On July 12, 2011, England legend Rio Ferdinand was lounging at home, recovering from another long season of Premier League and Champions League football at Manchester United. He turned on his television, and was duly entertained by a bunch of dudes across the Pond gathering around in Phoenix, AZ for a bit of light-hearted baseballing.
Rio was watching the 2011 MLB All-Star game, a game in which a relief pitcher entered the game by sprinting from the bullpen and doing a one-knee slide at the mound (note: this is not the normal way for relief pitchers to enter game) much to the delight of everyone. While we might never know if Rio appreciated that stunt as much as everyone else watching, we do know he was looking forward to the game, having tweeted earlier in the day about it:
Baseball All-Star game tonight, tv coverage is quality. We need a PL All-Star game too...the powers that be let's talk + develop this....— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) July 12, 2011
In case this gets deleted in the future, Rio said that the “Baseball All-Star game [is] tonight, tv coverage is quality. We need a PL All-Star game too...the powers that be let’s talk + develop this...”.
We need a Premier League All-Star game, said Rio, addressing that idea to “the powers that be” and following it up with a tweet that they could easily “replace the Community Shield with #premierleagueallstarteam?”. The Manchester Evening News covered these two tweets with a grand total of 100 words, giving it the bare minimum of attention and zero actual opinion or reaction.
Eleven years later, Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly was on stage at a business conference, talking to a bunch of other business types about revenue streams and making money to stay competitive in the era of state-owned professional football teams. Since coming into our Chelsea-lives, Boehly has repeatedly stated that he and the ownership group believe that (European) football is still “really underdeveloped” in terms of generating revenue for the clubs and leagues involved.
Boehly brought up that notion again, adding that one potential idea could be to have an All-Star game in the Premier League (be that before, after, or during a season), which could generate significant sums with minimal effort and disruption, adding that those millions could even be used to support teams up and down the pyramid, not just the Premier League.
Pretty good, right? A fun game and money to benefit everyone? What’s there not to like? You’re welcome, Rio!
As we’ve all seen, the response to this offhand mention of a basic idea (not even a proposal) has been one step shy of declaring war on the USA, with many high-profile pundits and journalists not even trying to hide their xenophobia in their immediate knee-jerk, puerile, and often willingly witless reactions.
Here's a selection:
I keep saying it but the quicker we get the Regulator in the better. US investment into English football is a clear and present danger to the pyramid and fabric of the game. They just don’t get it and think differently. They also don’t stop till they get what they want!— Gary Neville (@GNev2) September 14, 2022
"It's just a stupid idea by a man who increasingly becomes clear has no idea how football works"— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 14, 2022
We asked @jonawils for his opinion on a Premier League All-Star event and safe to say he wasn't having any of it
️ Watch Edge of the Box in full ⤵️https://t.co/K7c0kTXAS4 pic.twitter.com/Dr29hcffzC
More measured reactions — in line in strength at least with this being just an idea — brought up valid concerns such as that we already have internationals or that we already have enough fixtures.
The latter was the objection of Jürgen Klopp when he was confusingly asked about it (though he was willing to consider it by the time he was done talking and mocking), as well as the PFA, who are certainly justified in pointing out that fixture congestion is already a massive problem.
In fact, if we could cut down on frivolous competitions such as the League Cup or whatever nonsense national teams have to do constantly, that’d be great. Doing so would leave plenty of calendar space for a one-off game and maybe another day of skills competitions, which are really the only actually interesting parts of any All-Star event. Few care about the game itself; it’s all about the dunk contest, the home run derby, hardest slap-shot, goalie wars, etc.
“Football can’t just keep forcing more and more into an already crowded schedule.
“We work closely with union colleagues in the major US sports and so we understand the value and the popularity of the All Star events. Ideas shouldn’t be dismissed just because they might be concepts we’re not familiar with, especially if they have the potential to raise funds that can be used for benefit right across football.
“Ultimately, though, we can’t just keep adding fixtures and events without a proper and wide-reaching review of the calendar.”
-PFA spokesperson; source: The Times via Mirror
And you could certainly say that football already has All-Star games. Every national team is practically an All-Star team made up of one country’s best players. (Players from different teams in getting along shock.)
The difference is that All-Star games in the American sense are about celebrating the sport, the league, the players, and their skills. Internationals are thinly veiled vehicles for nationalism by way of low-quality football — and they take up an inordinate amount of time in the schedule, with a ton of travel, constant injuries, and the occasional corruption scandal or human rights violation. (Players can get hurt in All-Star games, too, obviously, but it’s generally very rare since it’s a non-competitive, celebratory event for all involved and all who might care.)
Hey Todd, we already have All-Star games. They’re called internationals. https://t.co/lgbWoyvJ4h— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) September 14, 2022
A few have pointed out that football has had All-Star games (or equivalents) in the past, featuring select XIs from various leagues. We also have things like Soccer Aid or preseason matches against select XIs from various leagues (such as Chelsea playing a Thailand XI in both 2013 and 2015, or the MLS All-Stars in 2012). There are also testimonials and various fundraising and charity benefit matches. The idea is not new or that unique, which makes the massively overblown reaction to it even more overtly xenophobic.
composite league XI suggested by Englishman in 1961: yes that sounds like an interesting fixture to commence the new domestic campaign— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) September 16, 2022
composite league XI suggested by American in 2022: a disgrace, doesn't understand the fabric of English football, this is our game, hands off
Boehly claimed that the All-Star game made $200m for Major League Baseball this year. Considering that All-Star games are never the most watched game of any season in any sport, that’s certainly a handsome windfall for a bit of fun, and one that could benefit the entire league or pyramid, indeed.
And I don’t even like All-Star games.
Except goalie wars. We need more goalie wars.