© Photo by (unknown).
For years we’ve been told that England’s top flight is the best in the world. In fact, barely a week goes by without a Sky pundit lavishing praise on their prize assets at any opportune moment. Only recently were we told “and that’s why this is the best league in the world” by Martin Tyler as Leicester overturn Aston Villa on a Super Sunday game. And if that wasn’t enough we now have a Thierry Henry sponsored Sky promotional ad asking why we ever had the audacity to ask him whether the Premier League was, in fact, the best league in the world. We didn’t ask you Thierry but thanks for clarifying your views.
We’ll ignore the obvious facts about the demise of England’s national side during the Premier League’s existence. We’ll also push aside the fact that more clubs have been placed into administration in English football in the last 22 years than ever before. We’ll also ignore the fact that teenagers and young adults can’t afford to watch matches any more, growing up on a diet of games watched in local pubs or sat on the sofa.
Instead we’ll focus on the growing disparity we’ve seen in football, and how by finishing in the top 4 and therefore reaching the Champions League further expands that already vast gulf between the haves and the have nots.
Why have Premier League clubs suffered so badly in Europe recently? In the not too distant past, specifically between 2004 and 2012, English teams made it to the final each year bar 2010. Since then English teams have increasingly struggled. None of England’s participants in Europe even made it as far as the quarter-finals last season.
And then you have the Europa League. You know when there’s a big issue when teams like West Ham struggle against Birkakarra from Malta and then go out against the might of Astra Giurgiu before even making it to the first round proper. Lack of respect? Or squad management? Either way it’s a clear trend of clubs not taking the cup seriously, seeing it as a drain on resource rather than a quest for European glory. And this impacts English clubs’ standing, explaining why they have slipped to third in the UEFA coefficient table, behind Spain and Germany and just ahead of Italy. With Southampton also already eliminated from this year’s Europa League, Arsenal should be cheering Spurs on if they want to keep their place in the Champions League.
One of other big problems faced by English football is misuse of financial power, with the recent Transfer Deadline Day a prime example of the Premier League’s decadence. The headlines will point to the Premier League being the richest in the world and, on this note, there is no comparison with £870m changing hands over the summer transfer window. But this circus, this frenzy of last minute activity is nothing to be proud of and in fact is symptomatic of why English clubs are now beginning to fail. Short termism, the quick remedy and the inflated transfer fees which feed such strategies are meaning longer term goals of nurturing home grown talent are no longer being pursued by many of the top clubs. This is in stark contrast to the approach taken in Spain, Germany….and even Italy, a league which has long been tarnished with corruption allegations. At the last count, just 13.9% of Premier League players last season were classified as home grown. No surprise then that clubs with more loyal, home grown players, who have been through the youth system at their respective clubs are performing better than those who continually just buy in talent.
Why then is it good that Premier League clubs may lose that fourth place? It will force them to reassess their insatiable short term desire for success and get them to focus on the basics of nurturing talent. On a more practical and slightly cynical level, it will also mean that less cash ends amongst the same clubs who tend to finish in the top four. And that, given the disparity of wealth in English football, is certainly no bad thing.