Football News

Todd Boehly’s ‘North v South’ All-Star proposal: What is it? How would the Premier League XIs look? And what about the Midlands?

By Ben Green

Published: 12:15, 15 September 2022

Chelsea’s co-controlling owner Todd Boehly made more than one controversial suggestion at the Salt conference in New York earlier this week.

The American businessman answered a series of questions about his vision for Chelsea and the game in England during the annual forum, with topics ranging from Manchester City’s “multi-club model” — which he is a big fan of — to his decision to sack Thomas Tuchel and instill Graham Potter in the Stamford Bridge hot seat.

Among other subjects, one particular point stood out like a sore thumb to fans across the Atlantic. Boehly suggested an All-Star Premier League match between the North and South of England, following a similar blueprint to one currently deployed by the biggest sports in America, including MLB (Major League Baseball) and the NBA (National Basketball Association).

What is an All-Star game?

In baseball, the All-Star game, also colloquially referred to as the “Midsummer Classic” — as it falls at the halfway point of the MLB season, or thereabouts — is an annual match contested between the ‘best players’ from the American League (AL) and National League (NL), the two biggest leagues in the United States.

It’s sort of like a Super Cup, as we know in football, except the two teams competing represent their respective leagues (and not clubs), while the players are selected by both the managers and even the fans, with the latter given a rare voice to determine the starting fielders.

It’s also important to note that depending on where you are in the United States, there will be a very strong opinion on which league reigns supreme: AL or NL. No such rivalry between leagues is apparent in football — at least not in England or the UK, neither of which have any inter-competition events comparable to MLB’s World Series, contested by AL and NL post-season champions.

Boehly spoke primarily from a monetary perspective while suggesting his idea could provide funds to ultimately benefit all clubs in the English football pyramid.

“Ultimately, I hope that the Premier League takes a little bit of a lesson from American sports and really starts to figure out, ‘Why wouldn’t we do a tournament with the bottom four teams?’” Boehly said of his other proposal to eliminate the standard bottom-three-go-down format currently utilised in the Premier League.

“Why isn’t there an all-star game?’ People are talking about more money for the pyramid. With the all-star game in LA this year, we made $200 million from a Monday and a Tuesday.

“You could have a North versus South all-star game for the Premier League and fund whatever the pyramid needed very easily.”

The most recent Major League Baseball All-Star Game was hosted by the Los Angeles Dodgers — part-owned by Boehly — at the Dodger Stadium in July and was won by the American League 3-2, their ninth straight victory, stretching back to 2013.

Other US sports organisations such as the NBA and NFL have variations of the All-Star game, known as the Pro Bowl in the National Football League.

The reaction

Boehly has already come under the microscope for his decision to sack Tuchel after an inauspicious start to the season and his most recent comments are unlikely to score him any brownie points with pundits, such as Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville, who are already skeptical.

But, it’s not just pundits who have rolled their eyes at the American’s proposal. When asked about Boehly’s brainchild, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp — who was speaking immediately after his side’s Champions League win over Ajax — was less than impressed.

“He doesn’t wait long,” Klopp told a press conference. “When he finds a date for that he can call me. In American sports, these players have four-month breaks. Does he want to bring the Harlem Globetrotters as well?

“Maybe he can explain that. I’m not sure people want to see that – United players, Liverpool players, City players, Everton players all together. It is not the national team. Did he really say it?”

On the other side of the fence, some Chelsea fans went full Sherlock Holmes to dig up an old tweet by Rio Ferdinand some 11 years ago, the former England and Manchester United defender eerily mirroring Boehly’s calls for a “PL All-Star game” to match the MLB equivalent.

In 2011, Ferdinand tweeted: “Baseball All-Star game tonight, tv coverage is quality. We need a PL All-Star game too…the powers that be let’s talk + develop this….”

How would a ‘North v South’ All-Star game look?

Some would argue that Boehly appears to have overlooked the Midlands. Would they constitute their own region and comprise a mini-series? Would the ‘North’ and ‘South’ take part in some sort of American-style draft system, choosing between players in the Midlands? It’s almost as if he didn’t completely think this through.

But, it certainly raises an interesting point about how teams would shape up between the different regions in England. So, just for a bit of fun, let’s indulge Boehly for a minute and see how each of the XIs would appear — including the Midlands.

Of course, this is not meant to be a definitive list of ‘best players’, just a bit of Football Manager-style fun that we’ve put together. And just to make it a little fairer, rather than just a bundle of ‘Big Six’ players, we’ve kept the selection process to two-per-club — and three-per-club in the case of the Midlands (who have only four clubs from the region).

The North’s XI

The clubs to choose from: Everton, Leeds, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Formation: 4-3-3

Obviously some big omissions, not least Alisson, Ederson, Trent-Alexander-Arnold, Joao Cancelo, Casemiro, Bernardo Silva and Cristiano Ronaldo, among many, many others. But we must stick true to the two-club rule. Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah were locks. The Lisandro Martinez-Virgil van Dijk partnership feels very Pep-friendly — two ball-playing centre-backs who occupy zones tailored to their preferred foot. Illan Meslier has emerged as one of the best young goalkeepers so can certainly do a job between the sticks, while Kieran Trippier and Vitaliy Mykolenko offer the modern full-back blueprint so important to Guardiola.

The South’s XI

The clubs to choose from: Arsenal, Bournemouth, Brentford, Brighton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Southampton, Tottenham, West Ham

Manager: Antonio Conte

Formation: 3-4-3

The talent pool is much denser down south, but of course, not all can make the cut. Again, sticking with the two-player-per-club rule it was hard to omit some key players, but needs must. Declan Rice and N’Golo Kante looks like Conte’s midfield utopia so they get the nod. Cristian Romero, Marc Guehi and Lewis Dunk offer a blend of ball-playing qualities, physicality and height, exactly the sort of traits Conte would be after. Robert Sanchez is now a Spain international, so there won’t be too many concerns there, while the rest of the side is just a big old blend of attacking versatility, penetration and skill.

The Midlands’ XI

The clubs to choose from: Aston Villa, Leicester City, Nottingham Forest, Wolves

Manager: Brendan Rodgers

Formation: 4-3-3

Just the four clubs to choose from, so we were forced to water down restrictions by going with three players per club (otherwise the Midlanders are only fielding eight players!). Brendan Rodgers is having a tough time of things at the minute, but he makes the cut here thanks to past achievements as his contemporaries aren’t doing much better. In true Rodgers style, Wilfred Ndidi drops back to centre-back to form an elegant-destroyer relationship with Diego Carlos. Matty Cash and Renan Lodi offer bundles of energy on the flanks, and will be supported in midfield by Ruben Neves, James Maddison and Matheus Nunes, a frightening trident. The attacking trio then offers a solid synthesis of pace and youth, skill and audacity, experience and scoring prowess.