Revitalise the Premier: expand Chelsea, Manchester, Arsenal hierarchy, send bottom six down

Jake: 'but will this work for us?'

Jake: ‘but will this work for us?’

Ordinary Jon, aka Jon Adamson, Sunderland supporter and football blogger******, was bored rigid by the vaunted Premier League last season. Even our customary great escape left him feeling there’d been only two or three SAFC games worth remembering and that ours wasn’t even the great escape anyway. His recipe for making life at the top more exciting, and life at the bottom more troublesome, follows. It will suit some appetites, it may cause acute indigestion and it could be too tongue-in-cheek to win votes on Come Dine With Me. Bland fare it is not …

The dullest season since the Premier League began suggests radical action is required. Here’s a five point plan to bring some excitement back into the beautiful product.

2014-15 was the dullest season in the top flight since Mr Murdoch and chums ditched the pragmatically titled Division One for the self-styled best product in football, the golden-crowned Premier League.

Among the elite last season, Chelsea produced an efficient procession towards the title. By the time we got to September it never looked like the trophy would head anywhere other than Stamford Bridge.

Apart from the champions, the top end of the table took on a familiar feel, the early promise of such wild cards as Southampton and Swansea faltering a little as we regressed to the mean. For the last 20 years the top three has been basically the same, although the order changes a little (as shown by this image c/o @SimonGleave:

Perhaps the only difference was that even the supporters of those teams who always finish in the top four were getting a little bored of it all.

So what about elsewhere in the league? Well, decent seasons from the aforementioned Southampton and Swansea and a late burst by Crystal Palace will fade in the memory of all but the partisan before August rolls around again.

At the bottom it’s been a stultifyingly soporific shuffle of incompetency among the bottom six sides. There was, as always, a modicum of fear and dread masquerading as excitement for the last relegation place up for grabs.

However such excitement of survival doesn’t negate the eight months of dross which preceded it. As a Sunderland fan, I am often asked around that time of yeah, “well, at least it’s never dull eh?” Yes, it is dull actually. It’s mostly dull It’s unremittingly dull for eight or nine months save for maybe three exciting games a year.

An exciting league has to be one which is exciting for neutrals, not just the partisan. Every game has some interest for the team we support but if other league games fail to hold our attention then it’s a struggle to justify the self-anointed “most exciting league in the world” moniker.

So here’s my five-point plan to make the Premier League exciting again:

* Relegate the bottom six

Let’s face it, none of the bottom half dozen deserved to stay up. The three sides promoted last year have that as an excuse but were still largely woeful. As for Sunderland, Hull, Villa, and WBA, well leaving aside the sizeable contingent of away fans, no one would really miss them from the top flight.

Yes Leicester won the copyright for this year’s end of season “great escape” DVD and Villa finally scored some goals under Sherwood but prior to the last two months they too were awful.

God may love a trier but no one else does. It if sounds harsh relegating six teams then, don’t worry, they’ve got a great chance of being one of the six promoted next time. Who doesn’t want that? Top five get promoted and 6-to-9th play off for the last spot. Everyone loves the play-offs.

** Play-offs for fourth Champions League place

As everyone loves the playoffs so we need to have them in the Premier League too.

The top three should qualify automatically for the Champions League with those finishing in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th having play-offs for the final place. It would keep it interesting for those hovering around mid-table for most of the season and would reward well-run clubs and good performing teams who without a sheikh, US trader or Russian oil baron are still never going to break in to the top four. This would also mean one of the big sides missing out and we love watching that even more than watching one of the underdogs win. As Gore Vidal famously said: “It is not enough to win, others have to lose.”

*** Lose some players

We need smaller teams. Not smaller squads, smaller teams. Games are too dull now – 11 men behind the ball, “parking the bus” – who ever practised that at school? Two teams both setting up to play on the counterattack? No thanks. Let’s have fewer players leaving wide-open spaces for more attacking and more goals. Footballing legend Socrates was one luminary who advocated this:

In 1970 the average Brazilian footballer ran 4km in a game. Today it’s 10km, which means space has reduced greatly. It has stifled creativity because no one has enough time on the ball. Given these changes, I think the game should be played with just nine players on each side, to recreate the spirit the game is meant to be played in.

I might be an idiot but Socrates isn’t. Also, when is anyone going to think about the journalists and the new breed of football hipsters and analysts? Anyone can see that content is running desperately thin. The focus of analytics growing ever more tenuous as they seek a new angle: percentage possession, touch heat-maps, volume of oxygen inhaled as proxy of “effort”.

The exponential rise in footballing hipsters, sports analysts, bloggers and podders means we desperately need to generate something new to write about and talk about. Think what a shot in the arm it would be for pseudo-journalists and fans to change the game from 11-a-side to nine-a-side? Imagine the endless articles, blogs and books that would result from comparing the benefits of Jurgen Klopp’s cavalier elongated-diamond 2-3-2-1 formation compared to Tony Pulis’s pragmatic and pugnacious 6-1-1?

**** Interrupt the flow of the game more

Football has been sluggish in embracing the wonders of modern technology and the Premier League could be the vanguard technocrats to reinvigorate our game.

Yes, we’ve got goal-line technology but we want more than that. Cricket has its third umpire review. Tennis has its appeals to Hawk Eye.

Football needs a system of appeals too. The fourth official is wasted in his current role. Even the introduction of the over-designed electronic number boards to replace the perfectly adequate “analogue” number boards has not helped their perceived importance, if anything, quite the opposite. However, if we give players and fourth officials licence to constantly interrupt the game, overruling (just the official I trust, not the players – Ed) the newly renamed “field referee” to disallow goals, award penalties and send people off, then they’ll feel much more a part of things. We’ll increase the degree of certainty and generate a whole range of new mistakes and disagreements. We’ll probably wonder why we even created fourth officials in the first place without such a role. And we’ll have to rename each of them something pompous and superior like “director of match integrity”.

***** Leave Fifa

Do I even need to sell this idea to anyone? The Premier League doesn’t need Fifa and Fifa doesn’t need the Premier League. It’s just habit that’s holding us together now.

Sure, we used to like the same things – money, football, sponsorship, money – but more recently we’ve drifted apart. We used to find the staged “elections” quirky and nostalgic but now they are just annoying. We used to like the summer-camp kickabout “World Cups” with all those international stars we could add an extra couple of zeros onto the price tags of.

Now these summer cups are just a pain and people might get injured and then miss games in the Premier League. Let’s just accept that we’ve had a good run together but we need a divorce. We can then start making all kinds of changes to the rules without heeding the advice of any form of governance.

****** Jon blogs as Ordinary Jon at http://www.ordinaryjon.com/ and tweets at https://twitter.com/search?q=%40OrdinaryJon&src=typd

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

11 Responses to “Revitalise the Premier: expand Chelsea, Manchester, Arsenal hierarchy, send bottom six down” Subscribe

  1. Phil Johnson July 20, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    I first read this when it was posted on RTG a couple of days ago and thought it was absolute “tosh”.

    So much so that I asked if the author was an American teenager but (as expected) received no confirmation or denial!

    • malcolm July 20, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

      Why suggest that West Brom deserved to go down but not the Mags? Following Pardew’s departure they were by far the worst team in the Division and almost pulled off a great escape of their own – tunnelling their way into the Championship.

      The easiest way to revitalise this league will be when the much vaunted European Super League gets the go ahead with Chelsea, Arsenal and the two Manchester Clubs off to play the likes of Real, Barcelona, PSG, Monaco, Bayern, Dortmund, Celtic, Juventus etc.

      How can the Champions League have more than one club from each country in it anyway?

      • Phil Johnson July 20, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

        Maybe his next suggestions will include playing with a rugby ball, to improve player’s skill sets and then adding an additional one every 10 minutes after half time!

        Ill thought out madness!

      • Phil Johnson July 20, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

        “How can the Champions League have more than one club from each country in it anyway?”

        I think in that sentence lies the root of the major problem confronting, not only, the PL but every league across Europe!

        UEFA decided to go ahead with something they, quite clearly/correctly thought would be a “cash cow” for themselves without realising the “knock on” effect it would have on the Associations they are supposed to represent!

  2. salutsunderland July 20, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    Only Ordinary Jon can tell us how tongue-in-cheek his proposals are. But he cannot be blamed for the set-up that allows more than each country’s champion to compete in the CL.

    • Phil Johnson July 20, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

      I’m not going to read through the diatribe again but, if my memory serves me correctly, he failed to mention that at all!

  3. Keith Hutton Africa July 20, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

    The Premier League is fantastic and watched throughout the world, why would anyone want to change it radically. There will always be teams at the top and teams at the bottom, Icwas hoping the financial fairplay rules would level the playing field, but it has not been successful in that respect but the changes suggested seem outrageous to my mind

  4. Drummer July 21, 2015 at 6:32 am #

    The premier league is generally rubbish from the point of view of a SAFC supporter ,because aside from our usuall salvage job at the end we struggle to compete . The league may be overrated but its certainly more competitive with deeper quality overall than any other league I’m aware of and I just hope against hope that we can finally improve our standing in it .It is dull drawing or losing most weeks, the point being , that’s our problem no one else’s .

  5. Jeremy July 21, 2015 at 7:14 pm #

    Great article. It amused me greatly. Especially the part about those stupid number boards. Why do we persist with them when there are huge screens etc?

  6. david miller July 23, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    During his time as our manager, Denis Smith said he thought teams should be reduced to 10 a side because players were so fit and space was at a premium, adding “I don’t think that idea will be popular with the players’ union mind!” So, this is not a new or strange idea.

    The obsession with “pace” nowadays also bears this out, and posters here have already made worried comments about this about pre-season performances, we are woefully short of it.

    And I’ll side with anyone who wants to leave FIFA.

    • William C July 23, 2015 at 9:31 am #

      Players are so much fitter and faster than they were when the rules of football were devised, that the idea of reducing the number of players is not so daft. The same might be said for increasing the size of the goal. Keepers’ are twice the size of those 100 years ago.

      One rule I would like to change is that affecting corners. I think a maximum number of players from each side should be allowed into the penalty area [ say 4 each side ] The present situation is ludicrous, and, technically a penalty could be awarded every time a corner is taken.

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