17 January, 2008

Attention Barney Ronay - The Championship is Better Than You Think

Ronay if you're reading this, go fuck yourself. Why you might ask? Well that toss-piece masquerading as a Guardian reporter wrote this.

Sure the primary focus of STT is the Premier League, and all the soap opera-esque baggage that comes with it, but at heart we also love the lower leagues just as much since they are as crucial to the UK’s rich footballing tapestry. We are lucky to have as many leagues as we do, and also the levels of attendance outside of the top flight too; just last season for example, the Championship was the fourth highest supported league in Europe, ahead of Serie A and only behind the Premier League, the Budesliga and La Liga. This is something to be proud of, not make fun of behind it’s back like a schoolgirl, selectively ignoring facts just to make everything coincide with a pre-determined and simplistic conclusion.

His opening gambit in this load of shite is:

“Don't be fooled by the success of Championship sides in the FA Cup. The nation's second tier represents all that is wrong with English football.”

As opposed to what Mr Ronay? Arsenal, who represent all that’s right with English football, with their starting XI of exactly zero English players? Or Liverpool, who for 45 minutes two nights ago struggled to outplay a team 2 leagues below them, in a famous old stadium where more than 40,000 home fans were absolutely silent? Or Chelsea, who’s ridiculously over-priced English players do their best to stay out of the way while the rest of the imported team muscle the opposition off the pitch?

I cannot actually get past the smug conceit of this statement:

“Watch a little Championship football and you realise fairly quickly that the Premier League, with its rag-bag of imported modernisms, is little more than a baroque footballing façade hurriedly Blue Tacked on to the dingy structure beneath. At the lower level the caveman football of pre-modern times - direct, hysterically fast-paced and valuing athleticism and stamina above all else - is still very much at large”
Wow those are some fancy words Barney, you paint quite a picture, I’m impressed. But what exactly do you think the rest of Europe thinks when they watch the Premier League? Are many sides in the top flight favouring the importation of young African players because they are blessed with the balance of Maradona and the shot of van Basten, or is it actually because they value “athleticism and stamina above all else?” To survive in this league you need to out-muscle the competition, assuming that you can’t just pluck the new Zidane out of thin air. As Alan Hansen once famously said, before you can nutmeg and attack defenders, first you have to earn the right to play. Putting aside moments within the top 6 or so teams, are you seriously telling me that there is any more skill in the Premier League than in the Championship?

“Trying to pass your way around the second-tier bullies requires a certain standard of player, as well as a degree of courage and patience.”

You use the FA Cup as an example but have somehow twisted it out of all recognition. If the likes of Liverpool, Newcastle, Fulham and Derby, to name just a few, were so much more gifted and intent on playing football in the face of the “lower level of caveman football” then why did they struggle so much? They bottled the physical side of game, and then were unable to use their superior footballing ability to simply pass the ball around a load of so-called Neanderthals.

Just because the Premier League is played at such a pace that it’s often totally out of control does not make it any better. Obviously there are exceptions, foreigners funded by the huge gulf in wealth, but more often than not the bullies are simply better paid in the Premier League. I think everyone would agree with you that supporters want entertainment and skill but that barely exists in the Premier League either! For every Torres or Fabregas there are 20 Championship-standard players with vastly inflated egos and bank balances going through the motions and you are simply blind to not realise this. The Premier League is often just as tedious as the Championship due to a similar lack of technique and invention, so what does that tell you? It’s a problem with the English game in general, and not just the lower leagues. If to compete in the Premier League all you needed was stopovers and tricks, then that’s also what the lower leagues would reflect, but as it is, Championship clubs achieve success by mimicking the likes of rising stars Aston Villa, Everton and Portsmouth who are built on strong backbones and competiveness. It’s only when you can compete physically that the likes of Ashley Young, Mikel Arteta and Benjani even come into play; without the muscle, they guys are simply luxuries getting cold out on the wings.

So in conclusion, great, your point was that the players in the Championship aren’t as good as those in the Premier League. While it’s impressive that you’ve grasped the concept of hierarchical systems so comprehensively, if that rudimentary point was all you intended to say then why did you feel the need to bait so many of the most passionate football fans in this country? Do not start pointing fingers at anyone else out of frustration that English players simply are not good enough to compete at the very highest level. Why do you think no English players are currently employed in any of the top leagues around Europe? Because they think 99% of us are shit! Because they realise that to be successful in this country you don’t actually have to be very good at football, just enormous and able to run all day.

That was the genius of Mourinho if you ask me. He was criticised for not applying the flowing attacking football of Porto to Chelsea, but in reality he was just astute enough to realise that wasn’t the key to win the Premier League. He is a winner and he found a way to win, by stifling the tiny proportion of talented flair players in the country with physicality and letting Drogba do the rest at the other end. It is patronising to suggest that other than a few select Premier League sides, the general aesthetic is any different. There are few unique talents in our leagues because they don’t want to be kicked off the park by the likes of Christopher Samba and Kevin Davies. You think Kaka or Messi ever watch the Premier League and think “I wish I could be playing there, the football’s so beautiful and measured and skilful?” You’re simply deluding yourself.

Despite what you might think from your ten minute exposure to the league Mr Ronay, there is skill in abundance from many sides, and virtually every former Premier League star who drops down raves about the commitment and work-ethic. No there’s not a Ronaldo, but how many other players in the top flight can do anything near what he can do anyway? And aside from Manchester United and Arsenal, how often do you actually see any true displays of team skill in the Premier League? The supposedly flair-packed Liverpool team struggle week in week out, scrapping out dull 1 – 1 draws with lesser opposition, hanging on until Gerrard or Torres can produce a piece of magic.

The Championship is exciting because anyone can beat anyone, and the league is not controlled just by money. Young British talent, often local to the club, is given the chance to thrive, and over-rated egos do not rule the roost. There’s very little diving or cheating, but a never-say-die attitude foreign to most top tier clubs. The fans outside of the top flight are there because they love their team and not just because some businessman has got a debenture to entertain clients. There’s singing and passion, rather than a pregnant silence followed by polite applause when inevitably Arsenal ‘win’ a last minute penalty. There is no insurmountable gulf between the top 4 clubs and the rest of the league, and there are certainly no billionaire sugar-daddy owners essentially playing Championship Manager with people’s clubs.

I assure you Mr Ronay, if you take issue with anything I have to say here, please drop me a line at the usual STT address and we can discuss this matter further. Or please contact any of the other Championship defenders who posted comments at the end of the ignorant and generalising drivel you call an article. No wonder they don’t let you write in the real paper with the grown-ups.

I’m sorry, I didn’t want to resort to irrational attacks, instead actually rebutting his insults, but if anyone knows this sanctimonious little prick, please tell him to fuck off from STT.