Fever Pitch: Battle of the Premier League - Paramount+ docuseries poses more ethical questions than is able to answer
How Roman Abramovich changed football from a sport into investment opportunities
and live on Freeview channel 276
Manchester United 4-3 Real Madrid: the series opens with David Beckham discussing the Red Devil’s quarter-final Champions League fixture against Real Madrid in 2003 - a dramatic match to signal the start of what would become a ground-breaking new dawn in Premier Leaguefootball.
And while players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Rio Ferdinand were focusing on reaching the final four, a new figure had entered the stadium. An as-yet relatively unknown figure in the world of sport, but one who would go on to shape what it meant to run an English football club.
A few months later, this figure would then buy what has now become one of the most successful clubs in the Premier League and Europe.
Fever Pitch: The Battle of the Premier League, details how influential Roman Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea was in 2003 and how it kicked-off what would become a fight between the world’s richest billionaires to see their new business investment lift the coveted trophies in European football.
The elements are all here for Fever Pitch: Battle of the Premier League - the series has attracted the majority of the biggest names involved at the time, including Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, Blues’ star Frank Lampard, United and Chelsea chief Executive Peter Kenyon as well as the former owner of Manchester City,Thaksin Shinawatra and former Chelsea managers Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri.
The docuseries also involves two fans from Chelsea, United, Leeds, City as well as three from Southampton to delve into their perspectives on the owners as well as the subsequent progress or deterioration of their beloved clubs.
Yet with all of this, what do we really learn from Paramount+’s latest production? A question for which the answers I have found probably do not mirror the ones the producers intended.
I learnt that Jose Mourinho, while on the face of it seemed the most insufferable and arrogant man back in the early 2000s, was clearly doing phenomenal work to keep the press off his players as best as he could. It also confirmed almost every stereotype there is when talking about football fans, for as the former Southampton owner points out, “I thought football was a sport. I found out it’s a religion.”
While the series fails to properly explore the depths of financial capabilities and appears to jump around from club to club and person to person in a rather flawed fashion, I did find myself mulling over, rather ineffectively, whether football could ever return to being a sport rather than an investment opportunity.
Not only this, but why do the aforementioned fans not seem to care that their clubs are becoming mere assets for questionable billionaires who are embroiled in countless allegations of fraud or, in Man City’s case, political coups and exiles?
When asked about the question of morality, it pains me to say it as a fan of this club’s superior rivals, but only the Southampton fans seemed concerned about what would happen if an ethically questionable character came into force.
(Of course, this response could well change if it meant the Saints were fighting for European places rather than about to find themselves back in the Championship as they are currently).
The sports journalist Nicky Bandini implies that Roman Abramovich’s buying of Chelsea was the early beginnings of the ethics question within the EFL and it’s somewhat depressing to learn that these fans, who cry over every win or loss - with one believing that their club’s relegation is akin to a period of grief and mourning - have turned a deliberate blind eye to this morality complex so long as the clubs’ win the relevant trophies and enjoy their glory days.
Fever Pitch certainly poses more questions than it remedies. Apart from certain mystifying cinematic choices (such as having fans and former players look directly down the camera when shown previous footage); and the disjointed interlude that was episode three; the main concern is that with such a title as ‘Battle of the Premier League’, the docuseries is unable to determine any particular winner or loser.
Fever Pitch: Battle for the Premier League will be available to watch from 7 May on Paramount+