Off the pitch and now on itTop players this weekend will be tired many having played three internationals over the international break.
After Being crowned most valuable player in the just concluded National Basketball Association season for the LA Lakers, Lebron James, the American basketball star, said that he was happy to have won the title for the “franchise”. To label the LA Lakers as franchise is not wrong, per se. The American Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word in its website as “a team and its operating organization [sic] having [the right of membership in a professional sports league]”. But the word, according to the same source also means “the right or license granted to an individual or a group to market a company’s goods or services in a particular territory”. The second meaning is, of course, better known. For example, Nepali companies Himalayan Java Coffee and Syanko Katti Rolls have franchises all over Kathmandu.
His use of the word was striking in the context of the rejected proposal to bring changes in the existing Premier League structure and English football. The proposal which, among other things, included bringing down the number of teams in England’s top flight to 18, scrapping the League Cup and the one-off Community Shield and, perhaps most importantly, giving nine of the top would-be 18 clubs more voting rights, instead of the current one club one vote system, was introduced basically because it would be basis for the bigger clubs to make more money. That Liverpool and Manchester United, both of which are owned by Americans who also own sports franchises in America where there are no systems of promotions and relegations in leagues of different sports, were behind the proposals is another striking aspect of the whole business.
One could, of course, argue for or against the proposals, depending on how one sees the role of sports in society, but the giving the bigger clubs more voting rights is a wee bit undemocratic. As of now, as per Premier League governing laws, all changes must be voted by a two-thirds majority. This, though, is probably not the end of the affair.
Now, to the pitch. Top players this weekend will be tired many having played three internationals over the international break. Some may return with injuries, other with fatigue to the displeasure of coaches like Jose Mourhino, the habitual whiner, now in-charge of Tottenham Hotspurs who say they are aiming for the Premier League title with the prodigal son Gareth Bale returning. They play rejuvenated London rivals West Ham United who beat Leicester City, who had till then had won three out of three including 2-5 against fancied Manchester City, last time out.
The only club that have a perfect record so far are the perennial bridesmaid Everton. The last time they achieved this feat was 51 years ago and they won the league. They meet Mersyside rivals and the title holders Liverpool while the coronavirus ravages the county. While Everton are on a high, Liverpool needs to bounce back from the 2-7 thrashing in the hands of lowly Aston Villa. The last time Liverpool had conceded seven goals was back in the 1962-63 season. And the winners that season? Everton Football Club.
Carlo Ancelloti will have a point to prove. He was unceremoniously dismissed by Serie A team Napoli before he joined Everton. He has won league titles in Italy, England, France, Spain and Germany but always with established teams – never with a mid-table one like Everton. At his new club he has made astute signings but they may not win the league this year . Their giving top teams a run for their money would make good viewing.
The other notable game this weekend is the one between the master and the disciple. Mikel Arteta, who was Pep Guardiola’s assistant before he joined Arsenal last December, takes his team to Etihad Stadium. Arsenal finished eighth in the league last season, below the fifth his predecessor Unai Emery achieved in his first season, losing out on the Champions League place to rival Tottenham by a solitary point. Despite the position though Arteta has been hailed for bringing steel to the team’s play and attacking teams cannot walk over their defence anymore. They have won three out of four games this season losing only to Liverpool despite having scored first in that game.
The last time the two teams met was in the FA Cup semi-final where Arsenal got the better of City but the league is a different matter. Arsenal had beat Liverpool in the Community Shield this year but in the league when these two teams met it was like watching men playing against boys for such was the dominance of Liverpool. Football is a game of 11 against 11 and the team with better players and better organisation usually wins.
But hope of the underdogs winning always provides romance.