In his exclusive column for CaughtOffside, former Liverpool attacker Stan Collymore discusses some of football’s biggest talking points, including Premier League funding of lower leagues, Bukayo Saka’s current form, why he supports player strikes, what Euro 2028 will do for the country, plus much more.
English teams will dominate in Europe again but that might not be good for the game
Brighton got a bit of a bloody nose in in match day one and then they sort of regrouped by match day two. I think that Newcastle’s result against PSG was perhaps more relevant than ever and it made a change because it wasn’t just the champions putting on a performance like that.
West Ham winning the conference league last year – there were some very good teams in that tournament, and let’s not forget Aston Villa in the game in Warsaw. We’re in a very, very strong footballing zone, without a doubt, and I don’t think many people will be surprised that the Premier League with its riches would have the strongest teams.
When I was a kid growing up, I think it was six European Cups on the bounce. Liverpool three times, two for Forest and one for Villa over six consecutive years,. Then you had the likes of Ipswich Town and Tottenham winning the UEFA Cup, and even Scottish teams like Aberdeen were winning the Cup Winners’ Cup.
The Premier League undoubtedly is entering an era where it’s money has, and will continue to make, a difference in terms of getting the best players from around the world, and I wouldn’t be surprised that unless there’s some sort of real attempt from UEFA to implement some sort of financial fair play that allows teams in Holland, Belgium and Portugal, never mind in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, to compete on a level playing field, then I don’t think it will be all English clubs that win the major European trophies.
Spanish clubs will always be there or thereabouts but we will get to a point if you’re not careful where it’ll be the vast majority of clubs are English with two or three Spanish clubs mixed in that are winning everything.
Let’s not forget that if we’re looking back 40/50 years ago, we’re talking about clubs from behind the Iron Curtain being very competitive. Russian teams, Ukrainian teams. Others like Dukla Prague.
Those days are gone, unfortunately, but for me, a healthy UEFA ecosystem means clubs in Eastern Europe, Portuguese clubs and others would be competitive in Europe, and I don’t see that being the case for some for some time to come.
I’m in favour of player strikes but the caveat is managers need to play the game too
I don’t think authorities give a **** about players. They’ll be provided with analytics and data that shows a players physical state dropping off at times of the season but FIFA still want to push for a World Cup every two years because it makes them more money.
You also have the ridiculous situation that whenever there is a three or four week break, players are going off to America or Asia for lucrative pre-season or end of season tournaments.
The reality is that yes, I agree with Pep and I think if European players went on strike they would have to insist on two things.
Firstly, a six-to-eight week, end-of-season, break. All of June and all of July off, no football anywhere except for a World Cup or a European Championship.
Secondly, a maximum number of games played, or a cap on how many minutes an individual player can play in a season.
For example, if Jack Grealish has played 45 games for Manchester City and then he’s got five more games to go in a season to make it 50 – and that’s the total amount he’s allowed but he has cup games and England games still to play – I’d want to see Pep Guardiola go ‘I’m happy for him to play five games potentially for England even if that means missing Manchester City games. We’ve got a big enough squad to cope.’
It would call out the managers that are bleating about player welfare, and show quite clearly who is serious about it and which managers are the hypocrites.
If Pep is serious, then I would absolutely follow him on this.
Euro 2028 can bring the country together again just like in 96 but the experience will be diluted
Euro 96 was effectively the rebirth of the English flag for the English team. If you remember it was just a year before the Labour Party voted ‘things can only get better’ and there was a real sense of ‘we’re in the EU, we’ve got Italian baristas making coffee in even the smallest towns, we’ve got Polish builders and carpenters doing a great job…’
There were people coming from left, right and centre and working in all sorts of industries and Britain felt inclusive. It felt like the English flag was no longer a flag that traditionally had been flown by the National Front and the BNP. Euro 96 was a real galvanising force for everybody.
To be honest, I think that the vast majority of football fans are still in that mindset, despite the fact that the country has a very nasty post-Brexit feel about it at the moment.
With regards to Euro 2028, I’m not against more countries having big tournaments but I do think from a cultural perspective, that European Championships and World Cups should only ever be held in one country.
I think that that’s an important component of a tournament, so I’m not a massive fan of a Pan Britain or a Spain/Morocco/Portugal tournament. Even an America/Canada/Mexico tournament means a lot dilution of the full experience.
The experience is supposed to be as much about learning about the culture in that country, as it is about spreading football love, so to speak.
I’ll give an example of Germany 2006. There were at least 100,000 England fans over there and pretty much most of them came back with an attitude of ‘we’re only a generation or two away from our grandparents who are always talking about World War Two in Germany and whatever, but what a great country what a great welcome.’
I’ll go and I’ll enjoy Euro 2028, but I don’t think it will resonate in the same way as Euro 96 because that was solely an English tournament and it coincided with the feeling of England being comfortable in its skin politically for the most part.
Bukayo Saka gets the nod ahead of Jude Bellingham as player of the season so far
The reason I’ve chosen Saka is because he’s not allowed missing the penalty for England, which is only two years ago, to affect him.
Being a particularly young man, a relative rookie, he’s already being thought of as the top man, the game changer at Arsenal and he’s taking that all on board whilst scoring goals and creating chances. Just brilliant.
I was sat amongst the families during the Euros for the semi-final and the final. I sat with Jack Grealish’s dad, chatted to my former captain, Stuart Pearce, and I saw Saka with his girlfriend after the game.
I said to my mate I’m gonna go over and say something. I said “you won’t know me from Adam, but I’ve been in your position. Not missing a penalty, but I’ve been in your position now as a footballer where you have days where something doesn’t happen for you. Just keep your chin up.” He looked really crestfallen and it could have been very, very easy over the next couple of years for his form to be really up and down.
You look at Marcus Rashford for example, getting involved with charities, school meals and taking on the government… Rashford’s been hot or cold on the pitch at present. There’s been no consistency.
I could equally say Jude Bellingham as my pick for the season’s best player so far. What an incredible start for life at the world’s biggest football club.
His trajectory – Birmingham-Dortmund-Madrid – has always been forward. That dude has also very cleverly done well to escape the spotlight. He comes back and plays for England and if he plays poorly, he goes back to Madrid and plays well. Nobody’s really gonna care if you play poorly.
For Saka at Arsenal, he’s still the top man, and he’s still doing it with the England squad. He’s been absolutely exceptional is for me, and I’m really looking forward to him scoring the match-winner in a semi-final or a final which would completely banish the memories of his penalty miss.
The Premier League must help to fund the lower leagues to stop more clubs going out of business
The chasm between the Premier League and the other English professional leagues is growing, and I think that what has to happen is a clear pipeline of money from the English top-flight downwards must be established. Look at the Premier League benefactors and the system that they work in – it’s the football pyramid.
Luton Town were in the bottom tier of the professional game in League Two and went all the way up to the Premier League. They’re not an established Premier League club yet, but let’s say we’re looking back in 10 years time and Luton have the money to buy Jude Bellingham because they’ve spent their Premier League money very wisely. They’ve got into Europe, they’ve done a Brighton and then some and they’re competing in the top four of English football… you would say that’s impossible but with the with the money that’s available the game, it’s not impossible.
The thing that annoys me is, is that when when clubs get into the Premier League, they pretty much moan and bitch around the table ‘I gotta give more money to a team in the National League. Can’t we ever have the extra few million for ourselves?’
If 15% of all money that we generate in the Premier League is automatically going down the leagues in a very clear system that supporters can see, that the FA can see, that there’s nothing hidden and that every single penny is accounted for and it’s gonna be in perpetuity so that in 10 years time we will have seen the trickle down effect of that money, then that’s the way to do it.
We also need a fit-for-purpose ‘fit and proper persons’ test.
Ron Martin at Southend, the Oystons at Blackpool, those in charge at Charlton for years, Scunthorpe have problems, Oldham had problems… all of it could’ve been avoided if, on day one, when they owned their club, the authorities assigned the club a real world value and the new owners had to put down a 10% deposit in cash at an FA bank which was kept is a bond. Then if bills etc couldn’t be paid, the FA can release funds from the deposit.
Also, club owners must have their main source of business income in England. Not Scotland, not Wales, not tax havens, not Dubai, not America… Any business that runs Manchester United for example, or FSG at Liverpool – the business has to be registered in England, which is often not the case.
Clubs have got to look after themselves and work within their own financial parameters of course, but I do believe Premier League clubs are responsible for the pyramid up until a point probably not far beyond the National League South or North.
Perhaps the Isthmian League, where it’s a very good standard of semi pro teams, and you’re getting x amount of ex-pros, Academy kids etc.
That would be the starting point whereby those clubs upwards could get some sort of regular funding when required.