After his side’s defeat to Chelsea in May, Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan complained about the state of affairs in the Premier League:
“This league is in danger of becoming one of the most boring but great leagues in the world. The top four next year will be the same top four as this year.”
Recent history tells us that the Newcastle manager is talking sense. Everton’s fourth place finish in 2005 was a major upset; it was also the only occasion in the past five years that a team other than the usual big four clinched a Champions League spot.
Unsurprisingly, the big four refuse to sympathize with the mid-table clubs, or at least that is what Peter Kenyon leads us to believe.
Speaking against Sepp Blatter’s ‘six-plus-five’ rule — which is designed to limit teams to fielding at most five foreigners — the Chelsea executive refused to take the blame for other teams’ failure to challenge for Champions League spots. Instead, Kenyon said that it is up to the other teams to raise their game if they want to displace the big four:
“Other teams in England should be knocking on our door: teams like Tottenham, Newcastle, Villa, Everton. It’s more about them getting their houses in order rather than us coming down to their level.”
Based on recent evidence, Kenyon is also right. Football is now a business; everything is fueled by a somewhat justifiable greed. To expect a top club to give up millions of pounds in favour of a more entertaining league is nearly laughable. Equally laughable seems the prospect of a mid-table team challenging for the Premier League title in the near future.
If the likes of Everton and Newcastle have not established themselves as football powerhouses, it is not because they did not want to; it is also not because of lack of funds.
Most football fans will point to the financial muscle of the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea when asked why Tottenham cannot to secure a third place finish. The truth is that these three teams have spent outrageous amounts of money over the past few years. Arsenal, on the other hand, have always had quite a modest transfer budget and they have won more Premier League titles than Chelsea and Liverpool combined.
The problem does not seem to be money, as Manchester City’s Thaksin Shinawatra has found out this past season. Instead, the main stumbling block in the way of progress for these average Premier League teams is their inability to build a steady squad brimming with quality.
The likes of Aston Villa are constantly being bullied by their players and richer clubs — as demonstrated by the almost embarrassing Gareth Barry transfer saga. At this rate, every time a quality player will pull on a claret shirt, he will attract the interest of a bigger club. From that moment on, Martin O’Neill becomes powerless.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United are bigger attractions — for fans and players alike — than any of the other football clubs in England. It is not necessarily the salaries that they are willing to offer; it is the possibility of Champions League football that gives these four clubs a bigger pull in the transfer market.
Thaksin Shinawatra can throw around as much money as he wants in his attempt to take Manchester City to the summit of the Premier League, but he will never have the players to pose a real threat to Chelsea or Manchester United.
These days, players only think about themselves. The club, for them, is a tool, a stage where they can audition for the bigger part and get paid while they are at it. Their ambition is all that matters and the club targets are just something they go along with to keep public opinion favourable.
The players have now become too blind to realize that if they are at well funded and reasonably ambitious club, like Aston Villa or Tottenham, they could achieve great things. Until they learn to have a little patience, Keegan’s words will ring true – the Premier League will be one of the most boring but great leagues in the world.