The re-scheduled visit of West Ham to Manchester City, previously blown away by Storm Ciara, has now been overshadowed by the fall-out from Storm Mansour. With the Hammers unlikely to be pulling up any trees themselves at the Etihad (or should that be Mansour) stadium this evening, the footballing world has been wetting its collecting pants over the hosts impending ban from European competition.
It is possible that if the UEFA sanctions are sustained, then the Premier League will also be forced to act – with a points deduction that could effectively turn tonight’s encounter into a relegation six pointer.
The Abu Dhabi millions will, no doubt, ensure the story runs and runs through whichever legal avenues they choose to pursue it. City’s owners have, to date, demonstrated a staggering arrogance in their response to the allegations of misrepresenting the true source of sponsorship funds, originally leaked in the German press. Rather than share their apparent ‘irrefutable’ evidence that the charges are incorrect, their defence has appeared to be that supreme wealth puts them above the law – as it would do in their home country.
On the face of it (and from what we know from the leaks), it looks apparent that City broke the rules as they stand. That’s not to say that the rules are necessarily sensible. They do appear drafted to preserve the status quo rather than really addressing any concept of financial fair play – if that means at least creating the semblance of a level playing field. There are also very valid questions as to whether all serially big spending clubs were being judged equally.
Reaction to the ban has been interesting and, for me, has parallels to our own Tevezgate episode – where the majority of West Ham fans felt themselves to be victims while everyone else believed us to be as guilty as hell – breaking another of football’s difficult to understand rules. The outrage form City fans has likewise been seismic.
Year on year, football has become more of a media product and less concerned with the afternoon out for the matchday supporter. The proliferation of streaming services and the involvement of tech giants will only make matters worse over time. The packaging of the product is more important than what is inside the box. Media money is king and the role of those in attendance is mainly to create atmosphere for the cameras – arguably they should be paid as ‘extras’.
The Champion’s League sits at the top of the football money tree. Once the icing on the cake, it has become the cake itself and its participants turned into brands rather than clubs. It is only a matter of time, I think, before CL games are switched to weekends in order to better exploit the global TV audience – a UK evening kick-off is just too inconvenient for the armchair followers in Asia and North America. The Premier League will be forced to shuffle its scheduling to even more annoying times accordingly.
Perhaps we should applaud our own owners for refusing to compete in the Champion’s League – it seems they have the supporter’s interests at heart after all.
I’m joking by the way (about our owners). But it wouldn’t bother me if the ‘elite’ clubs broke away to form a European super league – if resigning from the Premier League was a pre-requisite. We could then return to the sanity of a competitive domestic league that had true financial fair play with fixed squad sizes and a monetary salary cap. It could still be possible to qualify for a new knock-out European competition – maybe we could call it, the European Cup. Sadly, I don’t really expect any of that to happen.
As for the game itself, nothing has materially changed from when it was originally scheduled. The European ban will be a media talking point (a pleasant relief from VAR) but I don’t see it impacting performances on the pitch. For West Ham, this and the Liverpool game remain damage limitation exercises and coming away from the two games without a substantially worse goal difference may be counted as a success.
David Moyes plan will be one of containment but without any ideas what to do if/ when the defences are eventually breached. From his pre-match comments it sounded like he is reluctant to ‘unleash’ Jarrod Bowen for tonight’s fixture – possibly not wanting to risk him in a game that he believes we will lose anyway.
In theory, legs should be fresh after a two week break but prior experience doesn’t back up that view, where players have returned from breaks more rusty than revived. West Ham are typically slow starters after every break.
Nevertheless, we continue to live in hope and maybe a miracle can occur, despite the body of evidence that would indicate otherwise. If we are to survive, we should be looking to cobble together six points or so between now and the end of March. I don’t see any of them coming here.