The Greatest Hype on Earth

Dave Woodhall offers up a depressing look at the shape of football to come.

One unbeaten run ends, another one begins…

For all the brave talk of fancying us to get a result at Manchester City, it was never really on the cards. Even if Gabby had scored the chance he had early on, City would have been able to recover. They could afford to rest players and still have some on the bench who could walk into any other side in the league. I don’t know what’s more galling – the fact that they could beat us without breaking sweat, or that you know they’ll do it to all but two or three other teams they play all season.

Games like this make you realise that unless we can find a spare £500 million lying around, the biggest problem we face can’t be fixed by anyone at Villa Park. The game needs a fundamental change if it’s going to survive but there doesn’t seem to be the desire to change it. The underlying ethos of fair competition began to fall apart when clubs were allowed to keep all their gate receipts and was irrevocably damaged with the formation of the Premier League; calls for clubs to negotiate their own TV deals and for Saturday 3pm kick-offs to be televised may be resisted at the moment, but I’d be willing to bet that while Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre is being condemned publically, in private the owners of the other top clubs are glad someone’s said what they’ve long been thinking. Liverpool, Chelsea and the gruesome Manchester twosome don’t want competition. The bulk of their future income isn’t going to come from their traditional supporters turning up to watch the match and enjoying the spectacle of a hard-fought victory – it’ll be from their fan bases around the world and they don’t care about whether the Premier League is a procession or not. They want to see their team on TV and they want to see them win.  Matches such as the one on Saturday are the shape of things to come – Villa and another 15 teams are the modern equivalent of the opponents the Harlem Globetrotters used to take on tour, there to put up a bit of a show but ultimately accept defeat without much fuss.

If I was a conspiracy theorist I’d be thinking that the Premier League are finding it harder to justify their ‘Greatest League in the World’ tag with every Champions League final that goes by without an English winner, so they want the top clubs to get richer and more powerful at the expense of the rest. But that, of course, is just paranoia.

Back to the Villa. We didn’t capitulate, we fought until the final whistle. We just weren’t good enough. Saturday’s game with Albion – and by now you should know the history behind this one – will be a much significant test of where we stand.