Whether you believe Leicester City can win the Premier League or even finish in the top four this season, most seem to see the Foxes’ success as an aberration. However, Leicester’s rise may become a new normal in the changing Premier League. It is no given that the big spenders of the Premier League’s emergence as a global marketing power between 2005 and 2015 are permanently entitled to a seat near the top of the table. As the league evolves, a division which was long derided for being incredibly predictable may become anything but, if this season is any indication.
Monday’s 2-1 Foxes victory was predictable based on the four-month form of both sides. Leicester City entered the match 18 points better than last season’s champions, having lost just one league match since falling to Chelsea last April. The Blues, on the other hand, have not looked strong all season, struggling to generate goal scoring opportunities after an initial period in the campaign when the defense was the worst in the division. Jose Mourinho’s side sit just one point off the relegation zone while Leicester are proving to be a genuine contender for honors this season.
While this narrative would have seemed completely irrational as recently as August, the league’s face is completely changing, and no side, unless well-managed and well-run, can maintain permanent top-four position in the new era of the Premier League. In a time when top leagues on the continent are getting less competitive toward the top, England’s league, once the least competitive of the strongest European divisions at its top, is suddenly one of the most competitive and compelling top-to-bottom globally.
The sheer amount of cash from global and domestic television rights that each Premier League club will receive beginning next season will serve as the ultimate game-changer going forward. Already this summer, we saw in the transfer window something that seemed impossible just a year or two earlier. Clubs such as Everton and West Bromwich Albion rejected transfer bids over market value from big clubs Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur for young England internationals. While in the past the predictability of the league led so many to dismiss it as determined by money, once every side has the ability to maintain a certain amount of minimum spending, a law of diminishing returns might curtail the success of historic big spenders like Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.
Until recently, many players with careers based in the English leagues were willing to take enormous pay hikes to sit on the bench at top clubs just to feature in cup matches and randomly in the league. But the increased spending power of mid-table sides like Southampton, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, West Ham and others have allowed those clubs to actively pursue top internationals at continental clubs as well as keep their own English-based talent away from England’s title contenders.
Many players no longer are willing to sit at top teams in England when other sides can pay similar wages and offer them playing time. The TV deal proves a game-changer as the Leicester City’s of the world retain top talent and offer competitive wages to players on continental clubs who previously would have automatically moved to established “big six” clubs. In fact, within a few years, the entire Premier League might constitute “buying” clubs, while all but a handful of continental clubs will be “selling” ones.
Leicester City’s run of success may have caught us all by surprise. But as we step back and gain some perspective on the logical evolution of English and European football, chances are the Foxes are just the first of a larger group of outsiders ready to break into the party of the division’s elite clubs.
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