An All-Star game for the Premier League? I cannot imagine it would be my cup of tea: too much predictable outrage over who’s in and who’s out; too much showboating in a fairly limited competitive context.
Having said that, even I can see that it is a 100% cast-iron sure-fire money-spinner – especially if it were staged in the United States.
And other big traditional European team sports offer, if not precedents, then examples of top players from a range of nations/clubs coming together very briefly and laying on wonderful entertainment. I am thinking here of rugby union’s Barbarians, the much-loved ‘BaaBaas’ and of cricket’s International Cavaliers. I can remember excitedly going to watch the latter as a child in deeply provincial Taunton.
So Chelsea owner Todd Boehly’s (pictured) idea deserves a serious hearing – which is to say it is worth thinking about what the flaws and drawbacks might be.
Here are two potential issues.
First, when would it be played? I have seen it suggested that it might replace the Community Shield, played at the start of each season between the previous campaign’s Premier League champions and FA Cup-winners.
Perhaps; but imagine how many of the prior year’s stand-out performers would have switched clubs, including moving overseas. Indeed, the transfer window is normally still open when the showpiece-occasion takes place. If the divide between teams is North versus South, as Boehly seemingly has in mind, you could have participants switching sides on the day of the match.
Bearing in mind that injuries would whittle away at the line-ups actually selected no matter when an All-Star match was played, I think the chances of getting the 22 stand-out players from the previous season, or anywhere close to that, onto the same pitch in August would be minimal.
I would also strongly advise anyone attempting to replace the Community Shield in this way, to make sure that the new fixture generates substantially more for good causes than the time-honoured league champions v Cup-winners clash. But the likely jump in revenues should make this eminently possible.
In terms of getting la crème de la crème – genuinely – onto the same pitch for a showy, once-a-season Big Night, a date in early January might be better.
That would involve getting Premier League clubs and fans to accept the concept of the midwinter break. This has proved a tough sell until now – although the imminent Qatar 2022 World Cup should at least demonstrate that a weeks-long mid-season hiatus is possible
Organisers would still probably be criticised for inventing a new match, hence adding further to fixture congestion and player burn-out.
And, of course, if you agree to a midwinter break, but then stage matches in it, well, it isn’t much of a break, is it?
But most All-Stars would at least still be playing for the same clubs for which their exploits between August and the year-end led to their nomination.
The second potential issue I wanted to highlight was that suggested North versus South division of labour.
North American All-Star matches piggy-back on distinctions that are built into the fabric of the regular season: baseball has its American League and National League; basketball its Eastern and Western Conferences. The Premier League has no such black and white dividing line, nor has the English top tier ever done so.
Ironically, North versus South would be more straightforward in the sixth-tier National League, which is split into two divisions on a geographical basis. It would have been straightforward in the third tier between 1921 and 1958, when the English Third Division was similarly divided. For the elite level though, it would be an entirely artificial, once-a-season distinction.
What is more, English football has this thing called promotion and relegation.
Assuming that you wanted to give All-Star match selectors 10 teams each to choose from, that would mean players from Midlands-based clubs such as Aston Villa or Wolverhampton Wanderers could find themselves oscillating between the North and South line-ups from one season to the next.
The notion of what is “south” and what is “north” could move surprisingly dramatically. Consider that in 2021-22 if relegated Watford – located some 15 miles north-west of central London – had survived at the expense of 17th-placed Leeds United, the Hornets would have been the 10th-most northerly club in the Premier League this season.
A century ago, things looked very different: in 1922-23, players from both Manchester City and Sheffield United would have been eligible for South had the All-Star match then existed.
Sheffield is about 150 miles north of Watford. That sort of distance might be no great shakes in the vastness of the United States, but it is a long, long way for this small island.
I do think Boehly’s idea might fly in some way shape or form, but there may be devil in the detail.
David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012. Owen’s Twitter feed can be accessed at www.twitter.com/dodo938. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org