For all of the imperfections that have existed in the past and continue to exist in Major League Baseball, the governance of the game has embedded within it a clause that the commissioner can use to fill in when the rules as written just don't apply properly to the situation at hand.
There are two reasons I mention this in a column about the Premier League. First, baseball sensibly has an "out" clause that the Premier League clearly lacks to help facilitate the right thing being done. Second, baseball (and all American sports) rightly have appointed individuals (Commissioners) who are charged with overseeing their leagues, acting as figureheads/PR talking heads, and acting as the lightning rod for controversy when things go wrong. The controversy at St. James Park on the opening Saturday of the season underscored the lack of an individual in the driver's seat with sufficient latitude to ensure that the right thing happens.
If the Premier League had a single Commissioner who the public generally held accountable (and feared in any way for the ability to hold down what is generally a high-paying, high-profile job) then the end result of this past weekend's melee would have been entirely different. I could be talked into red cards for everyone involved (Song, Barton, and Gervinho). I could be talked into yellow cards for all involved. I could be talked into reds for Song and Barton and a yellow for Gervinho. What I and any public-facing Commissioner would never be talked into under the confines of American sports is letting a technicality like "we already awarded Barton a yellow card so we can't even review it and get it right" because that's the way our screwed up system works.
A Commissioner that is forced to meet regularly with reporters, go on sports talk radio, and watch his name crushed on social media would find a way to get it right, and fast. Apologies would be issued for the way things turned out. Slowly but surely, the tide of public opinion would force even the most traditional of traditionalists (you listening Mr. Selig) to do things like enlist video replay to get more things right.
Instead, the Premier League continues on with a Chairman, a Chief Executive, and a Board of Directors to oversee day-to-day operations. If ever there was a way to diffuse responsibility for things going wrong, this would be the way. A Google search for "Barton" and "Scudamore" (the Chief Executive of the Prem) yielded exactly 13 hits under the "news" tab. You have to try hard to find a search that yields only 13 hits. A similar search for "Artest" and "Stern" yielded 30x more hits associated with a particularly ugly incident in the National Basketball Association. Another similar search on "Selig" (MLB commissioner) and Dodgers (a financially troubled team where he had to step in) yielded even more than that.
My point is that with a diffused management structure at the league and even more ability to avoid responsibility by hiding behind the FA, UEFA, and FIFA there's almost no chance that the Premier League as currently constituted will ever be serious about making things better. It would be like expecting FIFA to not be corrupt or the NCAA to make decisions that are in the best interests of the fans or the players.
Sadly, unlike most of my rants, I don't really have a proposed solution here. The league has to WANT to change and make things better. The clubs have to decide that there's some risk to their financial health to not making the change. The way things are going with TV revenues, etc. that seems highly unlikely. We'll just have to suffer through poor decisions left un-reviewed, no video replays, and an absence of even modest improvements like referees using spray paint to keep walls from encroaching like they do in the US and Argentina.
The Home Teams
- Chelsea vs. West Brom - No, Chelsea didn't look great last weekend and West Brom looked solid before capitulating to United on a twice-deflected shot from a sharp angle. Don't let that fool you. Stoke were lucky not to concede despite a fair number of chances for Chelsea (adding fuel to Jeremy's notion that Arsenal should have signed Begovic for next to nothing a couple summers back). WBA on the other hand conceded the second most away goals in the league last season. Foster may help that a bit but I don't expect it will be enough to stop a convincing Chelsea win. Verdict: Advantage Chelsea Attackers. [Late Update: Cech out for up to a month.]
- Aston Villa vs. Blackburn - I have to admit I was surprised that Villa managed to keep a clean sheet on the road at Fulham last weekend. I expected them to be a bit deflated after losing two of their three best players in the off-season along with another season of Richard Dunne getting older. Heading home and facing a Rovers squad with what I think we'd all agree is limited attacking talent leads me to believe a second clean sheet may be on the way with a goal or two to the good, especially if Samba and Nelsen aren't back to full health. Verdict: Advantage Villa Defenders.
- Wolves vs. Fulham - As impressed as I was by Villa's defense (and luck) last weekend, I was disappointed by Fulham's attack (and bad luck). Never a great road team, they're staring down the barrel of a second straight goalless performance with Wolves improved defense playing at home. Verdict: Advantage Wolves Defense.
- Everton vs. QPR - QPR started off at home against what we all expected to be mediocre competition in Bolton and they got stomped on pretty good. With the scene shifting away from home and to a team that seemingly has more talent, you wonder if QPR has any chance at all. I'm not ready to buy in to them being THAT inept two weeks in a row but you have to like Everton's chances to score a few goals even if QPR finds the back of the net for the first time as well. Verdict: Advantage Everton Attackers.
- ManUtd vs. Spurs - Technically Spurs face an away Europa Cup match before their trip to Old Trafford but if they're smart they'll just stay up in the Northwest after their match with Hearts and train in or around Manchester or in Scotland or something like that. More important will be the absence or presence of a few key figures for Spurs. Will K2 arrive? Will Modric leave? Will King be healthy? With a second team defense and DDG's still uncertain ability on long balls, I can't fully endorse United against a very good team but you can certainly see their attack shining at home. Verdict: Advantage United Attackers.
- Sunderland vs. NUFC - Like their opponents Liverpool, you have to wonder which Sunderland team is the real thing. Is it the lifeless bunch that LIV should have scored 3 or 4 on in the first half? Or is it the much more impressive group from the second half who defended much better and mounted more of an attack than their more glamorous hosts? With a far less potent NUFC the opponent and the Stadium of Light the venue, I have to say I'm optimistic for Sunderland - I'm just not sure exactly which ones to be optimistic for other than Larsson - more on that tomorrow. Verdict: Advantage Sunderland
Away Risks Worth Thinking About
- Liverpool @ Arsenal - Song...out, Gibbs...gimpy (already), Djourou...gimpy (already), Frimpong...young/inexperienced. You get the idea. Arsenal is not exactly rock solid at the back despite their two clean sheets on the trot. If the Liverpool from the first half of last weekend's match with Sunderland show up, there will be trouble and the boos heard after the Emirates Cup will seem like nothing. Risk Worth Taking: Liverpool Attackers.
- Manchester City @ Bolton - The co-leaders of the league after week 1 face off at the Reebok with what appear to be dramatically different outlooks. With Aguero appearing for all the world to be better in a sub role than anyone else in the league over their first 90 minutes you have to like City's chances of scoring on anyone anywhere once he's starting. That said, City managed to leak goals on the road last season so I'm only about 50/50 on any bets placed on relatively expensive City defenders. Risk Worth Taking: City Attackers.
So as the world ponders the fact that Arsenal are going to lose another first team player to City tomorrow and Fabregas has "won" his first club trophy for a grand total of 8 or 9 minutes of work after the outcome had been decided. Not going to be a pleasant day for the Gooners among us (me included) but the promise of players interested in playing for the team and the fantasy week ahead will keep us moving forward.
The Week Ahead: Part 2 - Player Predictions coming tomorrow (Thursday).