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No, you don’t need a Premier League All Star Game

Let’s be honest about All Star games, their purpose, and what they actually accomplish in this day and age...

Manchester United v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Chelsea’s new owner, American Ed Woodward Todd Boehly created headlines once again Tuesday when he suggested the Premier League should take a page out of American sports and have an All Star Game with the funds being used to help fund the rest of the football pyramid.

My first reaction upon hearing this news was to laugh, but apparently this is something that a number of English fans actually want?

Now, I am fully aware that perhaps other than the monarchy football fans in the UK despise nothing more than an American coming in and mansplaining their game to them, but since all-star games are an inherently American concept I feel like that qualifies me to be a voice on the matter.

All-star games used to be cool. That’s not the case anymore. These days all star games are all about league executives yupping it up with the executives from all their sponsors at big fancy parties. Rich people doing rich people things while pretending to care about the fans.

The game itself is a complete joke. Back in the day, all-star games were fabulous exhibitions where the best players in the game went to head and tried to beat each other. These days the players couldn’t care less. There’s no effort put into competing. The only thing the players (and fans) care about is not getting hurt. In most sports the list of stars who choose not to participate is often longer than the list of stars actually playing.

To remedy this, over the past decade the leagues have tried gimmick after gimmick to try and make the games interesting or at least watchable (remember, simply not having the game is not an option because then the big-wigs don’t have an excuse to have their rich people parties). Baseball stupidly assigned home field advantage in the World Series to the team whose league won the all-star game, an era that went on for way too long.

These days there are so many rules over who can pitch, and for how long, and the “game” can’t even go past nine innings anymore. The NHL’s all-star game is now a 3 on 3 tournament while the NFL’s Pro Bowl doesn’t even allow tackling anymore.

Now look, we all already know that adding a game to a calendar that already has too many games is insanely stupid but even taking that bit out of the equation there are so many reasons why a Premier League all star game is just so so unnecessary.

While fans may be dreaming of a match bursting with so much quality that you’re treated to extremely high quality goals and 30 yard screamers that is most certainly not what you’re going to get. All-star selections skew towards the most offensive players in each position. Take a bunch of players not known for their defending, put them in a meaningless game where no one wants to get hurt and you're going to end up with a game where no one even tries to defend. You’re not going to see amazing dribbles through three players and an amazing finish. You’re going to see Bukayo Saka half-assedly pull a move over a full back who’s not trying to stop him, jogging into the box before squaring a ball to a wide open Harry Kane who taps it in to make the score 11-9. You’re not going to see Ronaldo rise above a center back to score a brilliant header, but rather you’ll see Ronaldo try another ridiculous bicycle kick while the center back stands aside and let’s him do it. Midfielders will be blasting shots from 35 yards out simply because there’s no one within 15 yards of them.

Team Selections

For argument’s sake, let’s just say that each side would be composed of 22 players for two XI’s that can be switched at halftime. Anything more than that and the game would be flooded with substitutions making this stupid game even more stupid.

The idea that you’d even be seeing the 22 best players squaring off against each other is laughable in and of itself.

Marketing plays a big role in who gets selected to the game. Sponsors want the stars, not just the players playing the best, but the ones with the most name recognition regardless of whether they’re playing well or not. That means if they were picking Premier League all-star teams right now, Erling Haaland, Harry Kane, and Cristiano Ronaldo - with one Premier League start and zero goals - would all be locks to be included. That would leave just one “striker” spot available for Ivan Toney, Aleksandar Mitrovic, and Gabriel Jesus, all of whom can reasonably claim to be deserving so far.

If we say that one of them can go out on the wing, that would open up a pandora’s box about players playing out of position and punish the actual ‘wingers’ who deserve to be included.

This is Boehly’s brainchild and seeing as he’s coming from an American background - and since all-star games are inherently American - it’s safe to say that a lot of the concepts they have in American all-star games, specifically Major League Baseball’s, will make their way to the Premier League’s all star game.

One of those things that baseball does (and hockey too) that wouldn’t be surprising to be implemented is the requirement that every club is represented by at least one player. That means someone from Bournemouth or Southampton has to be selected over a more deserving player in their position. Similarly it can go the other way. Yoane Wissa may be deserving of a place in the game but is he more deserving than teammate Ivan Toney? I would say no, but you can easily pick the winger Wissa to fulfill your Brentford requirement and give the striker spot to someone like Mitrovic.

The one thing that is universal across all the all-star games - and you can bet your ass the Premier League would adopt as well - is that the starting lineups are picked via a fan vote. Fans get to vote for their favorite players, whether they’re deserving or not, and whoever has the most votes gets the starting spot no questions asked. Most of the time, this works and the starters are pretty deserving, but there’s always one who’s there on not much more than his name. Then of course there’s the time where NHL fans banded together to vote John Scott - a perennial 4th line player - into the game. (And to show how much of a farce the “game” is, Scott won MVP.)

If you can’t see where this is going I’ll spell it out for you:

Assuming the match has a North vs South breakdown, since that’s what Boehly mentioned, a fan vote would mean that Erling Haaland - with 10 goals through six matches - would not be in the starting XI because there is no way that Cristiano Ronaldo would lose that vote. If both the fan vote and the ‘every club needs to be represented’ rule were both in play, the fan vote would have the power to knock deserving players out of the game entirely.

Let’s say Manchester United fans all decided they were going to vote Tyrell Malacia in as the starting left back. If the starting XI is made up primarily of United, Liverpool (the two most popular clubs) and City players, then a player like Joao Cancelo would probably miss out due to the reserves having to come from all the other clubs to ensure representation (factoring in that Haaland will be one of the reserves because Ronaldo out-voted him).

In baseball, this “problem” was solved by adding spots to the roster, but if we go above 22 players then we’re getting to the point of very few players even playing 45 minutes in this “game,” in which case what the hell is the point? We could also solve this “problem” by getting rid of the ‘every club must be represented’ rule but then this just turns into a collection of players from the Top Six with some Allan Saint-Maximin’s sprinkled in.

What’s the point of that?


What’s the point is actually a great place to start.

All-star games did originally have a point. The first all-star game was held by Major League Baseball in 1933 to try and boost the fledgling sport during the Great Depression. The idea was simple, put all the best players on the same field.

It worked because this was a novel concept. Fans never got to see all the best players on the same field. Even as we entered the television age the concept worked for the same reason. Not many games got televised, if there was a star player in a different city from you, you rarely got to see him. The all-star game gave you the opportunity to see all of them at once!

Here’s the thing, deep down there is always going to be a desire among fans to see what would happen if you put the best players on a team together and had them play each other. From that perspective, you can see why Boehly has this idea.

Except here’s the kicker. Those teams have to actually play.

The secret to what made all-star games work in the past is the players actually cared. They went there and battled each other and tried to win. You can say there’s a level of pride that older players had but really it simply came down to, they didn’t make a lot of money. The money you got for making the all-star game and the money you got for winning the all-star game made a difference. It was a big deal to them.

These days players make so much money that all-star bonuses are chump change to them. They’re just there to have a good time, attend parties, and make sure they don’t get hurt. The lack of competition has sucked out all interest in the game.

Fans want to see the best players on the same team but they want to see them actually compete and guess what, we already have that! It’s called international football! The World Cup!

Team USA dominates Olympic basketball but everyone still watches because they want to see the best players team up and actually try. When the NHL participated in the Olympics Olympic hockey was fantastic because you got to see the best players join up on Team Canada and when they played Team USA you got great hockey games.

England is simply a collection of some of the best players in the Premier League on a team together competing against the best players other countries have to offer. It’s not a perfect comparison because the Premier League is far more cosmopolitan than any of the American leagues. The best players aren’t all English.

International football still won’t allow you to see a front three of Marcus Rashford, Erling Haaland, and Mohammad Salah, but an all-star game isn’t going to give you what you’re looking for either.

The idea of an all-star front three is appealing because you want to see Salah and Haaland go and dominate against a team that is trying to stop them. You almost want to see the the defenders be powerless to what’s coming at them. All-star games don’t actually provide that. They’d just provide a stage for Salah and Haaland to give 50 percent effort while the opposition stands around letting them do fancy tricks, waiting for their turn on the ball so they could do the same.

Even international football has figured this out. If the game doesn’t matter, the effort is simply not there. That’s why federations all over the world have created nations leagues to increase the amount of “competitive” fixtures and lessen the amount of friendlies each team plays. The UEFA Nations League might be a completely unnecessary tournament, but from an entertainment standpoint, it’s been a success.

Despite international football having the advantage of “the honor of winning a cap” or the possibility that in every friendly you can play your way into a manager’s tournament plans, friendlies are still incredibly dull. To think that players are going to give more effort in a glorified charity match is incredibly naive.

And then of course there’s this.

Trust me, having an all-star game is not the solution you might think it is.