If this week has taught us anything, it’s that the Premier League is actually quite rubbish. Don’t try and explain it, just embrace it and bask in the entertaining ineptitude.
This week has seen a continued hand-wringing about the state of the Premier League, following Chelsea’s defeat in Portugal and Arsenal’s inexplicable yet entirely predictable spineless collapse against Olympiacos. It’s been a mixture of talk about coefficients – something that about three people understand but that won’t stop the other 63,999,997 people in the country banging on about – and a series of overwrought questions.
What does this say about the state of the game in this country? How is it that English clubs have spent so much money but can’t win a game against a collection of foreigners? Does this mean the Premier League is no longer the bestest ever in the world and the galaxy and the universe?
This is not going to be a discussion of the Premier League’s place in the hierarchy of leagues, largely because those that do have that conversation are essentially arguing over a Sky Sports advertising slogan. You might as well yabber for hours about whether for mash you really do have to get Smash, or whether Mr Muscle genuinely does love the jobs you hate, or if some people can actually just take or leave Marmite.
But rather, it’s an observation, and that observation is simply this; nobody in our Premier League, domestically or at home, the richest most cash-bloated division in the world, is really any good.
Last season Chelsea, the champions of England and the undisputed best team in the land, never managed to put together a winning run of more than four games. Five teams did achieve this (admittedly slightly arbitrary) feat, one of them being Liverpool, who celebrated winning five on the bounce in February and March by promptly collapsing and losing five of their last nine games. The others were usual suspects in the shape of Arsenal, Manchesters City and United and, erm, Newcastle. We probably don’t need to discuss their relative flaws at too much length.
This isn’t intended as some sort of definitive, Brentfordian use of numbers to absolutely prove the point, but it does illustrate that there is inconsistency rife in the top flight. Or, to put it another way, nobody is really any good.
Even Chelsea were found out when they played someone half-decent in Europe, and this season basically the same set of players have filed themselves in the ‘not much cop, really’ basket. Arsenal have won a few games but lost some. City were rampant for five games then fell over for two. Liverpool are Liverpool. United are basically top of the table by being halfway competent. Whenever someone wins a game, there’s the sense that a defeat – and probably quite a funny, slapstick one – is just around the corner. Nobody is really any good.
And you know, that’s fine. It’s better than fine, in fact. It’s quite comforting that a league with this much money in it isn’t really any good. Comforting to think that this collection of sentient cash registers in colourful and increasingly flimsy footwear can display such basic ineptitude. The simple concept of the more expensive something is then the better it will be is dashed when it comes to football, particularly clubs in the Premier League. And who can’t get behind that?
It’s also comforting to think that money doesn’t always equal success, one in the eye for the entitled idea held by some of our wealthiest citizens that if they have made some cash in their life they can do pretty much anything, the sort of thinking that leads Donald Trump to believe he will be president. Although, given the curious nature of American politics, he might actually be right on that one.
The Premier League is interesting in that it provides arguments for and against free market capitalism. On the one hand, it’s incredibly popular, loads of people watch it and more importantly (for this argument) loads of people pay for it. But on the other, on pitch results have shown us that the market is not always right, and that the biggest selling product does not always reflect its quality. Similarly, you’re never more than about 100 yards from a McDonalds, but there’s only one branch of the sandwich shop near the F365 office that does the most wonderful bacon and black pudding sandwiches.
Who wants to be happy about the richest being the most successful, anyway? Comedian Doug Stanhope once said that supporting the New York Yankees, baseball’s financial behemoth with more money than God and a history of spending it all, was a little like “cheering for the house in a casino…and being an asshole about it.”
The good guys are never the ones with all the money and the fancy gear. They’re the ones who train in a log cabin and run up a snowy hill rather than in a purpose-built gym with state of the art treadmills and so forth. The Premier League is a gaudy, shining beacon of unpleasantness that turns all introspective when it doesn’t get its way, but is brash and cocky when it does. And who wants to be mates with that guy?
If nothing else, when teams are good and ruthless and efficient, they’re predictable. Or, if you prefer, boring. But when they’re no good, they’re chaotic and unpredictable – things like Chelsea losing to Crystal Palace and Manchester City having their bottoms smacked by West Ham and Arsenal rolling over in Zagreb – and thus entertaining. This is all desirable, no?
Nobody in the Premier League is really any good. Instead of worrying about it, let’s embrace it.