SHOULD THE IDEA OF AN ENGLISH ALL-STAR GAME BE ENTERTAINED?

The Community Shield, a staple of English football. Yet, year on year it fails to prove itself to be of any distinct value to the season and is often described as a warm-up game, almost of equal value to many other pre-season tournaments. It’s time to change, and that is by way of adopting the American style All-Star game.

We don’t have to look far to see a change in other nations equivalent, with Spain’s first newly restructured Super Cup taking place in January. Spain opted to take the competition overseas and include two semi-finals in an attempt to increase a global following in the league, and as such increase revenue.

Whilst this idea has many positives, it simply doesn’t appeal as a way of changing how the competition is viewed, with it still falling behind in terms of winning the league title or any cup competition throughout the year.

Looking for a new way to structure or adapt the concept to make it successful is simply never going to be enough, and therefore in my mind, it’s time to scrap it and replace it with a whole new game, being an All-Star game which sees players from all the best clubs in the league uniting on a team for what could be the only time in their career. 

If we look into the past, we could’ve had players from the best Manchester United and Liverpool sides playing together in a one-off game to form some of the strongest starting elevens the game would ever see. This would be a huge money-making opportunity for the FA, with fans likely rushing to get the chance to see the game, along with the possible TV revenue which could be generated globally.

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One obvious flaw with the Community Shield is the fact it never comes close to selling out at Wembley, with the attendances since Arsenal played Manchester City in 2014 ranging from 71,000 to 85,000. This could easily be overshadowed by attendance for an All-Star game, or the game could easily alternate between grounds in the North and the South providing fans with a clear opportunity to get out and see the greatest players the league has to offer.

On a few occasions in history, the Community Shield has seen a series of special teams feature, including at one point a series of games held between English Professionals and English Amateurs, as well as the FA Select XI who faced off against Tottenham in 1961 after Spurs became the first team to win the double.

We can take from this that it is not too far removed from the concept of an All-Star game, and as such can begin to see that it is not too much to ask to overhaul the competition to give it that extra excitement.

Before we get into it, a key ground rule must be set: a fantasy football-style rule that only two or three players from each team may be selected, allowing for more of the mid to bottom-of-the-table sides to get a chance to play.

There are many ways in which the game could be managed, teams could be split North and South. From this, we would see players from Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and more unite to face off against a strong eleven built on foundations from Liverpool, both Manchester clubs and from the current situation, Leicester, alongside others. 

This is the most obvious way to split the league, and would, in fact, create what is likely to be, on a general term, a good game of football. However, currently, it is possible to say the North is dominating English football, and as such, this would create a one-sided game that would be less entertaining than originally billed.

Ignoring this, we would still get to see the likes of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah joining up with Manchester City stars Kevin De Bruyne or Sergio Agüero, a concept that sounds like a dream to many football fans around the world.

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Secondly, we could see the league split to playing as “odds and evens”, meaning the finishing position of the previous season decides which team players are eligible for. This would, in theory, create a drastically balanced team every year with the reigning champions heading up the “odds” team and runners up doing so for the “evens”. This idea, therefore, creates the opportunity for an incredibly exciting game that would push both sides to the limit. 

Alternatively, we could see two captains appointed, maybe even as some sort of player-based vote, which is then followed by a draft, to allow the captains or managers selected to work their way through the league selecting their dream team.

This is simple, it’s as simple as your old PE lessons or football in the park, a method which generally created fair teams. Yet this method does throw up a few obstacles. For one, the time required to sort a draft would take teams away from their important pre-season preparation.

As well as this, captains or managers are likely to select players they already play or work with, meaning it’s unlikely to see a range of players playing amongst unfamiliar teammates, which is the whole idea of an all-star game.

Finally, we could see the game take the same approach like that of the Pro Bowl in American football, which sees fans vote for which players they wish to play in the game. This, however, only works as a variant of a split defined in some way by existing teams, and again would not see any change in the problems which arise from different divisions of the teams.

Yet, it is a nice way to get the fans involved and likely improves viewing figures as fans get to see the players they want to see playing in the game, and by that logic are much more likely to tune in.

But, with every great idea comes its drastic flaws. It would, of course, be naive to dream that a switch to an all-star game would simply be a breeze with all teams in favour and the FA happy to throw out a competition with decades of history.

A first major flaw is that, unlike the Community Shield, it would drastically obstruct teams crucial preparations for the season, with players having to take at least a week to train with their teammates for the game.

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With the match taking place just a week before the start of the season, it is very unlikely any manager would be happy and willing to allow their star players to go and play in a game which contributes nothing to their season.

As well as this, players themselves would not be willing to risk an injury in a game like this and as such would likely either decline to participate or put in a fairly abysmal amount of effort, which would simply make the game a dull affair and likely lose support from fans around the globe.

A second flaw is the fact that a good game is not even guaranteed, with many great players often ending up in dull games that do not appeal to viewers. If this were to occur, especially with the previously eluded to likely lack of effort from players, the game would be a resounding failure and end up in a similar or perhaps even worse situation than the current competition.

An All-Star game would be, however, a great money-making opportunity for the FA. For one, there are so many sponsorship opportunities available. First, someone can become a title sponsor, perhaps at a large cost with the international audience likely being more than that of the Community Shield.

Second to this, both team’s kits would be available to have shirt sponsors as well as finding a kit manufacturer who is willing to sponsor the competition. This would all be fueled by creating something which appealed to a global audience on a greater scale, and after all, football to many at the top of the game is simply a business as we so often seem to forget.

Alongside sponsorship, the FA have the opportunity to sell the TV rights, as well as potentially introducing a skills battle type feature similar again to the Pro Bowl. This would see players from each side go head to head in mini skill-based games which test an individual skill at a time, very similar to the skill games seen on the FIFA video games.

This then allows for extra broadcast rights to be sold, as well as individual sponsors for each mini-game. Alongside this, it then also becomes a hype generating machine in itself, with a whole week of events building up to a final climax being the game, potentially creating a large audience worldwide. The skill games themselves also become a very easily shareable media form, with short durations and excitement throughout, allowing it to again reach an audience further than that reached currently by the Community Shield.

A third flaw would be that in an event of a lower-half or non-Premier League team winning the FA Cup in the season before, they and their fans are deprived of another trip to Wembley, which is perhaps more detrimentally, a bad idea for their finances.

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So the two main questions are: is it a good idea, and is it feasible? To me, the answers are yes and no respectively. Whilst it would be amazing to see such a spectacle and a nice change to the start of the season, I just cannot see the huge teams allowing their players to go and risk injury right at the beginning of a season, it would simply not be able to happen.

However, a nice in-between would perhaps be to see the idea of the skill games put into practice anyway, as to continue the eternal grudge match between the North and the South, and potentially help spread the game even further afield than it currently reaches.

BY WILL TYRER