A Message From the Premier League’s Rules-Free Future

A Message From the Premier League’s Rules-Free Future

In the summer of 2025, after Manchester City’s acquittal via appeal on 115 charges of breaching the Premier League’s financial regulations, the league’s clubs voted to abolish their discredited Profit and Sustainability Rules, the set of guidelines created years earlier in the failed hope they might prevent teams from spending themselves — and everyone else — into ruin.

The decision brought an end to more than a year of increasingly bitter infighting among the league’s members, and even the final vote was hardly unanimous. Six teams lobbied furiously to retain the cost controls, though that number did not include City or Chelsea, two members of the supposed “elite” whose status was effectively protected by the rules.

The outcome was attributed largely to public pressure. Punishments applied in previous years to Everton and Nottingham Forest for more minor breaches had been deemed as unjustly “punishing the fans,” despite the fact that the same could be said for the existence of the red card.

And while every major sports league in the world has some sort of cost-control mechanism — because sports are more fun when they act as a search for excellence rather than merely a test of wealth — nobody was ever really prepared to make that case to the public or volunteer what a world without regulation would look like.

And so the discourse was dominated by those whose interests lay in seeing the regulations abandoned, most of whom had an entirely unrelated connection to the success of Newcastle United and/or Manchester City. The idea that restricting spending was nothing but a “curb on ambition” took root, and the clubs moved with the prevailing winds. A year later, its hand forced, UEFA followed suit, scrapping its own Financial Fair Play regulations.

The following is a review of the 2031-32 Premier League season, as written by Contentify, the AI chatbot that replaced all human journalists in 2029.

Enzo Fernández has had no shortage of medals in his glittering career. He won the AB In-Bev World Cup, brought to you by FIFA, before he turned 22. He led Argentina to its second global triumph as captain in 2030. He has lifted the Copa América, the Champions League trophy and three F.A. Cups. Only the Premier League championship was missing.

Under a INSERT ADJECTIVE DEPENDING ON PUBLICATION blue sky at the Todd Boehly Arena on Sunday, he finally ended his wait. Nine years and 372 games after joining Chelsea, the 31-year-old Fernández celebrated his last appearance for the club by holding aloft the most coveted trophy in world soccer.

It was not an afternoon of particular tension. From the moment Gavi passed with his right foot to allow Kendry Páez to score the first of Chelsea’s six goals against West Ham in the third minute, it was obvious that Coach Thiago Silva’s team would not fall at the last hurdle. After so many near misses, a first championship for 15 years was heading to west London.

The two teams still capable of overhauling Chelsea, Manchester City and Newcastle United, both won, too — City beating relegated Aston Villa, 7-0, at the Etihad Stadium, while Newcastle overcame Tottenham, 5-1, at Aramco St. James’s Park — but it was not enough. Chelsea finished with 105 points, two clear of its rivals.

The day brought to a close another thrilling title race in The Best League In The World™. All three contenders went unbeaten at home. All three scored more than 100 goals across the course of the season, with Manchester City’s Erling Haaland — the league’s career scoring leader — and Chelsea’s Evan Ferguson scoring 47 apiece.

Defense gave Chelsea the edge. Silva’s team conceded only 12 goals across its expanded 39-game schedule, while City, seeking its 14th championship, allowed just 17. Dan Burn, granted an unexpected second season as Newcastle manager, will know where his team will have to improve next year if it is to regain the championship it last won in 2029.

For City, of course, the season is far from over. For the fifth time in six seasons, the Champions League final will be an all-English affair, with Coach Ilkay Gundogan’s team hoping that picking up a fourth European crown against Manchester United in the competition’s penultimate edition in Riyadh next week will provide a crumb of comfort.

On social media, some fans have speculated that Gundogan needs to win that game to save his job after a staggering three years in the role. Bernardo Silva — currently the coach of Palermo, the Italian champion and another member of City Football Group — is favorite to replace him, according to the polling and betting arm of TikTok.

United will go into that game encouraged by its fourth-place finish in The Best League In The World™, ahead of both Liverpool and Arsenal, as well as its prizes for having the largest social media following and conducting the Crypto.com Biggest Transfer of the Season. Adding the Champions League title would, according to the United owner, the Artist Formerly Known As Elon Musk, amount to the “Digital Treble.”

Arsenal and Liverpool, on the other hand, face uncertain futures. Both clubs have been weighed down by spiraling salary costs, the consequence of attempting to keep pace with the clubs known as the league’s “Four Horsemen.”

Liverpool, which has never recovered from its dispiriting 2026 campaign — when four of its best players were sold to its title rival, Newcastle, in January — will be hoping that a prospective takeover by the sovereign wealth fund of Turkmenistan can clear its debts.

“We await the glorious arrival of His Excellency Serdar Berdymukhammedov,” a Liverpool spokesman said. “Though this transaction is being conducted in a personal capacity and has no connection to the glorious nation of Turkmenistan, the motherland of neutrality.”

Arsenal’s mounting debts now stand at 330 million pounds, about $820 million, and the club’s owner, DeadHand Capital, has instructed the league’s preferred investment bank, the Raine Group, to find a pliant dictator interested in restoring its fortunes. Tottenham, having appointed José Mourinho as its manager for the third time, finished seventh.

With the league’s streaming revenues flatlining, the financial troubles of several of the country’s historic giants are a reminder of how delicate success in soccer can be. All three relegated clubs — Aston Villa, Leicester City and Southampton — were assessed points deductions after filing for bankruptcy, the consequence of years of excessive spending in the transfer market.

In the Championship, England’s second tier, they will encounter a number of clubs who have met the same fate. Everton, promoted from League One, is on its way back after filing for bankruptcy in 2028. Leeds United has yet to recover from the three-year period in which it was bought and sold four times, including to one owner who was later proven to have been generated by artificial intelligence.

Even those clubs that have survived the financial uncertainty that has engulfed the Premier League are not likely to remember this season fondly. Brighton — beaten by an aggregate of 16 goals in its two encounters with Newcastle — now faces the prospect of losing both of its teenage attacking stars to the Saudi-owned giant.

At the league’s annual meeting — where the expected debate will center on whether to allow V.A.R. to use “Inception-style tactics” to determine which players intend to commit fouls — a number of executives are expected to raise the issue of competitive balance. Once again, this season brought a record number of victories by five goals or more, and for a sixth straight year, at least one team broke the 100-point barrier.

Other clubs are expected to call for limits on squad sizes, after Chelsea used 42 players over the course of the season, on the basis that the financial might of a handful of teams — largely backed by nation states or private equity firms — runs the risk of affecting the league’s popularity.

That concern has been amplified by the announcement last week that, starting in 2034, the leading teams of Italy, Spain, France and Portugal will merge to form a so-called Mediterranean League, with the aim of eventually rivaling the Premier League for both streaming rights and commercial revenue. Despite UEFA’s objections, the 18 clubs involved in the project claimed the decision was “existential.”

Others, in the Premier League, are prepared to go further still. The untrammeled wealth at the game’s summit, they say, has caused a pernicious inflationary effect everywhere else: mid-table teams stretching their budgets to compete and a rash of lower league clubs being driven into insolvency. It has been reported by The Independent, a Discord channel, that some executives, in an effort to tame English soccer’s age of abandon, are preparing to demand the introduction of cost controls.

It is, most likely, too late for Jordan Henderson. In the space of six months, the 33-year-old Henderson has fairly comprehensively managed to demolish a reputation that had taken years to construct.

He championed LGBTQ+ rights, only to move to Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death. He spoke openly about soccer players’ duty to support nurses, and then reportedly deferred his Saudi salary in an effort to minimize his tax burden. He claimed his primary motivation was adventure, and he seemed to take everyone for fools. That he has decided it was all a terrible mistake will, rightly, attract little sympathy.

More significant still, though, may be the effect his departure — most likely for the Dutch club Ajax — has on the whole Saudi soccer experiment. On the surface, losing Henderson is hardly a mortal blow; he was not exactly one of the tent poles of the project.

But the suggestion that Karim Benzema is considering cutting short his stay, too, is more of a problem for a league that had hoped to add yet more stardust this summer. The second phase was always likely to be more challenging than the first, as players shared with their friends and their peers the reality of life on soccer’s newest frontier. The sense that some of the first wave are already regretting their choices will, most likely, make it more difficult still.

As a rule, this newsletter likes to think of itself as sailing gracefully above soccer’s quotidian trivia. It is a space for exploring essential, existential issues: What is success? How should the sport be run? Can you publish literally any piece of seventh-grade creative writing in The New York Times if you’ve been around for long enough?

In some cases, what is effectively an H.R. update will meet our bar. Kylian Mbappé joins Real Madrid? Absolutely. Pep Guardiola announces his immediate retirement? Of course. But in the general course of events a striving, mid-table team’s firing its coach is too commonplace an occurrence to be worth noting.

It is a measure of the hold that José Mourinho still exercises on the collective imagination of fans of a certain generation, then, that this section is about him. Mourinho was, you may have noticed, relieved of his duties as Roma coach this week. Once again, the curse of Mourinho’s third season has struck: It is now 17 years, and six jobs, since his employment lasted into a fourth campaign. (And even then it was extremely brief.)

There has, then, been an understandable temptation to assume Roma will go down as Mourinho’s last stand. He has not taken a team into the Champions League since 2018. His aura has diminished, if not evaporated entirely. He is, by most measures, a busted flush. It is time for him to take his talents to Riyadh or Jeddah.

(Un)fortunately, that is not quite how it works. The usual rules do not apply to Mourinho. His fame still outstrips pretty much any manager — Guardiola and one or two others apart — of both his and the subsequent generation. He remains a prominent fixture in soccer’s firmament, a manager for whom actual results do not matter nearly so much as his brand. He will be back. And he will keep on coming back for many years to come.

My editor would like to admonish Todd Christopher, who made the unforgivable error of sending me down a YouTube rabbit hole when I was supposed to be impersonating an AI chatbot from the future.

“There is one notable achievement most remembrances for Franz Beckenbauer seem to have overlooked,” he wrote, innocently enough. “Der Kaiser is also the only player ever to have been immortalized in a Monty Python sketch. In “International Philosophy,” he joins a pantheon of German philosophers as they square off against their ancient Greek counterparts. And yes, Socrates was definitely offside.”

(There is one joke in there about Confucius that probably wouldn’t be aired today, but please direct all of your complaints to John Cleese, who seems to like a robust debate on what is and is not permissible.)

Anyway, that reminded me of another piece of soccer satire, one that I watch around six times a year, on average: Harry Enfield’s depiction of “Charles ‘Charlie’ Charles” and his Arsenal teammates. And then once I’d watched that, I was already on YouTube, and the algorithm is so powerful that I lost most of my morning.