Sepp Blatter has said that the Premier League’s international round will not be going ahead. He has also issued what is practically a threat, saying that were the Premier League to go-ahead with the plan, England’s 2018 World Cup bid would be affected.
With UEFA, the AFC and now FIFA opposing the plan, it seems unlikely that it will happen. Yet this sets up a battle that could well turn very nasty, and could marginalise English football from the rest of the world. Richard Scudamore has come out and said that if they receive backing from the FA, it will go ahead.
If that happens, the consequences could be damaging, and will finally confirm something that has long been pondered: that the national game is secondary to the process of profiteering and promoting a valuable product. Indeed, were the Premier League to implement the plan, it would now probably affect the value of its prized commodity.
Yet this could raise the club vs. country row again, except this time it could take a more unsavoury and potentially harmful air. If the Premier League went against FIFA, where would players loyalties lies? With their employers, or with the law-maker? It would likely be the former.
It could, in some ways, be the equivalent of the Kerry Packer/World Series Cricket saga of the 70s, where players are torn between two sides: the PL, seeking more money in a supposed quest to advance their national game; and FIFA, the body there to protect world football (of course, where it does is the matter for a separate debate altogether). Players being forced to choose sides, and players being ostracised.
In 2000, the FA got the biggest shock possible when it realised how out of touch it was with world football, after England’s World Cup 2006 bid failed to get to the final round. Since then, it has worked hard to build bridges throughout the footballing world, to a point where it is now favourite to get the 2018 World Cup.
Even the CONCACAF chief Jack Warner, after originally being heavily against the bid and saying that he would do everything to make sure it failed, has now suddenly come out in favour. The Premier League’s plan threatens this newly-created relationship between the FA, the other NFAs and confederations.
It is time the Premier League ditched the idea. It was once rather funny and foolish in all honesty, but now it’s extremely threatening and deeply concerning. This has transcended taking clubs abroad for a game, raising more revenue and upsetting fans who will, in all probability, show apathy for a few weeks and nothing else; this can now irrevocably damage the game in this country, and leave a deep and ugly scar.