This week has brought about two major news stories relating to England’s national team. The first can only be considered negative news; the second comes down to opinion.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s World Cup dream has been shattered once more. Injury ruled him out of Brazil four years ago, and it has done the same here. The Liverpool midfielder has come into some impressive form under Jürgen Klopp recently, but his season is over and he will now have to wait until he is 28 to see if he can finally represent England at football’s biggest competition. Challenging Roma’s Kolarov as Liverpool won 5-2 in the Champions League this week, he went down with what looked to be a severe injury. The scans since have confirmed he has knee ligament damage, and he will next kick a football in 2018/19. Gareth Southgate has not publicly spoken on the matter, but Klopp has been visibly distressed. The former Dortmund manager explained that Liverpool will wait for him ‘like a good wife when a man is in prison’. And wait they must do, as The Ox has been sentenced to a summer in the physio’s room. Bad news for Liverpool. Terrible news for England.
News article number two relates to the so-called Home of Football. Wembley Stadium, England’s historic football ground, has been approached by the owner of a football club who wishes to take it off the FA’s hands. It isn’t Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich or Arsenal’s Stan Kroenke. Wembley Stadium has been approached by Fulham’s owner Shahid Khan. This Wembley is of course still a very new build, having replaced the older model in 2007, after almost of decade being planned and built. Nevertheless, The FA is said to be forming a monster-sized panel to consider the purchase proposal made my Fulham’s owner, Shahid Khan.
It is understood that Khan would pay £600m for the stadium, but the FA would keep control of the £300m-valued hospitality business ‘Club Wembley’. Khan has explained that he would intent to use the stadium for his NFL side Jacksonville Jaguars, of whom he is also the owner. Wembley has been hosting NFL matches every Autumn since 2007, and it would bring closer the possibility of American Football’s permanent franchise within the UK.
Many football [soccer] fans have understandably seen this as unwelcome news. They argue that The FA’s ownership of the national stadium is an attractive and rare set-up, and they wish to see that remain. Khan has been quick to defend his bid, stating that England will still play at Wembley. He has also decided that all major club finals, including the FA Cup and League Cup finals, will remain at Wembley. The world-famous stadium would also retain its current name. There could, though, be a snag with England’s annual November fixtures, historically friendly affairs. These may need to relocate to other English grounds, as the NFL season would be sliced in half by these matches. It is important to consider, however, how well received England’s touring of the country was during the construction of the national stadium, between 2001 and 2007. England fans in the north are famous for feeling cut off by England’s permanent Wembley links. This could provide them with a chance to support their nation in a much more involved way once more.
The FA has promised that all proceeds from this deal would be plunged straight into football at grassroots level, but it seems an doubtful prospect that the effects will be also be clear as day to see. Will we see the likes of Frome Town’s players on higher wages than before the deal was struck? It seems unlikely. It doesn’t even appear all that necessary to spend that amount of money on grassroots football in England. After all, the nation enjoyed a glamourous term last year, where they won two youth World Cups, and a European Championships, as well as defending their Toulon Tournament successfully too.
Deals like this can cause a lot of angst. It seems like a agreement that may be originally struck on The FA’s terms, but one that will move closer and closer into the control of Shahid Khan as the years roll on. England is as well supported a national team as can be found anywhere on earth. Fans of The Three Lions are avid, passionate and proud of their team. Selling Wembley might make sense financially, but can you put a price on the heritage of this grand long-standing tradition? England have also called Wembley their home. Is this the beginning of the end for the life-long marriage between football and the world’s most famous stadium?