The latter stages of this season have been mightily predictable. Arsenal's season collapses, City take Spurs’ place in the Champions league, United win the league comfortably, Barca beat Real, United beat Shalke, Barca beat United. The only slight shock being City beating United in the cup semi. Then, the final was a foregone conclusion. And even the graduated but assured ascent of Man City is, in itself, a thing of tedious inevitability.
The thing I would like to discuss is the cause of this predictability, at least for my money. I speak, of course, of the organising bodies running the game (or do I mean ruining?)(Yes actually, I do). For me, a well run team sport has provisions ensuring that no single team can monopolise it. Of course, no single team has quite been able to do this in football. For example, that no-one has retained the champions league is evidence to this end. However, how many teams are there who can win it? And How many can win the Premiership? However many, it is not enough. In an ideal world, everyone who is in it could win it. This may seem utopian but “Aim for the stars, you might reach the moon”.
If you look at the American sports, how predictable are they? ‘Nowhere near as much as football’ is a pretty good answer. Yes, some teams are better than others but realistically, very few teams can be ruled out from the start, and that gives every fan hope that this may be their year. The top-flight of English football used to be this way too. So what's different? Well, it's impossible to avoid mentioning money so let's get it out of the way.
All the American sports have systems in place to help prevent a team using extortionate wealth to commandeer an insurmountable monopoly in their sport. These include, not exclusively: salary caps, salary floors, luxury tax and revenue sharing. None of them are perfect but they all have their impact. Of course, all American sports have the draft system too; a system which cannot serve as precedent in European football whose system also contains promotion and relegation which, ironically, is justifiable wholly in the interests of fairness. The important point is that, the governing bodies have, by some sequence of events or another, arrived at the conclusion that rules and regulations need be made preventing the aforementioned monopoly. And they are constantly reconsidered, evaluated and updated and serve sufficiently to retain a realistic sense of hope in the mind of fans of even the poorest franchises.
Would we like to see European football Americanised in this way? Possibly not. But I have spoken before about the significant lack of innovation in the governing of football. And the reason this passes without consequence is that, until now, football remains unconditionally popular – a fact which is not in anyone’s interests to change. But if it’s popularity is truly unconditional, and I believe it is, then innovation would not be a danger to this either. So why not? Why not try bringing in video technology? Why not make referees more accountable? Why not try to implement financial restrictions? Why not try rule changes in the most controversial areas of the game? - offside, last man red-cards (more accurately, goal-scoring opportunity denying red cards), ‘deliberate’ handball, etc. etc. These questions become increasingly rhetorical in the safe knowledge of being able to change and even reverse any innovative rule-changes which are proven not to work or help.
The financial restrictions are surely the first thing to be addressed. Isolated injustices in individual games are considerably more tolerable, and for that matter unpreventable, compared with the predictability of a sport which makes no attempt to prevent monopolisation. So, it is with all this in mind that I very much approve of the imminent financial fairplay laws to which the reader is almost unquestionably referring. Whilst it is true that those clubs effected are working tirelessly to evasively circumnavigate this rule, it is a huge step forward for the sport to implement regulations recognising the need for restriction in this regard.
In the meantime, are we to sit and watch, without comment or condemnation, this sport spiral further away from that which makes it great with big season-defining games unfolding as if scripted by Blatter, Platini or some equally unimaginative and decrepit crook? I doubt that can be expected with any probabilistic conviction.
The current place of the speculative fan, interested in the tout ensemble, is to criticise the game and not the players, managers, fans or officials, or even owners. It is, after all, no surprise that a sport whose governance is as fraudulent as it is backward, is falling behind the rest of the world of sport in all manner of capacities. And its natural defences, its popularity, will not necessarily outlast an ever-decaying system of conservatism and corruption.