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Premier League’s asterisk season

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With five minutes remaining in the penultimate game of the Premier League season, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola found the atmosphere a little too tense. When the opponent’s forward approached the team’s goal, Guardiola, who was squatting on the sidelines, lost his balance and fell on his back.

He lay on the grass, expecting the worst, and missed a crucial moment in the Premier League. The most exciting title race of the decade.

But the striker failed to score. His shot was parried by goalkeeper Stefan Ortega to move City above title rivals Arsenal in the table, and if they win again on Sunday it will become the first team to win four consecutive titles. England team.

“Ortega saved us,” Guardiola said later. “Otherwise, Arsenal are champions.”

The fate of the championship should not be decided until the end of the season, which seems fitting for what is ostensibly a classic season in the Premier League.

Yet all this drama comes with a symbolic asterisk. This Premier League season has also been defined by turmoil off the pitch – point Deduction, cannibalism, Legal disputes, Fraud charges and the looming threat of government intervention – just as City (eventually) got through it.

For the first time this season, the Premier League has been forced to strip two of its member clubs of points in the table due to financial breaches. One of them, Everton, was punished twice, angered fans. The appeal then set in motion a lengthy, opaque legal process that plunged not only the teams, but their rivals, into months of uncertainty.

Behind the scenes, the uneasy peace between the 20 clubs who are owners and operators of the league has been fundamentally broken, shaking the foundations that made the competition so popular that it is now arguably the most popular in the UK. Strong cultural export.

There are fierce disagreements over financial rules, how much of the Premier League’s wealth should be shared with the rest of English football, and the legality of some teams’ commercial income.

This has led to increasing in-house laws: Manchester City Threatened Burnley have sought legal advice as it takes legal action over sponsorship by affiliates of the club’s Emirates owners meditation Tens of millions of dollars in damages are being sought over the costly relegation cost Everton during financial breaches.

What’s even more disturbing for fans and the club is that it’s been 15 months since City were accused of breaching the rules. 115 violations A series of league financial rules for a championship season.

Manchester City have refused to discuss Premier League accusationsThe company has called it a “organized” attempt to smear its reputation and has repeatedly said it has “comprehensive and irrefutable evidence” of its innocence.

The Premier League declined to respond this week, saying it has long been a policy not to comment on ongoing cases involving its members, but the battles have become an expensive endeavor: Legal bills in multiple cases have now reached millions of dollars .

Casting a pall over this, at least as far as the Premier League is concerned, is the UK government’s attempt to bring in a football regulator to ensure clubs are sustainably run by reliable, reputable owners.

The idea was first mooted three years ago after a number of leading clubs attempted to form an independent European club. super league, the Premier League cautiously welcomed this. It reached out to lawmakers seeking ideas on what form the regulator might take.

This stance has changed significantly. The coalition has been lobbying to try to limit the regulator’s role and often advertises in a range of political communications. Premier League chief executive Richard Masters recently said any government regulation would threaten “Undermining the Premier League’s global success“By blocking potential investors from the game.

In an open letter to the Times of London, he said regulation could hurt “the goose that provides the golden eggs for British football”.

“The biggest concern is that investment will dry up,” said Christina Philippou, a sports finance lecturer at the University of Portsmouth who has advised lawmakers on drafting the regulator’s role. “Regulators do make a certain type of investment less likely. But making it more sustainable, limiting losses, makes it more likely that another — and perhaps better — type of investment will emerge.”

However, it remains to be seen whether the Premier League is united enough to deal with all the challenges it faces. The league operates as a collective: each club, regardless of size or longevity, has one vote, and any motion must have the support of 14 of the 20 clubs in order to pass.

Over the years, this has led to what Dr Philip describes as a “clear schism” between the so-called Big Six – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United, as well as Tottenham Hotspur, whose interests are generally aligned – and everyone else. “. The situation now is much more complex. “There were a lot of factions and the atmosphere was tense,” she said.

While the league has been able to agree on some issues — the need for a new set of financial regulations and improved video officiating — the tone of the meeting is now more tense, according to several executives who attended the meeting but declined to be identified. Named during discussions of private conversations.

What was once relatively friendly competition has become more acrimonious, these executives say. The authority of the League itself, once absolute, is now regularly challenged. Some teams now routinely reserve one of two seats at meetings for in-house lawyers, they said.

Most attribute that to the seismic, divisive issues the league has had to face in recent years, from the coronavirus pandemic to a number of split proposals and a raft of financial cases.

Others, however, believe changes in the makeup of the league’s ownership groups have played a role: sovereign wealth funds and private equity groups are more willing to tolerate losses than their predecessors and are less concerned about the overall health of the game.

“It’s only going to get worse,” said Trevor East, a former television executive and architect of the Premier League’s original vision. “The integrity of the league is vital, but going forward they will be challenged at every opportunity.”

The league’s competitive spirit also became an issue. Part of the controversy over the points deductions for Everton and another club, Nottingham Forest, is that the league does not set penalties for economic crimes: Everton were initially stripped of 10 points, later reduced to six, but Forest were only docked four. point.

This was well thought out, though: in 2020, Premier League clubs voted not to write specific tariffs into league regulations, partly in the hope that the uncertainty would act as a deterrent and partly in the belief that some teams would simply view them as for tariffs. as a cost of doing business.

Dr Philip said this short-term analysis was typical of the way of thinking that had brought the Premier League to a point where the government could reasonably make regulatory recommendations. “It’s always had a habit of focusing on certain, immediate things,” she said of the league, “rather than looking at the real issues and looking at what needs to be done to maintain a competitive balance.”

For some executives, the fact that the League has demonstrated a willingness to use its power to punish its members could be seen as evidence of the effectiveness of these regulations: an executive version of Voltaire’s observation that in Britain “it was time to kill the admiral” It would be a good thing.” Be timely to encourage others. “

Masters acknowledged in an interview with lawmakers this week that it’s “a tough time for the league” and seeing his team punished is difficult for fans. “But if we have financial rules, we have to enforce them,” he said.

Few in football fear that the Premier League’s troubles will diminish its appeal. Even the specter that City’s achievements might be tarnished could, over time, become another compelling storyline in a global soap opera.

Still, the turmoil appears likely to continue.Last month, Leicester City be promoted Returning to the Premier League after a season away. The club has been accused of financial breaches during their previous stay. It also qualifies for point deductions.

Andrew Das Reporting from London.

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