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MARTIN SAMUEL: Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani has every right to stick it to the entitled Big Six


There was good news and bad news for Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani this week. The bad news was that he incurred the wrath of football’s Big Six. The good news was — no-one gives a stuff.

Radrizzani invited the fury of the entitled by branding their project to hijack football ‘a disgrace’. Happily, their self-interested duplicity is so nakedly apparent now that nobody cares for their approval anyway.

In many ways, this whole issue has become an intelligence test. There are still some observers who have considered the subject so deeply they are praising the charlatan architects of Project Big Picture for starting a conversation about wealth distribution in the lower leagues.

Andrea Radrizzani invited fury of the Big Six by branding Project Big Picture a 'disgrace'

Andrea Radrizzani invited fury of the Big Six by branding Project Big Picture a ‘disgrace’

That is like crediting Al-Qaeda for starting a conversation about airport security in 2001.

Discussions around how to spread football’s wealth more fairly have been permanent since the Premier League began. It is just that Liverpool and Manchester United were not interested until there was something in it for them.

So please be clear — the bung to the EFL was the trade-off for the money and all the power. Take those items off the table and we’ll see how keen Liverpool and Manchester United are on supporting the pyramid. Where were they when Macclesfield went skint — and Bury?

Radrizzani is most certainly a hypocrite and guilty as charged. He was party to secret talks about a Championship breakaway two years ago and was also an advocate of Premier League 2.

Radrizzani is most certainly a hypocrite and was part of Championship breakaway talks in 2018

Radrizzani is most certainly a hypocrite and was part of Championship breakaway talks in 2018

Yet that is not the big clubs’ real beef. He has upset them by daring to speak on Premier League issues when his Leeds regime have been involved in it for only five games. For, as always, it is only where a club is now that counts.

The elite think Radrizzani has proved their point that the longest serving members should get the biggest say. As ever, they’re wrong.

This is a moment in time. Just as it was in the three seasons Leeds were champions. Indeed, it is just as well we didn’t put football on pause back then, in 1973-74. Leeds won the title with Arsenal 10th, Tottenham 11th, Manchester City 14th and, Chelsea 17th. And Manchester United? Relegated. Good job nobody decided to raise the drawbridge on money, power and influence then.

United and City were 11th and 13th respectively when Leeds were champions in 1968-69, and Chelsea and Tottenham were 14th and 15th in 1991-92. That was the last year before the Premier League began and Leeds won the title again, so the idea they played no part in making this the most successful domestic competition is bogus, too.

The Big Six are upset with Radrizzani due to Leeds only recently returning to the top-flight

The Big Six are upset with Radrizzani due to Leeds only recently returning to the top-flight

In fact, the battle between Manchester United and unfashionable clubs like Leeds, Newcastle and Blackburn was among its earliest selling points. Leeds have been away a while, but they helped build this league as much as anybody, certainly globally. They had great African players like Lucas Radebe, their South African captain, and Ghana’s Tony Yeboah scored memorable goals. Mark Viduka, an Australian, was their striker, too.

Between 1998-99 and 2000-01, Leeds finished in the top four in three consecutive seasons. Tottenham were 11th, 10th and 12th. Manchester City were in what is now League One, then the Championship, before being relegated from the Premier League. Even when Leeds slipped to fifth in 2001-02, they still finished above Chelsea and Tottenham.

To argue now that time in the wilderness leaves them without rights as a newly-promoted member of the Premier League is arrant nonsense. It has succeeded for so long now, precisely because it is a democracy. Clubs come and go but, once in, they have an equal say.

The system has to work for both Manchester United and Burnley, for Liverpool and Leeds. Every club contributes. Radrizzani is right — to disregard that is a disgrace.

There has never been a better time to aim high – go for it! 

As the third Tottenham goal went in, there was a feeling we could be watching this season’s champions. And as West Ham’s equaliser was scored, an even stranger thought: maybe we still were.

It’s that kind of season. Does 3-0 up in the first half, 3-0 down in the second make Tottenham any less likely to succeed than Manchester City, losing 5-2 at home to Leicester, or Liverpool conceding seven at Aston Villa?

Most title-winning campaigns have a random result — think Watford 3 Liverpool 0 last season, or Manchester City 2 Crystal Palace 3 the year before. Yet the sheer weight of unpredictability to here is unique. Some clubs are not even five games in yet and we have already had more matches featuring at least six goals than graced the entire 2019-20 campaign.

West Ham's dramatic equaliser against Tottenham shows anything can happen in the top flight

West Ham’s dramatic equaliser against Tottenham shows anything can happen in the top flight 

So this much is clear: go for it. Aston Villa, Everton, Leeds, Leicester; or Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United. For it might be that come May the same old names occupy the top four again. But what we have witnessed so far suggests there may be a wild card, or two — or at least the potential for it.

That is why it did not feel entirely catastrophic for Tottenham to surrender two points in such remarkable circumstances. Even Jose Mourinho was forced to conclude that ‘football happened’. But not football as we have come to know it.

This is a season without a safety net, one in which the old certainties have already been abandoned. There has never been a better time to be bold, and challenge presumptions. Build a rocket, boys.

WTA sell out to China is biting back

It is a great pity that the women’s tennis circuit is in such dire straits now the Grand Slams are over, but sympathy can only extend so far. Of the 14 cancelled events — from a schedule of 18 — nine were in China. 

The WTA sold out to a repressive regime with a dubious influence on sport, and modern life. 

If this produces a rethink it is healthier than what went before, no matter the bounty.

The women's tennis circuit is in such dire straits now following Iga Swiatek's French Open win

The women’s tennis circuit is in such dire straits now following Iga Swiatek’s French Open win

Football doesn’t need its own Dido 

Such is the impasse between football’s factions right now, it is increasingly tempting to entertain the calls for an independent, Government-appointed regulator. Until, that is, one considers how this has worked for other sectors.

Does football really need its Dido Harding? Just think. If that is the person ministers put in charge of test and trace at the NHS, imagine who would be lined up for football?

Last week, former Football Association chairman David Bernstein led a reform group calling for independent regulation. Among their number was Helen Grant, Sports Minister under David Cameron from 2013 to 2015. Around that time she featured in a Dispatches investigation, catchily titled: MPs — Are They Still At It? The programme concluded that, in Grant’s case, she possibly was.

In 2012, she charged the taxpayer the full £1,666.67 monthly expense for a London residence, despite living in Reigate where 58 trains left each day for central London, taking as little as 39 minutes. Is this an example of the governance football requires?

And who would Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden nominate for the job, given that he put Alex Scott on his renewal task force, to address how sport bounces back, or even survives, during the present health and economic crisis?

Does football really need its Dido Harding, the executive chair of NHS Test and Trace?

Does football really need its Dido Harding, the executive chair of NHS Test and Trace?

Given that this problem is now a matter of life or death for many clubs, with enormous diplomatic complexities, might it not have been better to have appointed an individual who had owned a club, run a club, brokered a major commercial deal or in some way explored the logistics of football’s business and politics. You know, rather than someone who was on television.

We can all see how politicians view football, because their ideas invariably involve giving the product away, or endangering its revenue streams, while demanding more of its money.

Most recently, Dowden thought the Merseyside derby should be offered free-to-air, which would have no doubt triggered another sizeable rebate for the broadcasters. Other plans advanced by Dowden or colleagues have included wage cuts, wage caps, levies on television money and restrictions on shirt sponsorships and advertising by betting companies.

Would Government appoint a regulator in its own image? One that makes endless demands while offering zero solutions? No thanks.

Safety hitch at Giro d’Italia 

Mauro Vegni, race director of the Giro d’Italia, remains adamant the event will make it to the finish line in Milan this week. ‘I’d say at any price — excluding any major or medical problems,’ he confirmed.

A bit late for that, isn’t it? Two teams, Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma, are already out following a spate of positive Covid-19 tests, so is the pre-race favourite Simon Yates, while other riders including Geraint Thomas have suffered serious injuries through entirely preventable accidents. Meanwhile, 17 police escort officers at the E-bike event accompanying the men’s race have also tested positive.

It puts into perspective the outstanding job many sports have done, getting back to action safely in the circumstances. The Giro d’Italia may well finish, but not with its reputation intact.

Wycombe woes show PPG ruin 

The worst team across the top five divisions this season are Wycombe Wanderers. Played five, lost five, in the Championship. Another triumph for the points per game calculation.

Wycombe, you may recall, were the grateful beneficiaries of PPG last season.

Catapulted from eighth into the play-offs by virtue of a process that awarded them a predicted 1.73 points per game, including a visit to champions Coventry, who were handed 1.97 points, making it a 3.7 point fixture.

Wycombe progressed through the play-offs, a glorified cup competition with all the attendant unpredictability. Now is the reality. A mid-table League One club were always likely to struggle if plucked and deposited into the Championship. 

And that is all PPG became: a random calculation, producing random outcomes, whose consequences are now being felt.

Wycombe Wanderers' poor Championship form highlights the flaws of the PPG system

Wycombe Wanderers’ poor Championship form highlights the flaws of the PPG system 

Liverpool will miss van Dijk like City missed Laporte 

When Pep Guardiola calculated why Manchester City trailed Liverpool last season, he attributed a third of the difference to the absence of one player: Aymeric Laporte. Not just because he was City’s finest defender, but for how he started attacks from the back.

Guardiola rated Laporte as City’s best passer from defence, and their quickest thinker.

He wasn’t saying City would have won the league, but the 23 games Laporte missed were significant in falling so far behind.

Aymeric Laporte's absence for City was significant in their failure to win the league last season

Aymeric Laporte’s absence for City was significant in their failure to win the league last season

Virgil van Dijk is that and more to Liverpool. Not just the best defender, but the player who gets the moves going and whose confidence permeates through the team. Joe Gomez had an excellent game in his place on Saturday and Joel Matip would get in the majority of Premier League line-ups, including those with designs on the title, but Liverpool are terribly light in central defence now.

Fabinho can play there, and did a great job at Chelsea earlier this season, but he only fills the role in an emergency; never as plan A.

As good as their recruitment has been, Van Dijk’s injury was a giant blow for Liverpool.

Arsenal’s City blues  

Now a quick quiz to tell if you are an old school or new school football supporter. When Arsenal ran out against Manchester City on Saturday wearing a blue third kit rather than red shirts with white sleeves, despite there being no clash, did you:

a) Barely notice, actually the blue’s quite nice; b) Wonder briefly why they had changed, it doesn’t look much like Arsenal, before deciding not to let it bother you; or

c) Want them to lose, immediately.

Answer: a) Yes, you are certainly a new school football fan, admit it, you think all this started in 1992, yes? b) Mate, they’ve got to you — you’ll be buying the special training shirt and paying £14.95 for Burnley away next; or c) Oh sit down, oh sit down, sit down next to me…

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang's Arsenal wore a blue kit against Man City despite no colour clash

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang’s Arsenal wore a blue kit against Man City despite no colour clash

Hodgson lucky no fans are in 

Football not the same without fans? Certainly, Roy Hodgson wouldn’t have been able to get away with that Crystal Palace performance against Brighton, if supporters were allowed inside Selhurst Park.

To have one shot at goal the entire game — and that a dubiously-awarded penalty — was dismal. Palace were similarly unambitious losing 4-0 at Liverpool in June, but on that occasion it could at least be argued they set up to frustrate a better side.

On Sunday they were at home to Brighton, their great rivals, and a team they should have ambitions to beat. Brighton had 20 attempts to Palace’s one, and showed more attacking impetus even down to 10 men in injury time.

Hodgson must be very thankful for that eye-catching win at Old Trafford in September. Take it away and Palace have lost nine and drawn two of their last 13 league games.

Either the fans would have inspired the players to greater positivity against Brighton, or they would have delivered a damning verdict. In this of all seasons, Hodgson’s Palace are out of step.

Roy Hodgson must be very thankful for that eye-catching win at Old Trafford in September

Roy Hodgson must be very thankful for that eye-catching win at Old Trafford in September

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