The 2011/12 football season is almost upon us as. But it is not just any season. It is the 20th year the Premier League has been in existence.
Many things have changed over the 20 years since the inception of the Premier League. It has been called the FA Carling Premiership, Barclaycard Premiership, Barclays Premiership and more recently the Barclays Premier League. We have seen no less than 44 teams compete for the title and yet only four teams have actually won the coveted trophy. The Premier League was originally composed of 22 teams until 1995, when FIFA insisted clubs must play fewer games and the number of teams was reduced to 20.
The Premier League is one of the greatest sporting spectacles in the world. It is broadcast to over 200 countries and is broadcast more than any other sport in Asia. It provides hours of entertainment for over 600 million people and it generates vast revenues year on year. Every aspect of the season is exciting – the battle for the title, Champions League places, mid-table scraps and the battle for survival at the bottom.
However the Premier League also has its downside, predominantly the vast gulf that not only exists between the richest clubs that dominate the league to the clubs that are simply surviving, but also the distance between the Premier League and the lower leagues. Over the 20 years the Premier League has been in operation, money has become as big of a competitor as the clubs themselves.
As I have said before, the dominance of the ‘big four’ have frustrated fans and teams outside of this clique and the fear is that with the increasing presence of silver spoons at certain top clubs, the league will become boring. No other clubs can compete with the riches of Chelsea or Man City. Just look at Blackpool last season. They have very little money but had the players with the spirit to get through the dog-eat-dog world of the Championship to win promotion to the Premier League. They were written off from the moment they sealed that promotion and couldn’t compete with the wealth of the Premier League.
The difference with the Championship is that anyone could win promotion, and anyone could face relegation. It is that competitive. These days the only hope of any team outside of the top four in the Premier League winning something is the Carling Cup.
In recent years the big four dominance has increased ever so slightly to six. Tottenham and Man City have joined the battle for a Champions League place which has raised the intensity at the top of the table. Sadly for those below those six clubs, there is even less chance of competing for top honours.
The problem of wealth is highlighted in the Premier League Hall of Fame. In 20 years only four teams have won the title. Blackburn won the title once back in the 94/95 season, but to do this they poured millions of pounds into buying players and arguably bought the title. This proved unsustainable and after selling their most prized assets to balance the books they were soon relegated.
Chelsea have won it three times. After the arrival of Roman Abramovic Chelsea could afford to buy some of the world’s best players and offer crazy wages. Along with the ‘Special One’ they swiftly won the Premier League.
United have won it 12 times, and have become a global brand making enormous revenues off shirt sales ticket sales and sponsorship.
And finally Arsenal have won three times. No matter how many people agree with the Wenger’s philosophy, you can’t deny he has helped to create one of the most sustainable clubs and one of few clubs that will survive when UEFA implement their financial fair play rules.
In 20 years, no other team could win the title. And for the foreseeable future, only Man City stands any chance of breaking their strangle hold at the top.
With billionaires now controlling teams at the top of the league who can buy whoever they want, pay whatever wages they please, and offer 100 million pound sponsorship deals, it leaves the rest of the clubs with no chance to compete, not only because they can’t get past the richer clubs, but because they are likely to get their best players bought from them, significantly weakening their armoury.
Luckily with the 20th year of the Premier League upon us, we are getting ever closer to financial constraints to all clubs being enforced by UEFA, capping wages and transfer expenditure, and encouraging clubs to spend within their means. However I fear the assessment phase of the process could mean the rules will not be implemented soon enough and this saga could carry on for many years to come.
You shouldn’t be able to buy the title and it is sad that enforcing financial fair-play rules is the only way to try to even out what has become a battle of the riches in the best league in the world.