Managers sceptical on overseas plan

February 7, 2008

Managers of Premier League clubs have given a mixed reaction to the idea of staging matches abroad after clubs unanimously agreed to further examine the proposal.

Under the plan, from the 2010-11 season in one weekend in January there would be an extra 'international round' with 10 matches played abroad in cities such as Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, Sydney, Johannesburg, Dubai and Beijing.

With fixture congestion already a problem Wigan manager Steve Bruce was sceptical of a journey across the globe for solitary match.

'It's bad enough with international friendlies, let alone going overseas,' Bruce said.

'I read the other day that games are going out to 22 or 23 countries, it's quite unbelievable, it gets everywhere.

'So I wouldn't be surprised, although there will be a few irate people. Can you imagine going to Fergie (Sir Alex Ferguson) and telling him 'by the way, you're not playing at home this week, you are playing in Japan'? I'd like to see it!

'It keeps evolving. From where we started in 1993 to where we are now, it's an unbelievable product that we have, and we should be grateful really.

'It (playing overseas) is not something you would relish but it's interesting. I've been fortunate enough to be in the Middle East and the affection for the Premier League is unbelievable.'

Fulham boss Roy Hodgson said: 'It is obviously a marketing thing. I would have to have a clearer picture of what is behind this marketing idea - I would have to find out more about it.

'One extra game of football a year, as long as the calendar can be sorted out, that doesn't seem to be a dealbreaker - but I have no real opinions at the moment on whether it is a good deal or a bad deal.'

Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate added: 'Is it April 1? I find it highly unlikely it would happen. I wouldn't think it would be a realistic proposition.'

Meanwhile Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) chairman Malcolm Clarke has labelled the proposals 'ludicrous' and disrespectful to the traditions of the English game.

'The FSF has no doubt whatsoever the vast majority of supporters are against this, and believe it would drag the Premier League into the realms of farce,' Clarke said.

'When this ludicrous idea was first mooted in October last year, we ran a poll on our website and of the huge majority of supporters who took the trouble to vote, 80% were in complete opposition to this then and I'm sure they still are now.

'And I think that figure will go even higher now that the full ridiculousness of the Premier League's proposals of how this would actually work has been revealed.

'I also personally wrote to all 20 Premier League chairmen about the issue in October - unsurprisingly, only three of them actually took the trouble to reply, but those who did were in complete opposition to the move.

'This displays a complete disregard not for the proud traditions of the English game as well as a crass lack of consideration for football supporters in general.

'Basically, it's a case of 'We've had their money here, now - where else can we get people to put their hands in their pockets?'

'The sole motivation for this is the Premier League to make more money - aren't they making enough already?'

Dr Simon Chadwick, director of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre and football business analyst, said that the move was inevitable.

'The Premier League market has reached its maturity and there is little growth potential especially for the big clubs,' Chadwick told PA Sport.

'A number of the clubs have already began making moves in this area by arranging financially lucrative pre-season tours to Asia and North America and this is just a natural progression.

'I think this move is inevitable as clubs look to tap into new markets which have not yet reached their potential.

'At the moment there is currently a global turf war between football and the likes of the NBA and the NFL which has led to a competition to try and secure new markets of growth.

'Certainly the new foreign owners that have come into the Premier League at the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United will have had something like this in mind to squeeze more finances out of the game.'

Chadwick continued: 'One of the major concerns for supporters is that increased globalization of the Premier League will further diminish the local identity of supporters and will further distance the relationship between a club and its fans.

'Another worry is that the 'consumers' where these games are being staged will really only want to see the star players and the big clubs.

'In say South Korea they will really only want to see Manchester United with Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in action, rather than say, and I don't this disrespectfully, Middlesbrough with Robert Huth.

'Because of this the finances will again skew towards the big clubs which would lead to a further competitive imbalance in the Premier League.'

Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn has urged people not to get carried away by the proposal.

Fans' groups have strongly criticised the idea, but Quinn insists consultations will be thorough and there is a long way to go before the plan becomes a reality.

Quinn told Sky Sports News: 'We have agreed to explore the opportunity, not to ratify it.

'I think the time is right to explore the opportunity of bringing the brand around the world, but some people have jumped to conclusions.

'There's so much that needs to happen and maybe it's time people take a little bit of a breather on this.

'The governance of it has to be done very well. There are a lot of stakeholders to consult, the biggest one being our fans.

'But it's tantalising,' he added. 'And off the top of my head I would say it's the correct decision.'

Quinn insisted Sunderland would only give their approval to the plan if all clubs are treated equally.

'It will all boil down to the fact it's a Premier League thing and we're all equally treated,' he said. 'Certainly we would not be comfortable if we felt one club would be getting more than others.

'It has to be right for our football club.'

Quinn also gave his backing to the news Premier League clubs will be allowed to name seven substitutes from next season.

'We voted for it,' he said. 'Tottenham Hotspur brought it to the table. Other clubs have started to do it around the world so it's the right time.

'It also helps allow us to have younger players on the bench without having to rely on them as much as we do now with only four outfield substitutes.'