out of the customs checkpoint and picked a local daily, “The Star”. Soon after, I got into the comforts of a flagged down taxi and spread open the newspaper, in reverse, as all sports maniacs do!
It may surprise many but this leading 120 page newspaper in a developing nation actually dedicates eight to twelve pages to football, depending on the day of the week. No guessing required, a majority of the is space afforded to EPL and its players, reflecting upon the stupendous and successful marketing executed by the English FA globally to make it the most popular league.
On my last holiday to Phuket, Thailand I was shocked to discover that my taxi driver (who incidentally barely speaks English) put hard earned money on English Championship games every weekend. It further underlined that the level of “maniac”-ness all over Asia (and indeed, all over the world) regarding EPL, is unprecedented.
The content of the pages on this Tuesday, though, had a sharp contrast. The heaps of praises for Messi, Ronaldo and the El Clasico were easily overshadowed by accusations of diving by Suarez, elbowing by Van Persie and fresh charges over Twitter comments by Cole.
Last Tuesday wasn’t much different. The pages were filled with whose comments were more racist – Suarez or Terry’s, and whose punishment was less lenient! These days, QPR-Chelsea or Liverpool-United encounters are reduced to what sort of drama will be enacted during the (ridiculous) handshaking ceremony! The game has become a side show. Last year, Evra’s pathetic celebration attempting to provoke Suarez is more remembered than the score line with which United won.
The Tuesday seven months ago wasn’t much different either. Pages were filled with murmurs that player power of the seniors in the Chelsea team had ensured their coach Andre Villas Boas was thrown out. Almost overnight the team’s performance improved by leaps and bounds as they won trophies in every knock out competition they were alive in! The senior players, who were struggling to make any impact so far, now started touching everything to gold.
I know Di Matteo isn’t a Fergie or a Mourinho as yet, rather far from it. Hence it seemed a strong case where possibly some senior players underperformed under AVB till he got the boot. Soon after, in a Champions League Stamford Bridge encounter John Terry was caught by cameras, barking instructions to team mates – the SkySports commentator mentioning “Now you decide who’s the boss”.
Did the seniors lack commitment and bother more about winning a power struggle under AVB? Did they under perform? Did the FA or the Chelsea board bother investigating this? Or did they sweep under the carpet? Just like they do whenever John Terry gets caught into yet another annual trust-shattering act!
The Tuesday a year ago wasn’t much different either. Pages were filled Carlos Tevez’s bi-annual rants – either leaving the club or leaving the country or leaving the continent and that time, not leaving the bench! When he returned, entire focus of the club and fans was on the sub-plot – how he would play, would he start, would he celebrate, would he reveal more at the next interview and more. It looked like a soap opera than a title chasing final burst of lungs!
Am not suggesting that racism, diving, elbowing or player power exists exclusively amongst EPL players; not by any means. There are enough examples of each in Spain, in Italy or any league. But EPL being the most popular, watched and worshipped league, there is more talk and discussion about trivial issues; reducing the importance of many games to side dramas. Hence the English FA and clubs need to ensure the players lead the way with good conduct and concentrate more on quality of play.
During the El Classico, the commentator mentioned “If you are a student of the game, this is the ultimate seminar”. It was indeed an ultimate visual treat settled by two players who seem from another planet. Even the referee wasn’t able to keep pace with the end to end play and at one point slipped while reversing gears!
Yet on El Clasico day, for footballing reasons, La Liga scheduled the prime “match of the day” slot to Atletico Madrid vs Malaga – the second vs third placed team respectively. Diego Simeone’s team, as I write, have the same results as Barcelona, this season – six wins and a draw – and trail the leaders only by goal difference. Falcao has as many goals (eight) as Messi and Ronaldo, playing a game lesser. Pure football, lesser drama.
It’s doesn’t come as a surprise that the La Liga players who have infiltrated EPL are the least dramatic. Silva, Toure, Cazorla, Michu, Mata, Granero, Sahin and Garcia aren’t just thoroughly professional no-nonsense guys, they are also the epitome of giving 100% every time they set foot on turf.
Add Kagawa, Hazard, Oscar, Vertonghen, Vlaar and Maicon to the list and you wonder why good players from other leagues are becoming superstars in EPL overnight. Where are the days when a Veron, Forlan, Mutu, Shevchenko, Morientes or a Crespo struggled to adjust to the demands of EPL. Are EPL standards falling? Is EPL getting reduced to more dramas and controversies for the sake of higher TRP’s? Is FA not getting bothered much on the dipping quality?
You will find some of the answers in the European knock-out matches played this year. The way the Manchester clubs were tamed by their Europa cup (a second rung competition) opponents, the way Chelsea were humiliated by Atletico Madrid just over a month ago and the way Dortmund were all over Manchester City (at Etihad), just over a week ago present a strong case.
EPL stars need to concentrate more on their game – they owe it heavily to their fans.