Niall Quinn is emphatic: “Football has a job to do”.
And not just because this has been among the least enthusiastic build-up to a Premier League season in two decades. As part of Sky Sports’ punditry team for the new campaign, his job is to try and drum up that enthusiasm — but that does not mean he is willing to let the sport off the hook.
He is concerned for the image of football after the general goodwill of the Olympics seemed to cast the supposedly elitist game in the worst possible light.
“One thing I did love about the Olympics was that, win, lose or draw, before they could catch breath, athletes were interviewed and I thought there was great range of emotion on display,” he said.
“I think the footballers will realise the public will be used to being that bit nearer to their heroes. I hope they see that it’s vital they retain that contact and perhaps move back closer to the man on the street.
“Is that possible? Will their agents allow that? I don’t know. There certainly needs to be a warmer Premier League, that’s for sure.
“The dynamics are different but football has a job to do after the Olympics to make sure it doesn’t become a switch-off event.”
Quinn was also struck by another contrast much more relevant to this country — that between the reception afforded athletes like Katie Taylor and the sombre atmosphere around football after Euro 2012, with Shay Given the first of the squad to announce his retirement. Quinn feels it’s important the rest of the experienced players don’t follow the goalkeeper.
“They will be needed, even if it’s to bring young players along. An exodus would hurt because it would be an exodus at a low time in football.
“Nobody came out of the Euros with huge credit so, to leave the bulk of the young players on their own, with a system Trapattoni has been trying to put onto a larger group, that would hurt.
“I just wish Shay could have got one of those nights [like the Olympic homecoming] before he called it a day. But he won’t be forgotten, a superb player, a great ambassador.”
At the least, Quinn is able to vouch for Given’s replacement, Keiren Westwood, having been chairman of Sunderland when the goalkeeper signed.
“He has a big challenge with Sunderland and Ireland. It’s there for him. He could really show what he’s capable of and have a long stretch in goal playing for Ireland and fulfilling his potential and making his career great.”
Quinn also hopes this will finally be a defining season for David Meyler.
“I know he’s worked his socks off all summer, even when he was away from the club. This is a huge pre-season for him. He has the type of ability that Martin O’Neill would normally like... in terms of determination and power alone, I think he’ll get there.”
Finally, there is the issue that seems to cause so many of the game’s ills — money. Quinn is intrigued that, this summer, Manchester City appear to have largely conformed to Uefa’s forthcoming Financial Fair Play requirements while Chelsea have spent fortunes.
“I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I’m very interested in this. “[Chelsea’s spending] does throw things up in the air a little bit and it will be interesting to see how Uefa deal with that... I would have faith that there’s a plan in there somewhere.”
* Over 500 football matches will be exclusively live on Sky Sports this season, available to watch at home, and on the move via Sky Go, for all Sky Sports subscribers. To find out more go to skysports.com/skygo.
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