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This weekend the Premier League’s new season kicks off and it’ll feel a little different. Not because of the standard new kits and new shirt sponsors. Or because last season’s European trophy winner, David Moyes, is parked up at the managerial turnstile before a ball is even kicked. Or because Tottenham Hotspur’s next owner could be anyone from Jay-Z to convict 63. No. The Premier League is going to feel different because the season will be played out under a shadow. A large Saudi Arabia-shaped shadow. The question is: Can the Premier League cope with the big sheikh up?


We all witnessed the chaos in the golfing world when Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf reared its keffiyeh-clad head. The PGA golf tour threw their clubs out of the buggy. And, possibly, they were right to do so. This jumped-up, shiny competition had come out all guns blazing, toting eye-watering amounts of money. Unsurprisingly, some top golfers were quick to wipe the tears away and sign on the dotted line. After some ructions and players not speaking to each other, the sandstorm died down, the PGA picked up all their chucked clubs, shook hands with LIV and now the two bodies will (try to) co-exist.

The Premier League fears that all these quality players leaking out like Thames Water into our rivers will mean the football fans’ focus will be diverted and they’ll all devote themselves to Saudi Pro League teams.

The Saudi Arabian football foray, on the face of it, looks almost identical to their LIV Golf bonanza. Pocket-busting wads of cash being wafted under the nose of some of the world’s best footballers in return for making the Saudi Pro League unmissable and, ultimately, enabling it to compete with the top leagues in the world. But the Premier League’s concerns are unwarranted and show that, perhaps, they don’t really understand their product.


The golf example is different in one, seismic, way. It’s a sport played by individuals. Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are golfers and golf fans want to watch those individuals play their individual sport. They will switch on the TV or even attend a golf competition because one or other or all those guys are out there on the fairway. Football, by contrast, is a team game. Golf is played with clubs. Football is played BY clubs.


Twice a year, when the transfer window swings open and certain players demand more money or out of their club, someone will roll out the cliché, “No-one is bigger than the club.” And, however much players like Ronaldo and Messi are feted and idolised as individuals for their individual skills, the fans who adored them at Real Madrid and Barcelona are not going to swap their Blanco and Barca shirts for Al-Nassr FC or Inter Miami. Yes, they might show a passing interest in what their ex-idols are doing but they won’t abandon their true love. Their club. And we’re talking Gods.

Of course, the same goes for mere mortals. Premier League players like Riyad Mahrez, N’golo Kante and Jordan Henderson.

Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool fans aren’t suddenly going to starting chanting for Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli or Al-Ettifaq. It’s not an anti-Saudi thing. Or even an anti-Saudi Pro League thing. It’s a loyalty thing. City fans who crooned over Mahrez and Co winning the treble, won’t give a monkey’s about their favourite Algerian now he’s gone. It’s like he never existed. Because he’s left their team. Their club. They won’t be bothered. They won’t give a flying Ettifaq. Fans are loyal to their club. And the club’s players. WHILE they’re playing for the club.


Last year’s hoo-ha surrounding Wout Weghorst is a perfect example. Sean Dyche’s Burnley were at risk of relegation when the Dutch striker stepped into the breach and signed for them.  When the Clarets were relegated, the ambitious attacker was quick to leave on loan. After only 2 goals in 20 games, some said it was the fastest he’d been all season. They weren’t happy. To clear the air, he revealed that his time at Turf Moor was agreed only on condition that, if Burnley were relegated, he could leave. And that was true. The club had been desperate for fire power after Newcastle had pilfered Chris Woods. When Weghorst left, Burnley fans had been understandably disappointed. As soon as the escape clause was revealed, disappointment turned to disgust.


His contract condition was a clear example of disloyalty. Loan spells at Besiktas and Old Trafford gave Weghorst what he wanted – to be considered and picked for the Qatar World Cup. It worked. But it was a choice that suited him as an individual, not the fans of the struggling club he’d signed for in their moment of need. To make matters worse, since new gaffer, Vincent Company, has breezily guided them back into the Premier League, Wantaway Weghorst is now Wantoplay Weghorst. Oh no, wait. There’s another loan available.

And these individual choices to go to the middle east are just that: for the individual players to make eye-watering amounts of money for themselves.

In fact, those desert-bound players could argue that loyalty to their Premier League club is exactly what they are showing – by leaving our shores altogether rather than line up for an opposing side. Steven Gerrard wouldn’t leave Merseyside for Chelsea for fear of being accused of disloyalty. And that squadful of players who’ve scored the ultimate own goal by driving down the road to join their club’s rivals have felt the fans’ venom for years – even after leaving the game altogether. Ask Michael Owen.


Football fans follow clubs, not individuals. So, much as the Saudis crow about their 50-year-old clubs, Britain, and the Premier League, has clubs over three times that age and, while bundles of money are pulling players to foreign climes, it’ll take a lot more than that to get into the veins and brains of the fans.

One Comment

  1. Good down to earth comment! 100% agree – it’s all about the money ‘cos you do need more than £10/20 million or what ever these leavers have in their bank accounts !

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