Does financial stability equate to competitiveness in the Premier League?
Background photo: Jez Arnold, CC BY-SA 2.0
In its 25th season, the English Premier League has come a long way to achieve its status as the world's richest football competition. With all the hype and razzmatazz surrounding the league, it feels like the league should be more entertaining despite Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea's ascendance.
The football is entertaining, no argument. The problem centres on the lack of drama in the title race. It’s been a long while since fans enjoyed a title battle involving more than two teams. City's victory over the Reds prevented the title from becoming a foregone conclusion. Even so, they remain four points adrift. Tottenham are third, six points behind. Few believe Spurs can maintain their pace after failing to supplement their squad in a summer shortened by the World Cup. Chelsea are a full ten points behind. A double-digit gap is nigh impossible to close.
If City can make up further ground, setting up a race to the wire between at least two teams, that will keep neutral fans interested.
Money is the main reason title races are few and far between in the Premier League. Few teams have the resources to spend at will. Thus, there is a clear gap at the top. If everyone were required to spend the same, more clubs would enter the title picture. In North America, spending limits exist in every sport. In every game other than basketball, it has created a level of parity that allows different teams to challenge from season to season. Some teams contend every year, but their success is down to management both on the pitch and in the books.
In the Premier League, management is the difference between the big-spending teams.
City dominate through their adherence to a successful plan. the club hired former Barcelona executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain to handle football operations. In turn, the duo brought in former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola. The trio work as a team to build Barcelona's successful business model in Manchester. In order to compete in the short term, the initial phase involved heavy spending.
Liverpool spent heavily to build a squad tailored to manager Jurgen Klopp's needs and capable of winning the title. So far, so good.
Arsenal refused to spend under Arsene Wenger. They quickly fell behind. They're recovering under more openminded management.
Chelsea began spending less as well. Two titles still arrived but so did a sixth and tenth place finish. In 2018/19, the club spent on their manager, paying through the nose to secure Maurizio Sarri's services from Napoli. They also spent to bring Sarri's field general, Jorginho, to Stamford Bridge.
Manchester United spent to keep pace with City but without a clear plan. Consequently, they fell behind despite their deep, talented roster. Jose Mourinho paid the price. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn't lost since implementing a new plan more suited to the players at his disposal but the jury is still out on his effectiveness, as critics await United's performance against Tottenham this weekend. The match at Wembley is the first in which the Norwegian tests himself against a manager above him in the table.
As noted, Tottenham's concern is staying power after chairman Daniel Levy elected to stand pat in the summer transfer window. And that's it. None of the other 14 teams are either willing [Newcastle, West Ham] or able [all the rest] to match. While the money spilling into the Premier League seems endless, the possibilities are limited. Some sort of wage and transfer cap is necessary to open the league to all 20 teams and make it more interesting.
It is important to be more competitive in order to progress. At the millennium turn, the Premier League was at its best. At least four teams were in the title picture most seasons. Different clubs, too. Blackburn and Newcastle rose then fell. Arsenal came on. Then Chelsea. Aston Villa joined the fun for a while. Bolton looked like it might for a moment under Sam Allardyce. Each season brought something new. Now, we have more of the same every year. If a glass ceiling is installed to limit the big clubs' spending, the view will be spectacular.