The prominence of the Premier League in the last decade generated a paradigm shift in English football – but is the game in any better state than it was 10 years ago?
In 2000, Manchester United were utterly dominant, winning five of the last seven Premiership titles. In 2010, the Red Devils are chasing their fourth consecutive league trophy having won six of the last 10.
Competition between the big four rivals is, however, tighter with one of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United accounting for every league championship of the last decade and 15 of the last 20 FA and League Cups.
But with competitiveness outside of this elite group declining, has the highest standard of footballer also dropped? Given the choice, would Sir Alex Ferguson rather have Nani and Anderson now or David Beckham and Roy Keane in their prime? Each pairing has won titles and a Champions League for him.
The immense talents of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin entertain regularly for Arsenal but they have not been able to replicate the silverware success of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, each of whom was also a World and European champion for France.
For all his hundreds of millions poured into Chelsea, Roman Abramovich has seen a return of only two league titles since 2003 with a European Cup still elusive. Paying the biggest transfer fees for players on the highest salaries hasn’t guaranteed a change of the ruling flag from red to blue, something Manchester City may want to bear in mind.
Despite its alleged advancement into the number one football product in Europe, the Premier League accounted for only two winners of the Champions League throughout the noughties, with La Liga providing twice as many. Barcelona and Real Madrid remain the top draws in Europe and that the latter were able to lure the Premier League champions’ best player last summer underlines this.
The power concentrated in the hands of the Premier League gang of four has had serious consequences for the rest of English football. TV revenue has given many clubs the once unthinkable opportunity to sign foreign players of a superior standard to the local options. Teams like Bolton and Birmingham were able to enjoy the services of World Cup winners in Youri Djorkaeff and Christophe Dugarry but where did it ultimately get them?
When Leeds United began to commit financial suicide – spending well beyond their means to keep up with the likes of Manchester United – football began to eat itself. FA Cup winners just two years ago, Portsmouth now face a winding up order to add to their relegation woes.
The only way smaller clubs have any chance of breaking the mould is by immersing themselves into debt or luring a billionaire sugar daddy. Yet this brings its own perils as rich owners with little understanding of the game look to maximize their returns instantly and treat their acquisition as not so much a football club as an investment. Players become saleable assets and fans become consumers.
But the detachment of players from fans cannot be any greater than it is now with sportsmen catapulted into Hollywood star status before they reach their 20s. Protected by all-powerful agents, footballers enjoy the kind of union backing normal workers can only dream about with each new move or contract a money-spinner.
As a result, managers are now demoted to mere head coaches – booed by their own fans when results aren’t right and turfed out by their Chairman whose sole concern is Premier League survival to pay off the debt.
With such pressures, is it any surprise that players are inclined to dive or feign injury? With moral decline now apparent throughout society, why should football be immune from the laws of the jungle? If results can be influenced by cheating, slurring the character of an opposition player/manager or questioning the integrity of a referee, who’s to judge?
The popularity of something doesn’t guarantee its quality. While millions lap up the mediocre fed to them on TV in the form of the X Factor, so too millions are mis-sold top-class entertainment in the form of football. But as The X Factor found out with the Christmas Number One, a backlash will await and football’s may be coming sooner rather than later.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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