Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Premier League Cul-de-sac

The Premier League is often lauded and paraded as the most entertaining league in the world, as it should. It's also championed as one of the most competitive where anyone can beat anyone else. This is true to an extent. But the competition stops when it comes to winning the league.

For the considerable past and the majority of the future, the race for the Premier League title will remain a two horse race. Those two sides will of course be Manchester United & Manchester City. Then there's the other few who are capable of a challenge such as Chelsea, Arsenal and to an extent Spurs. But that's where the buck stops. Those five clubs are the select few who in the current era have a chance of challenging for the title, and even that's something of an exaggeration.

For the financial benefits, there's no doubt that the top flight is the pinnacle for all clubs in English football. But where too from there? The excitement, the thrill and the challenge of making it into the elite top 20 is unparalleled, but once there, clubs hit a cul-de-sac. There's nothing left to achieve. The best that can be hoped for in the modern era is a series of consistent mid table finishes, a cup run and maybe an optimistic push towards the top four as a one off.

Whilst getting to the Premier League may be an achievement, there's a severe lack of purpose once there. All it does is suffice to tide over the club coffers and bring in extra revenue. There's realistically nowhere to go after that. What chance do Aston Villa, Fulham, Southampton West Brom or West Ham have of challenging for the Premier League crown? None whatsoever is the answer. Managing to get into the top 10 every year and  avoiding relegation is the best that can be achieved with no hope of winning the league, let alone breaking into the top four. 

For the fans I imagine it's a novelty at first, but it soon dies off. The extortionate ticket prices, the mixed kick off times and the realisation that your club has hit a brick wall would be a burden to bear. Where's the fun in paying £30 upwards a week to watch your club be mediocre for a considerable time, with little chance of ever achieving anything of note. Where's that thrill of a title race, of being on an equal level, of having a chance? It's gone. Where's the thrill of keeping young players, building and creating a dynasty? There isn't. Unless you're in the top six established clubs, you're not invited to the party. 

You can praise the Premier League as much as you want, but with increasing revenue to clubs, especially the giants, the hope of even building a side to win the title is a distant dream. Gone are the days of a mid table club making that step up through character, grit and determination. Gone are the days of it being an open competition for all. Gone are the days of equality and the thrill of knowing that your team could finish anywhere in the league.

Of course, even 30 years ago there would be a favourite for the league, but it wasn't as clear cut. You'd always get a side that breaks away unexpectedly and mounts a challenge. A look at the 1985-1986 season final table and you can see Liverpool, Everton, West Ham & Sheffield Wednesday in the top 5 - all separated by just 15 points. Could you honestly see West Ham finishing in 3rd position now? Of course not, they don't have the resources, and they don't have an equal chance. 

Back then, whilst the league wasn't exactly equal, it gave far more chance to develop and for any side to have a crack. Nowadays the best clubs take the cream and very few have a realistic chance of making the top 6. Swansea are proving to be an exception to this rule, playing attractive football and hopefully developing into what will be a side that can one day challenge towards the top of the league. At the moment though, it's just a pipe dream and if it did happen, would stand as an exception in the modern era.

Getting into the Premier League can also lead into decline. Look at Portsmouth for instance, they achieved the dream by getting into the top flight and it's ultimately led them to nearly going extinct. To a lesser extent, Swindon & Bradford both sunk to the fourth division, whilst other mediocre teams continue to languish in the Championship and League One. The majority of clubs are run as a business these days and ultimately all that matters to them is the money that comes with it, not the enjoyment of the supporters.

Not only does this cul-de-sac exonerate competition, it stunts the growth of our younger players. You only have to look at Michael Johnson this week to see how his career has taken a nose dive. It's why Championship, League One, & League Two clubs will do well to retain their rising stars and keep them until they're ready to move on. English football needs it's rising talents to play regularly and feel their way up the leagues like previous eras to ever achieve anything on an International level.

These are all external points of the Premier League having a closed door. When sixth or seven is the best you can hope for as a "normal" club, what's the achievement? Even Newcastle who over achieved are now paying as a result, losing key players to established sides in the top 4. In short, what I'm trying to say, is the Premier League isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sure, it's ok for a while, but once that swansong period ends, the realisation of who you are and where you are, will really hit home. 

To contact me, Tweet me at @NickMurphy1995

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