Is the Premier League the Best League In The World?

Chelsea v Sunderland, Premier League 14/11/2010 Sunderland's players applaud their fans after the 0-3 win over Chelsea  Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom

As Chelsea lost at home to Sunderland, the commentator, Martin Tyler was incredulous, saying how this proved how brilliant the Premier League was; it was the best in the world because any side could beat any other side

This struck me at the time as being a case of having your cake and eating it because the only reason he was hyper-ventilating about it was precisely because it was so unusual. Odd then that the same TV people considered it the Best League In The World previously when such unpredictability was rarer.

All of which goes to prove that this spate of ‘unusual’ results has put some of the league’s more naked self-interested ra-ra merchants into a bit of a quandary.

They know fans like it this way and that most of us tire of seeing the same clubs dominating but more unpredictability means the previously best clubs need to become worse which means they will not be as likely to dominate the Champions League thus making the league appear equally less stellar.

Opinion seems divided this year between those who welcome the new more competitive league with the top sides losing more than usual, others see it as a decline in the footballing standards of the league.

It would appear the decline of Chelsea and United is rooted in their lack of depth brought about by two changes. Firstly the rigidity of the 25 man first team squad, which has to have a quota of home grown talent. Secondly, the fact that from next season the amount of debt a club can carry is to become severely limited. Failure to limit it will result in disqualification from the Champions League. So the cheque books have been closed.

No club should make an aggregate loss of more than 45m Euros over three seasons from 2011-12. So at last, new spending regimes have had to be put in place to comply. At last, under the new fair play rules money spent has to bear relation to the income of the club. While some see this as restricting the development of smaller clubs, what it should do for the whole league is make the development of youth team players a much bigger priority and breaking the bank to buy in expensive players or pay huge wages less possible.

However, those proclaiming the dawn of a new more democratic era in the top flight of English football are surely jumping the gun until a club that isn’t Chelsea or United wins the league.

For far too long inequalities of wealth reduced realistic competition in the Premier League and made it dysfunctional as a tournament in the same way it is in La Liga which, thanks to skewed funding, has made Madrid and Barcelona so superior that no-one can ever compete with them.

Those arguing that there it is a drop in the standards in the EPL is probably right but this should not be a criticism.

Football is supposed to be a competition, after all. The surprise in Tyler’s voice last week and in most fans reactions to the result show just how deeply we all expected Sunderland to lose.

The neutral had all but discounted that game as a gimme for Chelsea and we do this most seasons for most games involving the top three and even beyond that.

With the top six only being drawn from eight teams for the last five years we’d be mad not to. Long gone are the days when a promoted side could challenge for the title, in fact long gone are the days when anyone who isn’t Chelsea, United or Arsenal won the league.

Most games we watch in the Premier League we watch as a neutral, wanting merely to see an exciting, competitive game. Just watching one of the big three creaming someone is just dull season after season.

While thirty and forty years go Liverpool would dominate the league, those challenging would change every year and occasionally smaller clubs like Derby and Notts forest would triumph. All that has gone now and we are the worse for it. The more money you spend, the more successful you’ll be has undoubtedly been true for too long. Even the very welcome incursion of Spurs at the top table has come at a high price – no-one except City has spent more in recent seasons

I’m sure most fans would rather the league didn’t become a kind of circus where all the best players are at a couple of clubs and they run rings around everyone else. It might be good for the marketing men for that to be the case, but to the genuine football fan, it is simply rather dull to watch one team outplayed by another and what’s the point in watching a game if you’re almost certain who will win before kick off?

Watching Barcelona put eight past Almeria might be impressive in one way, but it’s not a football match, it’s more of an exhibition and as good as it might be, that isn’t the same thing as a competition.

I’ve no more interest in seeing shiny, shiny players strut their not inconsiderable skills every week just in order to thrash a hapless smaller club. It’s ok occasionally, but the greatest football is about much, much more than that.

For it to have meaning and soul it has to have competition and for too long that’s been absent.  I hope this recent outbreak of inadequacy is a more permanent change, but I doubt that it is.

We should enjoy it while it lasts because the cynic in me suspects that despite the new fair play rules, the chances are that the financial hegemony will find a way to re-establish itself soon enough.

Does it make the EPL the league the best in the world or not? Who cares? It makes is much more enjoyable and that’s what should really count.

Editor’s Note: Johnny’s new book: “We Ate All The Pies: How Foot ball Swal lowed Britain Whole” is avail able via Ama zon US or Ama zon UK.


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