The Premier League is the world’s most watched and most lucrative league, ranking highest in the UEFA coefficients for European success.
And yet, it is also the world’s most monotonous league; though 43 different clubs have competed in \’the best league in the world’ only four teams have won it.
Of those four teams, one team has dominated relentlessly – Manchester United claiming the title on 11 occasions, despite the league only running for 17 years.
A monopoly exists, a domination that emphasises the old \’rich get rich and poor get poorer’ adage; the \’Big Four’ are virtually unbreakable. Year on year it is four teams – United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – that secure the highly lucrative Champions League spots that continue their growth and exacerbate the gap between them and the rest of the league.
United have not finished outside of the top three since the league’s formation, Liverpool have only finished outside the top four twice in the last ten years and Arsenal have only finished outside the top five twice in Premier League history.
Since the 2005/6 season, the big four have been unmoved. The season before was the last time an outsider had secured a top-four berth, with Everton edging out arch-rivals Liverpool for Champions League qualification.
The next season \’natural order’ was restored, with the Toffees slipping back to 11th.
The only side outside of the big four to have won the league was Blackburn Rovers in 1995, pipping United by a point.
Rovers, like Man City this year, were looked at with scorn by the usual contenders; accused of buying their way to success.
So, while the mega-bucks of United could justify their league successes, for some reason the likes of Blackburn then and City now are looked at critically for their attempts to break the monotony.
Good on them, I say.
City have had their fair share of negative press, but maybe they’re resorting to an old clichÃ© of their own – “if you can’t beat them, join them” – to force entry into the elite.
City, bankrolled by their billionaire owners, have spent big; signing real quality in Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Gareth Barry, Joleon Lescott and Carlos Tevez etc. Added to the likes of Robinho and Shay Given, who were acquired during the course of last season, and the Citizens have a squad as good as any.
They’re not the only team in contention, though, as four clubs eye up the opportunity to become the people’s saviour.
Aston Villa finished second in the league’s inaugural campaign in 1992/3, although it was some ten points adrift of United. They finished fourth three years later, followed by a fifth placed finish, but have never finished higher than sixth since.
Last season Martin O’Neill’s men looked certainties to break the top-four, sitting comfortably third at one point, until a late season collapse saw the Villains drop to sixth for the second consecutive season.
The midlands side are probably the most popular outside of the top-four and many would like to see the team break into the Champions League spots for the British emphasis brought to the club by O’Neill; with exciting English players like Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor leading the team.
Everton, as mentioned, have recent experience of breaking into the exclusive club atop the table, and have finished fifth for the last two seasons. David Moyes’ men didn’t manage to qualify for the Champions League proper in 2005 and would love another opportunity.
Ravaged by injury last season – playing without a recognised front-man for the majority of the campaign – the Evertonians were still able to finish \’best of the rest’. This season, despite indifferent early form, Moyes will still be hoping that a fully-fit squad can challenge once more.
Tottenham, eternally unpredictable, have been revitalised under Harry Redknapp and have been keeping pace at the top of the table. With the talismanic Luka Modric sidelined, though, Spurs could see their challenge subside with the diminutive Croat.
All four of these teams are capable of challenging the top four, and with Liverpool, in particular, struggling, this season really could be the year that one or even two new teams sneak their way into the Champions League positions.
Rather than shun the big money moves by Man City, or deride the outspoken Redknapp or unfashionable Everton and Villa, we should hope that success for these teams can give the league a bit of diversity, create some interest.
A \’big eight’ would be much preferable to the current four-team monopoly that current exists.
Lee Price is the editor of www.football-previews.co.uk