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Dublin: 13 °C Saturday 11 July, 2020

'The only people who bitch about it are the ones who are not part of it'

Graeme Souness has defended the Premier League’s growing excess in recent years.

Graeme Souness believes English football is in good health.
Graeme Souness believes English football is in good health.

AFTER THE TRANSFER window closed on 1 September, it was confirmed that Premier League clubs had spent £1.4 billion on players, including an unprecedented £210 million on deadline day alone.

The figures represented a 23% rise on the previous year. Since the first transfer window in 2003, Premier League clubs have now spent more than £10 billion in total.

It is the sixth consecutive year in which Premier League clubs have surpassed their previous spending record.

However, not everyone is pleased to see the top-flight clubs engaging in such excess. Last May, Accrington Stanley chairman Andy Holt accused Premier League sides of “destroying the game,” owing to the uneven distribution of wealth in English football and the lack of support provided for smaller outfits.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also hit out at Premier League teams, claiming they are failing on a promise to invest 5% of income earned into grassroots football.

Even Man United boss Jose Mourinho believes the current market is “out of control,” while Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy claims the current spending levels are “unsustainable”.

However, Sky Sports and TV3 pundit Graeme Souness has played down concerns about Premier League spending, claiming the unprecedented levels of cash being pumped into football is good for the game.

“Stadiums are full,” the Liverpool legend said, speaking at a recent event in Dublin.

Our league is the most watched league in the world. I think it’s a positive.

“How can you be critical of what the people have done at Man City? They’ve not just put superstars on the pitch — the money that they’ve spent and the jobs they’ve created in all of that Manchester area (is a positive).”

Souness, a former Premier League manager who left coaching behind because he “stopped enjoying it,” also suggests the smaller teams do not necessarily suffer as a result of this growing excess.

He cites Bournemouth — a club who went from the brink of financial disaster to the Premier League within the space of couple of seasons — as an example of little club who are thriving in the current climate.

I live in Bournemouth. Bournemouth are a Premier League team, because a Russian individual (Maxim Demin) has put money into the club. It’s great for the area.

“Our football is extremely healthy right now. And the only ones who are saying it’s not healthy are not the Premier League and don’t have a rich benefactor.

Football is where it is today because the public want it to be where it is. They’re buying their packages from TV companies, they’re buying the season tickets with corporate hospitality, they’re buying the jerseys. The product is sold throughout the world. The only people who bitch about it are the ones who are not part of it.”

But what about football’s working class roots and the die-hard supporters who have been priced out of attending matches owing to the increasingly exorbitant cost of season tickets? Surely that is one of the more regrettable aspects of the modern game?

It’s still working class,” he insists. “No one’s putting an arm around their back and saying: ‘You must go to the football on Saturday afternoon.’

“If they love it, (they should be) willing to sacrifice a couple of nights out with their wife to go to the football.”

And finally, are the current levels of spending sustainable, or is Levy correct in his assertion to the contrary? Does Souness see the bubble bursting in the near future?

It’s onwards and upwards at the moment, isn’t it? (Over 700 million) people live in Europe. There are 1.2 billion Indians, over a billion Chinese. There are enormous markets still to be explored.

“In your lifetime, I see it growing and growing.”

With Chelsea, Tottenham, Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Celtic all battling it out in the Uefa Champions League Group Stage, Tuesday nights will be bigger than ever.  TV3 will have the pick of Tuesday’s live game as well as comprehensive highlights and analysis.

Subscribe to The42 podcasts here:

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Paul Fennessy

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