Roger Alton

Let’s blame the Premier League

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One of my main preoccupations during Sunday night’s football was the size of Roy Hodgson’s watch. An immense timepiece, it sat on the managerial wrist with the quiet assurance of Big Ben. So weighty was it that you wondered whether Hodgson would have the strength to raise his arm to signal a substitution (in the end he did, though presumably was so exhausted he forgot to replace the hapless Rooney). The watch turns out was a Hublot special edition for Euro 2012, worth umpteen grand. Good for Roy.

This is England’s level, and we have been there for some time: moderately skilled, very hard to beat. England are the equivalent of Stoke City — awkward, not that cultured, and with passionate support. England should get used to being the potential banana skin of international football: top teams in Europe and South America know they should beat us, but care needs to be taken. We are like Norway, Switzerland or Bulgaria: tricky on paper, but not that good.

But if you had been told at the start of this superb Euro 2012 tournament — few red cards, little diving, brilliant games (usually when England weren’t involved), and generally immaculate behaviour — that England would win their group and take the traditional route out of the quarter-finals on penalties, you would have said, Great, we’ll take it. So no one should be too disappointed. And please spare Roy Hodgson: any English football manager who can answer questions in fluent Italian, as Roy did at a press conference, deserves to be backed through thick and thin.

Anyway, we can always blame the Premier League. Best league in the world, blah blah, thrilling climax, heroic Champions League victory, yes to all that. And some of the best players in Europe — which is the problem. Consider this: when you think of the defining players for Manchester City, it’s not James Milner or Joleon Lescott, it’s Agüero, David Silva or Vincent Kompany. If Bastian Schweinsteiger let it be known he wanted out of Bayern, few clubs would have the money to bid, but they would be mostly from the Premier League.

Of the current Bayern squad, 13 of the 24 players are German; in the Chelsea squad 19 out of the 28 are foreign. Manchester City have 30 listed players, 21 are foreign; the vast majority of the Juventus team are Italian, including of course the peerless Pirlo. And more money will make things worse: the new £3 billion Premier League TV contract means there is vastly more to buy the world’s players; and if Al Jazeera come in at the next bid in 2015, with Qatar’s oil gazillions behind them, then money will be no object anywhere. So fine, let’s enjoy the Premier League but don’t expect it to do much for the England national team.

Now here’s a thing as we settle back to watch Wimbledon. Of the last 29 tennis Grand Slam tournaments, 28 have been won by the same three players (the other was Juan Martin del Potro in New York, 2009, since you ask). The last 15 golf Majors have been won by 15 different golfers. Of course we’re blessed to be living in the age of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, but could it just be getting a teeny bit monotonous? I was only asking.

So just what is Lewis Hamilton on? Or has getting back with his beauteous Pussycat Doll, Nicole, flipped his mind? Seven winners in the first seven races of the Formula 1 season means that consistency is vital in this year’s world championship. So getting into a scrap with Pastor Maldonado in Valencia was very short-sighted. The inevitable collision was a fistful of points lost for Lewis in a championship that will reward those who have the long game in mind.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

Written byRoger Alton

Roger Alton is a former editor of the Observer and the Independent. He writes the Spectator Sport column.

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