Three hopes, one fear for the Premier League in 2019

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A new year is upon us, the hectic Christmas period is over. The FA Cup begins and teams begin to take formation in their resting places for the season.

2018 brought a Manchester City title win, Liverpool losing a Champions League final and a 2017/18 season where all three promoted sides survived.  Jose Mourinho continued his love/hate relationship with being a football manager and was embroiled in more feuds than Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore has left his job, with an offer of a £5 million golden handshake. Susanna Dinnage, was ready and lined up to replace the outgoing only to decide to not take the opportunity.

2019 will bring it’s own challenges, it’s ups and it’s downs.

Hope one – Successful implementation of VAR

Video Assistant Referees or VAR, will be implemented from the 2019/2020 season. Technology is becoming more intertwined with the modern game, goal line technology was introduced and has been a large success since doing so.

Yet referees are struggling even more to come to the correct decisions in vital games, and those decisions are becoming more costly such are the ramifications of a loss in the Premier League. Diving is still a constant whilst the offside rule is almost different by every fixture.

VAR should help referees give more informed decisions and, by logic, that should result in more correct calls. If this system works as well as it did at the World Cup in Russia, fans will be largely happier and the stigma of referees having a ‘big team bias’ will finally be expelled.

One thing VAR will not solve, is the confusion around the rules initially set out. Grey areas exist all over the football rule book, but that, is a separate issue.

Hope two – Bigoted behaviour finally stamped out

Fans by and large in the Premier League are well behaved, law abiding citizens. Fans in the Premier League are also some of the most diverse you will see across the footballing world. The English game is such a huge brand that people flock from all over the world to see the beautiful game in it’s most entertaining form.

Unfortunately, minorities often give the majority a bad name. The end of 2018 saw a spate of appalling behaviour in Premier League grounds, alleged racist abuse towards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Raheem Sterling, whilst Dele Alli was struck by a bottle during the win over Arsenal.

These fans more often than not do get punished, they are ejected from the grounds and banned from returning for a length of time. The nature of the ban is up for debate, those who offer this behaviour should be prosecuted as though it were done on the street.

But there are fantastic movements out there trying to stamp out all kinds of behaviour. Movements trying to involve more LGBTQI people in football, more woman in football, more ethnic minorities in football. The work of organisations such as Kick It Out work tirelessly to educate those who exhibit this behaviour an reduce the number of cases reported each week.

The biggest hope for 2019, is that more are educated, more are enlightened, and football is enjoyed as a unit, a family, the way it is meant to be.

Hope three – Football becomes more affordable for everyone

Ticket prices in football are at an all time high. The average ticket price this season is £31 this season, whilst a season ticket can cost as much as £2200 in Tottenham’s new stadium (when it is finally finished). Some clubs such as Huddersfield and Cardiff do offer a low priced season ticket at £249.

A huge portion of Premier League clubs offer £30 tickets for all away fans, whilst Southampton’s sponsor Virgin Media subsidise £10 of that £30 ticket as part of the ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign.

The economic climate in the country is unstable, and the ever increasing prices of merchandise and travel often means huge numbers of fans are unable to attend games, meaning it is a rare occasion that a Premier League game is at absolute capacity.

The price of attending football can be questioned even more after a recent study showed 11 of the 20 Premier League teams in the 2016/17 season would have made a profit even if no fans attended a single game.

Leicester City would have made a huge £76 million profit, helped by their title win, whilst Crystal Palace could have made £1 million profit. So halving the price of each ticket would have still resulted in huge profits for these clubs.

Fear – The gulf in class widens in the Premier League

The Leicester City title win was a fantastic occasion, proof that the Premier League is the most unpredictable, exciting top flight division in the world. But that title win may have actually done more bad than good.

The Foxes win forced the usual ‘big boys’ to realise they had been complacent, that it were possible for the hold they had on the Premier League trophy to be broken. So they sought to put a stop to that as soon as possible.

The money available to those in the top six far outweighs that of the rest of the league, and creates such a gap in terms of quality that fans often write off games against ‘the big six’ absorbing all enjoyment out of watching the best footballers in the world pit their wits against each other.

So far this season, the top four all have 40+ points after just 20 games. Whilst the bottom club Huddersfield have just ten points. Wolves in seventh place, are 14 points off the fourth place, but also 14 points off of the bottom three.

The solution to this? Who knows. A salary cap? Transfer budget cap? The possibilities are endless but so are the reasons against those.  Financial Fair Play was meant to be help solve the issue, in fact, it has just held back those who have a smaller revenue whilst the marketing giants pick them off with their millions.

 

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