“Maybe I’m wrong but I think fewer points will win the title. You have a minimum of five title contenders and the other teams get stronger and stronger. I think nobody can complain because everyone is investing – you go to Watford, you go to Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Stoke, every club. Every club has very good players so I think it’s difficult for the top teams in England because of the competitive nature” – Jose Mourinho August 7.
Mourinho’s comments regarding Premier League competition were slightly lost in the noise of his feud with Arsene Wenger. Forgive me for my tedium, but I found the Chelsea manager’s prediction about increased danger from below far more interesting than any completed handshake or otherwise. Please tell me I’m not alone.
It’s important to take Mourinho at his word, of course, rather than extrapolate his comments to an unrealistic degree. He is not predicting a title challenge (or even serious top four bid) from Southampton, Swansea or Stoke, but instead remarking upon a recent marked increase in the average quality of a Premier League squad. We’re getting dangerously close to ‘there are no easy games at this level’ territory. A dearth of quality within the bottom half has become a relative bounty.
Mourinho’s first point, regarding the number of points taken to win the league, quickly proves pertinent. Over the last six years, no title winner has reached the 90-point mark, an achievement realised four times in six seasons between 2004 and 2009. Fewer points are now required; the gap is closing, however slowly.
Last season also saw a dramatic reduction in the number of heavy defeats handed out by the Premier League’s strongest clubs. In 2012/13, the top five (Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham) won 11 league matches by four or more goals. In 2013/14 the top five (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham) won by a margin of four or more on 16 occasions. Last season, this number dropped to just five.
The number of wins registered by top four teams also decreased to its lowest number in five years last season. United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal won 92 times between them. The totals for 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15 were 97, 94 and 102 respectively.
The final evidence comes from the reduction in gap between the ‘best’ and the ‘rest’, calculated by examining the gap between fourth and eighth. Again, the pattern is clear. Last season Manchester United finished 14 points clear of Swansea, a smaller points gap between the two positions than in each of the previous seven seasons (2007/08 – 19, 2008/09 – 21, 2009/10 – 19, 2010/11 – 19, 2011/12 – 17, 2012/13 – 24, 2013/14 – 23).
The temptation is to suggest that this is a reflection of a drop in quality amongst the elite rather than the vice versa. The poor performance of English clubs in the Champions League last season offers some evidence for that view, combined with the difficulty in keeping players away from the clutches of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. In football’s food chain, there is a danger of England’s biggest clubs falling to the status of quaternary consumers, preyed upon by the top predators.
However, there is a modern tendency to search for the deficiency in the loser (or less handsome winner) rather than applaud those who have improved. I’d take a very different view; rather than rue a drop in performance of the Premier League’s top four, the ‘rest’ are simply improving at a quicker rate. Full pockets make for happy shoppers.
The new Premier League television deal provides clubs with greater transfer budgets, but also makes the Premier League a far more attractive proposition to foreign players. Whereas once only the clubs with realistic prospects of European football would be able to tempt international players, that is now a defunct notion.
This summer has seen that principle taken to preciously unchartered lengths. Crystal Palace have bought from Paris St Germain. West Ham have bought from Juventus. Stoke City have five Champions League winners in Bojan, Ibrahim Afellay, Marc Muniesa, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic. Newcastle (Georginio Wijnaldum) and Southampton (Jordy Clasie) signed two of Netherlands’ most impressive talents. Sunderland tempted Jeremain Lens to leave the Champions League for a prospective relegation fight. Watford bought from Roma. West Brom spent £12m on Salomon Rondon. Almost every team in the Premier League’s bottom half has tempted a player away from European football. I’ve spent the summer giggling.
“I wanted a change of scenery,” said new Aston Villa signing Idrissa Gueye. “The most important thing was to come to England and aim for a big club later.” Across the division, players are joining lesser Premier League team with the intention of impressing enough to earn a big money move, with such intentions no secret to any party. They will be extravagantly rewarded in the process, and represent a significant upgrade to the willing employers. Everybody wins (except fans, but that’s a different tale).
It is also this increased domestic competition that is the driving factor in English clubs struggling in Europe. Remember again that the Premier League’s top five clubs won just five league games between them by four or more goals last season. The total for the four Champions League semi-finalists (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich) was 32. That’s a long time in which to coast during matches. Our Champions League participants simply don’t get chance to breathe. It’s an inadvertent result of the bumper new TV deal.
The Premier League can currently boast players of 64 nationalities, more than Germany, Italy, Spain and France, as highlighted in recent research by ticketbis.net. The current 20 club captains are made up of 11 different nationalities, highlighting the league’s inclusive nature. Broadcasting rights are sold in 156 countries, and clubs visited 15 different countries during the pre-season just ended. All of these are markers of the Premier League’s success, but this summer’s signings are the new poster boys. They emphatically represent the dominance of English domestic football, the accelerator pedal pushed down by clubs’ financial weight.
The value of the live broadcasting UK rights jumped from £594m per year in 2012/13 to £1006m the following season; it’s set to increase to £1712m a year from next season, a 288% rise in four years. The financial gap between the Premier League and Football League continues to grow, but in the top flight there is plenty of space to swim in a vast ocean of cash.
The rich will continue to get richer, but those outside the elite few are enjoying the delicious scraps. Competition may be the real winner; after seasons of talking about the bottom-half dirge, things are about to get really interesting.
@Synergy, you’ve spoken some rubbish before but ‘our mid table club Liverpool’? Where you high? We finished 6th and not too many points behind ‘our preciously supported club from the north with its fans coming from the south’.