Talking Sport with Neil Trainis
PUBLISHED: 15:36 08 May 2008 | UPDATED: 12:40 11 August 2010
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KEVIN KEEGAN has made ripples throughout his football career but his latest eye-catching contribution that the Premier League is in danger of becoming one of the most boring but great leagues in the world has resuscitated a debate which has simmered for
KEVIN KEEGAN has made ripples throughout his football career but his latest eye-catching contribution that the Premier League "is in danger of becoming one of the most boring but great leagues in the world" has resuscitated a debate which has simmered for some time.
As soon as Roman Abramovich touched down in west London in 2003 to take control of Chelsea, rumours were rife that the Russian billionaire would transform the club from the stylish one it had become during Ken Bates' reign as chairman, manifested in the signings of players such as Gianfranco Zola and Ruud Gullit, to a prolific trophy-winning machine.
That idea brought with it an inherent anticipation that Chelsea would add competition to a league which had already started to appear a tad stale, highlighted by the fact that since its inception in 1992, Blackburn had been the only other club besides Manchester United and Arsenal to claim the championship.
In the period up to February 2008 Abramovich had poured some £587m worth of investment into Chelsea and, inevitably, two Premier League crowns, two league cups and an FA Cup followed to the backdrop of accusations that Jose Mourinho's title-winning sides strangled the life out of their opponents for two seasons rather than scintillated.
Whether success is achieved with style is irrelevant when considering Keegan's musings since his was not an observation aimed at the quality of football on display in English football's top flight but on the league's strength-in-depth.
The Newcastle manager, along with hoards of Chelsea fans and neutrals entranced by the prospect of a Russian oligarch throwing limitless funds at a football club, may have felt a sense of intense fascination, if not excitement, at how a once modest outfit would be transformed into one of European football's powerhouses.
The last five years have not been a surprise, with Chelsea firmly perched at the pinnacle of the English game and about to appear in a first European Cup final, but the initial anticipation that had all of us absorbed has withered away.
Instead of regarding Chelsea's rise as healthy for the Premier League, expanding the clubs with a realistic chance of winning the championship from three to four, many of us have been left with a sour taste in the mouth at watching, year after year, the top four remain unchanged.
Perhaps Keegan was one of those who harboured hopes that Chelsea would join Liverpool in countering Arsenal and Manchester United's monopolisation of the Premier League as Bates' control at Stamford Bridge evaporated and the club he once bought for £1 was passed to a man who would wipe out their debts and lavish them with world class footballers.
For many fans all over the country though, not just Keegan, hope and excitement has dwindled in the years since Abramovich arrived on these shores as, paradoxically, it has been money, the source of any original exhilaration, which has helped narrow the league's competitiveness.
It may be cynical to regard Chelsea's emergence in that way but the gap between the top four and the rest of the division is such that Keegan was spot on when suggesting the most Newcastle could hope for next season is to win that "other league" by finishing fifth.
Having expressed pessimism that he will be given substantial transfer funds in preparation for next season, many may see Keegan's comments as sour grapes or a rant moments after Newcastle had been beaten by Chelsea at St James' Park.
"I think he's just gone through the heat of battle, he's just competed very, very well for 60 minutes, he thought he had a chance of winning the game and all of sudden they've lost 2-0 and then a microphone goes under his nose and he says that," suggested Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, who vigorously defended the league against charges of being "boring".
Scudamore, of course, has a vested interest in dismissing Keegan's claim but had a point when he added: "There are a lot of different tussles that go on in the Premier League depending on whether you're at the top, in the middle or at the bottom that make it interesting."
Engrossing relegation battles, however, neglect the essence of competition in every top flight league in any sport; to have a level playing field on which to compete for the right to be the best in the country.
That right extends to only four clubs in England presently and for the foreseeable future. Four English clubs have won the Premier League since 1993/94 compared with five in La Liga, five in the Bundesliga and five in Serie A and in each of England's continental equivalents, six or seven sides are capable of winning the title.
As Chelsea ponder shelling out a reported £50m to complete the signing of Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos to solve their right-back "problem" this summer, Keegan may afford himself a rueful smile.
Scudamore may try to denounce Keegan's thought processes as clouded and emotionally-charged but his near three-year absence from football has not receded his ability to speak his mind on issues where others choose to keep their mouths shut.