The Premier League’s proposal to play a round of fixtures overseas has divided opinion within the football community in England.
The announcement on Thursday that the Premier League was considering extending the number of matches from 38 to 39 to incorporate a round of games played outside England, took most observers by surprise.
The Premier League announced that all 20 clubs had given their unanimous agreement to pursue the proposal, as they look to expand their global reach and fan-base. Points gained will count towards the final league table, with the scheme due to begin in the 2010-11 season.
Unviling the plan, the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Scudamore, dismissed claims that the additional fixture would not undermine the integrity of the league.
“There is a difference between symmetry and integrity,” he argued. “What we currently have is a perfectly symmetrical league, and what this proposition does is alter by 1/39th the perfect symmetry that exists, but these will be genuine matches, they will be drawn and they [the clubs] will know the rules when they join. Every club knows they will have an equal chance of being treated unfairly.
“The idea of a single game, say Arsenal v Manchester United, being held in New York was anathema to us [but] if we are going to move this league forwards then we are going to have to do something, because standing still is not an option. This proposal today seems to have captured the imagination of the 20 clubs.”
However, Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp has hit out at the plan, suggesting the move would represent the thin end of the wedge and lead to an increasing number of games being played overseas.
Redknapp told talksport: “I don’t know why the Premier League want to mess with things.
“This is not ideal, is it? And what happens if you are unlucky enough to get Manchester United or Arsenal – surely that’s not fair. But it looks as though the plan is done and dusted.
“Frankly, I’d be very surprised if it stays at one game a season. Eventually you will see two, three or even more going abroad – and I don’t like that.
“In the end we’ll be playing one in England and the rest will be around the world. It will be like Harlem Globetrotters.
“It’s all about making money. Why else do these people buy football clubs? The owner used to be the local butcher, baker or candlestick maker.
“Now people are buying clubs and it’s all about investment. Don’t tell me that’s not why all the Yanks are coming over. They want a return on their money.”
But Bolton manager Megson backed the proposal, claiming the benefits would outweigh and cons.
He told The Sun: “I think it’s great. If it was organised properly it would be taken to an area where there is maybe not a massive amount of football but the exposure is there in terms of TV. It’s similar to the NFL playing a game in London.
“I don’t think it will be a huge problem and the benefits will far out-weigh the cons.
“The exposure the Premier League gets from television is fantastic and the interest in places you wouldn’t think there is interest is huge.
“In principal it’s a good thing. There have been some things I thought at the time were duff ideas but turned out to be a benefit – things like banning keepers from picking up a back-pass.”
The proposal was also condemned by supporters’ reresentatives, who accused the clubs of sacrificing tradition in pursuit of money.
Malcolm Clarke, co-chairman of the Football Supporters’ Federation, told BBC Sport: “I’m fairly confident in predicting that the overwhelming majority of football supporters will be totally opposed to this proposal.
“This is yet another case of the Premier League threatening the tradition of our game simply to follow money,” he claimed.
“The idea that teams can play a league game in a place where their supporters won’t be able to go and watch them will be totally opposed by the vast majority of supporters.
“What I want to do is put a challenge to the Premier League to abandon this completely if the majority of supporters turn out to be against it.”