It is a question starting to be asked, at last, about a governing body who have had a long and glorious history as guardian of the beautiful game in this country, but who seem increasingly impotent in the 21st century, particularly since the inception of the Premier League and the developments that have taken place since.
A perfect example of the problems they face was demonstrated when Sir Alex Ferguson was charged last week by the Football Association for his criticism of referee Martin Atkinson following Manchester United’s defeat to Chelsea. Yet Ferguson could justifiably point to the inadequacy of the referee as the reason for his anger. He may have been wrong to claim that Atkinson was not impartial, but if he was right, it would not be the FA who are to blame, it would be the Premier League. So why do the FA take action against him?
The Premier League after all, select the referees to take charge of games, and they are responsible for punishing referees whose performances are not up to scratch. Yet when a manager criticises a referee, it is the FA as the governing body who step in to take action.
It just goes to demonstrate the increasing pointlessness of the national football association. Its main assets, the FA Cup and England internationals, are steadily decreasing in both importance and value whilst the Premier League continues to dominate financially.
Yet the FA move in to take disciplinary action against Premier League teams, managers and players where necessary. It seems pointless, and they are hamstrung by a fear of alienating teams, who could split from the FA entirely by creating a new umbrella organisation to govern the rules of the game in England. So any charge against Ferguson or anyone else will be tempered by fear.
But that is precisely what should happen now. As the organisation with the power in the English game, it makes sense that the Premier League take full control of top level football, and probably football throughout the country including England internationals.
Given the success of some of our club sides, it would seem inconceivable that the England team would be run quite as poorly. The disastrous and cock minded thinking that went into the design of the new Wembley Stadium, which left us with a pitch not fit for a Championship match, let alone internationals, demonstrates the inadequacy of those in the FA. Premier League clubs, used to running their teams with the modern day attention to detail and techniques that maximise their teams’ potential, would not have made such gargantuan mistakes.
Other problems hamper English football that the FA cannot deal with. One of the main reasons England failed to win the World Cup was the alienation of FIFA executives through the constant failure of English sides to put out strong teams at under 19 and 17 World and European Championships. This is due to clubs refusing to release their players, which the FA are powerless to enforce. The Premier League would possess the power to change this, and thus, a pivotal aspect of England’s relationship with FIFA. Whilst we can complain justifiably about some aspects of the FIFA voting process, there is no doubt that it was a mistake to insult FIFA tournaments by refusing to release what are after all, just 16, 17 or 18 year olds for a summer tournament.
Similarly the constant fractures between the FA and Premier League teams over releasing players for club duty would also be eased by the passing of responsibility for the national team to the body who have created one of the world’s most entertaining leagues.
This is not to denigrate the FA for the sake of it. It is a body with a wonderful history and steeped in tradition. But it is becoming obsolete, pointless and worst of all, a stumbling block in the English game, rather than the power for good it once was. English football has a tradition of looking back nostalgically to bygone days rather than taking a glance forward. The FA Cup is a great example of this, a competition loved for the tradition and reputation it has built over time. Yet it is becoming increasingly pointless, a competition which now takes up valuable space on an increasingly congested calendar for the top flight teams to fight over. The magic of the cup is no longer alive, and that is because non-league teams cannot beat Premier League teams. This is because they are not fit enough to do so. In the past before modern physiology took over, non league teams could at least physically last as long as top flight opponents. Now, they tire as the games wear on. Often non league teams can hold out or even take the lead against Premiership opponents, but they never win. This is because of the changes that have taken place, and it renders the magic of the FA Cup void, much like the FA itself. It is time for reform to the national game, and we can start with the removal of the Football Association, and pass on its powers to the Premier League, for hope of a brighter football future.