With his announcement to resign, Richard Scudamore has demonstrated once again a certain class and intelligence: he leaves at a time when the Premier League is in the best of health, successful and solid to the core.
Scudamore has always understood to use the power of his office with tremendous style and the kind of soft power that is lacking in world football. He was a leader whose vision was never limited to the English game alone. He fought many a battle with the English FA’s sycophants who had risen to power by mistake or default, and rarely by merit or the result of knowledge of the workings of the game.
At a time when English football needed professional leadership, The FA chose to appoint men whose qualifications were largely absent from anything that demanded understanding for matters overseas. The mental block that defined English football’s board and management, more often than not reflected a sorry image of ineptitude, lack of character and rubber backbones instead of international vision. It made England’s football administrators either the laughing stock among FIFA’s Membership or the arrogant uncle whose motto centred around its assumed entitlement to occupy a leading position in world football. It peaked in a ludicrous loss of the Bid to host the 2018 World Cup: arrogance, ignorance of political realities and a stubborn dishonesty in literally everything The FA did for decades could have been worse, were it not for the spectacular success of its unwanted child, the Football Association Premier League (the official name…).
The architect of that success was engaged in the one thing that The FA’s pompous leadership never understood: hard work. Scudamore’s attitude to everything he touched was typical: keep structures small, tight and logical, focus on a decision-making structure that is simple and effective and work with a team that is dedicated to deliver success. The results he generated for the world’s most successful league of Association Football are astounding.
His savvy to expand the PL’s relevance and make it a global product that generates more income than FIFA could ever dream of, is pure genius. And doing all that professionally, without corruption or any sort of politicking, shows the way in which FIFA should have and could have gone, had it ever had a personality of Scudamore’s quality and decency among its ranks.
While the Grandees of world football – and English FA-football for that matter – were always more concerned with their personal success, their personal well-being and their personal interests, Scudamore’s concept remained grounded and honest: the Premier League always came first, the man who was the architect of its success never sought fame and fortune but always the success and fortune of the organisation he led.
It will be a tough task for anyone to step into Scudamore’s shoes. There are few professionals around who can. And there are even fewer who have the strength of character and the humility with which this born leader has guided the organisation for nearly two decades. His successor will have more to prove than simple managerial skills and leadership qualities. He or she will have to demonstrate determination to guide the PL with a firm hand and largely independently from a flailing English Football Association. The new leader will have a hard time not to drop into the abyss of football politics: Scudamore always managed to avoid getting dragged into that pit.
The financial success of the PL has a story of its own. The billions Scudamore and his team managed to generate year after year for the top 20 clubs of the English league may be eye-watering indeed. And some critics would howl that it is easy to run an organisation that can cherry-pick its broadcasting partners and go with the highest bidder. That was not always the case of course.
The financial success did not happen overnight. It started out quite humbly when the Premier League was created in 1992. The two men who played a crucial role in its formation were Greg Dyke – then at ITV – and David Dein, then – and ever after – a man of Arsenal. The very first tv rights deal bypassed Dyke’s ITV and went to BskyB who paid roughly £300 million for the English tv rights. It was a reasonably good start for the breakaway league but economic success only came when Scudamore was appointed its CEO in 1999.
Scudamore understand very early on that the economic and financial future of his league was not just in England but anywhere and everywhere around the globe. Today, there is hardly a country that does not broadcast Premier League matches: from Vanuatu to LA, from India to Peru, from Albania to France: the Premier League is where FIFA’s football would like to be and isn’t. Fact is, the PL’s matches are broadcast in more countries, 212, than FIFA has Member Associations.
And that is Scudamore’s success, it was his vision and his determined effort to make it a global reality. He managed to achieve that the weekly fight for points and glory of the Premier League’s clubs became such an attractive product that 212 territories in the world were prepared to pay for the right to see it. It took him just shy of 20 years to achieve it. And the question now is: will a successor be able to match his success?
As for Scudamore, it is not known what he will do next. As he once said, there is “one more major move in me”, one more major challenge.
Those who like him wish him well. Those who don’t, will probably hope that he runs for FIFA President. A man of his stature is what FIFA needs to put its rotten image and rotting structures back together. A man who cares nothing for the politics and focuses on the sport and the business – not how he can enrich himself. It is not a job I would wish on anyone and hope that he stays far away from FIFA (who need a man like him more than anything) because today’s FIFA is rotten and, frankly, irreparable.
James Dostoyevsky is a Washington-based observer of politics and sports. He can be contacted at moc.l1540125063labto1540125063ofdlr1540125063owedi1540125063sni@o1540125063fni1540125063