Premier League Decline
Between 2005 and 2012 the English Premier League boasted at least one Champions League finalist in all but one season, impressive. When you look at the latter stages of the competition during those years, you’ll see the top EPL sides up there with the cream of Europe. It seemed that only English teams had the quality to eliminate other English teams, other than the spectacular Barcelona side under Guardiola.
So, what has changed? It seems like a basic question to ask but for such a transition to occur something major must’ve happened. I believe it’s a collection of minor issues that has seen us go from kings of Europe to, quite frankly, a bit of an embarrassment.
The huge financial clout of the EPL has been our biggest hindrance, in terms of the top teams retaining their power. Obviously this has helped spread the wealth and made our league one of the most competitive in the world, we all enjoyed the Leicester City miracle of 2017, but the quality of the football has diminished. Arsenal, amongst others, were sniffing around Jamie Vardy in the January 2017 transfer window. What happened? Leicester doubled his wages to £80,000 per week to continue their title push. Can you imagine this happening in the late 90s or early 00s? Manchester United approach Aston Villa for Dwight Yorke, deal done. Chelsea take Frank Lampard and Joe Cole from West Ham. Liverpool take Dietmar Hamann from Newcastle. This just doesn’t happen to the same extent, even West Brom took a £10 million hit on Saido Berahino because they wanted to sell him on their terms.
This financial windfall has made owners and chairmen lazy, why work hard to get a player to push for the title when you’ll line your pockets finishing in the top 17? Arsenal are the obvious example, even a proven winner like Arsene Wenger has forgotten that winning is important. As well as this, the money men know even average players hold their value – Manchester United signed Morgan Schneiderlin for nearly £27 million, he was pretty average and was sold 18 months later for a similar value – it seems to be risk free. There doesn’t seem to be an appetite for empire building, very little thought goes into player transfers at all.
It’s not just the players joining (or not joining) the big boys, it’s the player exodus that we’ve seen as well. Luis Suarez was towards the end of the cycle so Liverpool can’t be blamed for losing him, the same for Manchester United with Ronaldo – he’s a Real Madrid fan, he was always going to leave. Some players, however, were sold prematurely or without any effort by the clubs to hang on to them; Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina and Javier Mascherano are examples of the quality Liverpool let go without a fight. Manchester City believed their own hype and let Nigel de Jong leave, it took them years to replace the work rate he put in. United let Nani and Rafael go for pennies and paid over £20 million for Memphis Depay and £12 million for Matteo Darmain. Sir Alex Ferguson never spent money on players who were similar in quality to what he already had, why have such a turnover of players? It’s not necessary – his reward was a number of fringe players who fought like crazy when they got their chance.
I know it’s not a popular opinion, but I hope the big teams reverse this trend. I enjoyed the “big four” raising the bar and everyone else stepping up to the plate in response (Middlesbrough and Fulham both reached the UEFA Cup and Europa League finals, despite finishing in the bottom half of the Premier League). I believe this will wrestle back the power from the rest of Europe and improve standards across the board – I’m bored of watching a team start the season well and win the league because no one has enough quality to respond. I do concede it’s a tough balance, I love watching Bayern in the Champions League but they could win the Bundesliga playing two touch football, the same with Juventus in Serie A – we don’t want that to happen.
Here’s to hoping that all 20 Premier League teams strive for greatness, relative to their means, if this happens we’ll see things go back to how they used to be. Let’s not allow our league to be as embarrassing as the national side.