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Press Pass on the '39th game' debate

With the debate raging over whether an international '39th game' should be added to the Premier League fixtures in the 2010/11 season, there have been many diverse opinions on the subject.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has condemned the proposals as 'unacceptable' and an 'abuse of football', while UEFA president Michel Platini called the idea 'nonsense' and 'a joke'. Yet many fans across the world are keen to see a competitive Premier League game in the flesh and all 20 clubs are reportedly still behind the plans.

ESPNsoccernet Press Pass took the opportunity to talk over the issues with the panel this week and host Derek Rae caught up with Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson and MLS duo Ivan Gazidis and Alexi Lalas to get their take on the situation.

Derek Rae: Dan, Michel Platini is obviously a very important man as far as European football is concerned. What did you think of what he had to say?

Dan Johnson: Well clearly he is entitled to his opinion but I would ask him and anyone considering the proposals that the Premier League clubs have just agreed to explore to think about why were doing it, and the reason why were doing it is to protect and enhance what we've got. We've got a fantastically successful domestic competition and we want it to continue like that. We want fans coming in week-in week-out seeing the best possible players played in the best possible stadiums.

Rae: But some people might say: fine, that's all well and good the Premier League has to grow that's the natural way things happen in this day and age, but was it just too radical for people? Not consulting FIFA was apparently a surprise to a lot of people?

Johnson: I think quite a lot of a reaction that has come as a result of the announcement was based on the fact that it was radical, and it was a surprise to a lot of people. But again it's a concept that needs people to think about it and understand why we're doing this. We see it as a very positive thing to the English game. English football is fantastically popular all over the world and we believe that we can have a positive impact on the development of football in that area.

Rae: But should you not have spoken with the likes of the Australian Federation or the Asian Football Confederation or FIFA itself before coming out with plans like this? Would it not have been wiser to get them onside before making these plans?

Johnson: Well, we didn't leak the plans. The plans were leaked by someone else. We announced the plans.

I think it's very important that we get across that this is the start of the process; this is not the end of the process. Nothing definitive has been decided. 20 clubs voted to explore a proposal and if they had turned around and said: 'No we don't want to do this', then it would have been dead in the water. If, as they did, they say: 'Yes please go ahead and look at this,' then the consultation starts.

Rae: So where do you see it going from here? Some people might say it's already dead in the water if the Asians don't want you and the Americans are lukewarm about you at the moment?

Johnson: Well I think, as I've said, it's a start to the process not the end of the process. At the time when we announced this we said there were a number of issues to overcome and sanctioning is one of those, getting into the fixed calendar is another one. Ensuring that it's accessible to fans is another issue.

So there are all these issues that we are going to consult on, these are issues about which we are going to speak to our colleagues at the FA and the Football League, and other significant football stake holders including FIFA, and see how we can do this in the best way possible. There is not only a benefit to English football but a benefit to wherever we end up as well.

With the Premier League keen to boost its following around the world, America is one of the venues being considered to host a tie. Keen to boost the profile of soccer in America and around the globe, MLS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis and General Manager of the Los Angeles Galaxy Alexi Lalas gave their thoughts on the proposals to Press Pass.

Derek Rae: What is the MLS position on the Premier League adding a 39th fixture?

Ivan Gazidis: Well, we will be discussing it when we get the details of the proposals with US Soccer, with CONCACAF and obviously FIFA. We didn't have a knee jerk reaction against it. We are one of the leading soccer promoters in the world of international soccer, so when the Mexican national team, when Chelsea, when Barcelona, come into the United States we are involved in that. We do believe that international soccer, if managed correctly and strategically, can be beneficial.

The Los Angeles Galaxy are playing just next week in the Pan-Pacific Tournament against Japanese and Australian teams, so we're at the centre of the development of the game in the United States, not just Major League Soccer but the international game. But, obviously, from US Soccer's perspective and from FIFA's perspective and from CONCACAF's perspective, there are a whole raft of issues that this raises that have widespread implications for the game around the world.

Rae: Would you welcome the Premier League proposal? Do you feel it will affect the domestic league (MLS)?

Alexi Lalas: At the Galaxy we are responsible and our market here is in Los Angeles, we take it very seriously, and any soccer that comes into our market is a concern. Having said that, I think if they can work out all the economics and especially in our case, if the in-market team is involved in some way, I think it can be beneficial.

I also think that there is another benefit that maybe isn't talked about as much in that, when we do see the Premier League come over, and play some games in a competitive format, I believe that MLS and the Galaxy is going to stand up well. I envisage a time where if this all were to come to fruition, somebody walks out of our stadium after seeing this EPL international competition and says you know what, I got better value and I saw better soccer last week when I went and watched the Galaxy play.

I know that's not going to happen every single time but I believe that the quality that we have in MLS can rival and at times surpass what the EPL has. So, I'm not afraid of the EPL coming over here, as long as it's done in the right way and I do think that ultimately we might benefit from the competition and maybe gain a much more realistic perspective of what the Premier League is.

Rae: Do you think that a Premier League game could be staged at the Home Depot Center within a few years?

Lalas: Yeah and I also think that the Galaxy could be playing in London in a few years too. I mean, that is the nature of our sport. But as we talked about before, a partnership with both the Federation, MLS and obviously the individual in-market teams (in our case the Galaxy) I think is essential because we are all driving our brand and we all believe in the future of our sport in our country.

We might look at it as international, but we want to do this right and so that's why I think everybody's being cautious. But as Ivan Gazidis said, it's not something where we want to close the door because there is potential for some incredible positives on both sides.

Rae: We are hearing that a work partnership is obviously something that might be appealing from the MLS point of view.

Gazidis: Well, it's too early to say it's appealing but certainly if this were to happen, it would have to happen in partnership. Football can't stand still, it's always got to be looking for new ways to grow, new ways to reach out in the world we're in. It really is a global world, although I think its going to be an uphill task all the way. It's difficult to predict, but I think it's going to be a real struggle for them to get it sanctioned.

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