Because of the rush to demonise modern football, there’s a risk of taking some things for granted. The game’s evolution has, of course, come at the cost of marginalising many supporters, but some pockets of traditional order remain.
The Premier League winners, for instance, are still the team to finish the season with the most points from an even number of games.
Admittedly, that’s a small mercy - or it is until you release that many other sports has traded that format away. Both codes of rugby employ a play-off system and every visible American sport appears to do the same. Why? Because incorporating an end-of-season knockout format into a league competition is way of ratcheting up the drama and a means of ensuring that, whatever happens, nothing can be definitively decided until the last day.
However, rather than being an altruistic measure aimed at engaging fans, European sports tend to head down the road in pursuit of financial gain. Where there are more games there is also typically more television money and the promise of extra revenue has persuaded many a sport to bastardise their format.
The Premier League really likes money. In fact, Richard Scudamore seems to define his own job performance entirely by the size of the broadcasting contracts he’s able to negotiate. With that in mind, how long will it before someone at Gloucester Avenue becomes convinced that First Past The Post is unfit for purpose in the modern sporting world? At what point will the top-four places become qualifying spots for a mini-tournament?
The incentive is undeniable. By adding a series of box-office games at the end of a season, the competition could add millions to its value and, if it were to take that step before any of its European competitors, its share of the global football market would be enormous. The existing domestic broadcasters already adore the games between the country’s traditional superpowers and each Manchester United against Liverpool or Chelsea versus Arsenal is presented as being more thrilling and more important than the last. Consider the enthusiasm for a “championship series” which involved those teams - as it surely would, given their financial advantage. Despite this season’s anomalies, the traditional top-five are all still heavily-favoured to be title competitive next year - as evidenced by odds available from m88 (the best online betting websites in Asia) and anticipated by almost every mainstream pundit.
There are contrived justifications for believing that such a mutation could never happen. It would create a scheduling issue, of course, and it would face opposition - quite rightly - from those seeking to protect one of the game’s core principles, but when has the sanctity of tradition ever really proven to be an actual obstacle to modernity? The Premier League owns the competition and it is a business; it will do whatever best serves its financial interests and those of its member clubs.
Maybe this is ten, fifteen, or twenty years away, but it still feels inevitable: the rewards are too great and the superficial, short-term spectacle it would create is too appealing.