Jonathan Wilson's Editor's Note from Issue Twenty
Nobody really knows what’s going on in the Premier League this season, why the hegemony of the usual big four has been shattered. It may be that it’s a freakish coming together of wealthy sides – Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City – underperforming while a very fine manager inspires Tottenham and whatever’s happening at Leicester happens. Or it may be that the rush of television money has made everybody so rich that being as rich as Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour are doesn’t matter so much. Or, most likely, it’s a combination of both.
Whatever the reason – and whatever the (semi-)justifiable complaints about quality – the Premier League is more fun than it’s been in years. I don’t think there’s ever been a season when I’ve turned up at so many games with a real sense of anticipation, of being desperate simply to see what happens. The moral of which is that equality is good; it’s more enjoyable when you don’t know who’s going to win. And, as we roll our eyes at further iterations of PSG against Chelsea and Arsenal against Barcelona in the Champions League, there’s something refreshing about seeing Leicester and Spurs involved at the top of the Premier League.
That’s what makes the suggestion of the Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu that wild cards should be offered to the Champions League so troubling. Haven’t the wealthy clubs got sufficient advantages? Aren’t the French and German leagues already effectively processions? Are the group stages of the Champions League not already dully predictable? Essentially the logic seems to be, “Crap! Manchester United might miss out but they bring a massive TV audience… better get them involved somehow,” combined with, “Hmmm, if United can mess up this badly, it might happen to us as well.”
Not that the wealthy looking after their own is restricted to Europe. The seedings for this summer’s Copa América are a farce. USA are seeded as hosts – fair enough. Argentina are seeded as the highest competing nation in the Fifa rankings. OK. On that logic Chile and Colombia, as the next highest ranked teams, would have been the other two seeds. But no, it’s Brazil and Mexico as “the most decorated nations in the last 100 years in international competitions from their respective confederations”. It’s true Mexico have won more Concacaf Gold Cups than anybody else, but if continental championships are the key then Uruguay would get in ahead of Brazil. And Chile, as reigning Copa América champions, have every right to feel miffed. The organisers have just selected the ‘biggest’ teams because they bring the most interest and thus revenue.
Maybe it’s naive to expect anything else, but the use of such criteria – which is in practice what Bartomeu’s wild-card system would become – runs contrary to all sporting principle. In reifying a self-perpetuating elite, it may also lead to a cloying familiarity. Either way, using wealth itself as a qualifying factor must be resisted.