Goliath Needs David: The Premier League’s Brand of Entertainment

Yesterday, the Premier League came to a rather fitting close. Arsenal dispatched Newcastle despite Theo Walcott hitting the post on a shot that seemed harder to miss, setting up a few terse minutes for the Gunners and in doing so sealed their spot in the Champions League for the umpteenth straight year. And yes, they celebrated like it was 2004 all over again.

The fact that Arsene Wenger and his boys got to lift their pseudo-trophy once more is of little significance. What is important is that the Premier League hierarchy had been maintained for another season — that is, if we are to consider Liverpool’s position as one of the Big Four a thing of the past now ceded to Manchester City.

Laurent Koscielny's goal sealed Arsenal's place in the Champions League for next season -- nothing new here.

Laurent Koscielny’s goal sealed Arsenal’s place in the Champions League for next season — nothing new here.

If I were to make an extremely early prediction about the Prem’s next season, no one would call me crazy to assume that Manchester United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal would be the teams occupying the top four positions. Put them in whatever order you desire. Tottenham will likely finish fifth with Everton behind them. Liverpool will finish well out of Champions League contention and Brendan Rodgers will be sacked in favor of whoever the hot commodity is at the time.

It’s nothing new that the Premier League is an oligarchy of the rich, powerful clubs and with the financial restrictions coming into play soon, it’s going to persist for the foreseeable future.

New manager or not, United will never finish below third. Chelsea will have some bumps in the road, but as soon as they find a manager who can survive a season (coughJoseMourinhocough) they’ll be fine. City is building for the future at all costs and has the money and talent to keep themselves fighting for silverware in the meantime. Arsenal will always be happy with fourth place.

Therein lies the perceived problem with the Premier League. Take a trip to ESPN or any other sports site and check out the comments on most articles about the Premier League. In an effort to save you time, it’s mostly people whining about how boring and uncompetitive that league is. The uncompetitive quip is more than likely true, but the boring part… not so much.

The Bundesliga is currently touted as Europe’s most entertaining league because there are multiple teams that challenge for the competition’s top spots and in most seasons, there isn’t a run-away champion.

I’m going to tell you two things about that: One, German football has been and is still dominated by one team. Two, competitiveness has no correlation to entertainment.

Surely, I’m already being called a Premier League apologist but hear me out before you banish me to the realm of people who are ignorant to the world’s other leagues and their pluses over England’s league.

Because the Prem’s best talent is consolidated in a handful of teams, Goliaths, the entertainment comes from the other teams, Davids, beating them. Southampton thumping City 3-1? Painful for City supporters, entertaining for everyone else.

If you were to go back through the years, the most memorable games are probably either titanic struggles involving United, Arsenal or Liverpool or some upstart knocking off United, Arsenal or Liverpool.

A little club is going to fight harder against a big club than the big club is going to fight against the little one because the larger club is much more used to winning. For example, West Brom fighting for a 5-5 draw yesterday in Fergie’s last game. You are never going to see United and City score 10 goals in one game unless the score is 9-1.

In no way am I saying relegation six-pointers aren’t as memorable, I am only arguing that the battles between the haves and the have-nots are what makes people call the Premier League the world’s greatest show.

An ultra-competitive league is actually a negative. Let’s be honest, no one really wants to see the club they support struggle in every game of the season. I doubt Bayern Munich supporters stopped going to games because the Bavarians had the league wrapped up months ago.

However, from a neutral standpoint, competitiveness is what we want and that creates the fallacy that competitiveness breeds entertainment. The beauty of the modern world is that we can pick and choose the games that we want to watch.

But how many of us neutrals can say that we tuned in to watch Deportivo La Coruna play Getafe or Greuther Furth face off against Düsseldorf? Not many, I’m sure.

The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Millions upon millions watch the Premier League every season then head to message boards to complain about how boring it is to watch United crowned champions every season. Believe me, I agree that it’s boring to watch United crowned champions season. I’d much rather see City crowned champions every season.

the amount of money the Prem is raking in from TV deals is astronomical when compared to the other leagues in Europe and it’s all because the same four teams win every season and the other sixteen try to pull off a big win against those four.

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Summer Transfer Speculation Shows Lack of Respect for FFP

Throughout the season, we’ve heard teams were going to be spending less with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play on the horizon. Straddled with the fear of being excluded from the continental competitions, clubs were supposed to be looking to expand their sides with the cheapest possible options or relying on their current players to improve in an effort to foster progression. However, one look at the moves being lined up for the summer will tell you (whether they are true or not) that most of the bigger clubs don’t believe FFP is an issue.

Soon-to-be Ligue 1 side Monaco has money to spend and they seem to be in pole position to land Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid in a spectacular transfer coup and yet, there are reports linking them with numerous other high value players such as Carlos Tevez and Bacary Sagna. I find it hard to believe that Monaco’s income will balance out their purchases if they do indeed get Falcao and, let’s say, Tevez. Those two players alone would come with a ridiculously high price tag.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco's high-spending ways.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco’s high-spending ways.

The Ligue 1 new boys are just the tip of the iceberg. Chelsea and Manchester City look to be back in for big summers with new managers coming to Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, respectively, despite the Premier League instituting it’s own financial regulations. Manchester United posted record profit, but getting Cristiano Ronaldo would put a gigantic dent into it.

And you can bet that the rumblings that financial fair play is actually illegal has something to do with the empty threat that it poses.

Just last week, news broke that Belgium-registered agent Daniel Striani filed an official challenge to the rules with the European Commission claiming that they restricted his income.

Striani will be represented by Belgian lawyer, Jean Louis-Dupont. If you don’t remember who he is, in 1995, he represented Jean Marc-Bosman and defeated UEFA and the commission when Bosman’s football contract denied him freedom of movement. Prior to this, clubs in some parts of Europe were able to prevent their players from transferring to other countries even if their contracts had expired.

UEFA believes they have an open-and-shut case because the European Club Association agreed to the rules. However, the ECA only has 207 members. All Striani needs is for other clubs to back him and the expected five-year legal fight may not go in UEFA’s favor.

Regardless of what happens in this case, it looks like clubs are willing to continue to spend wildly in order to improve their squads. It’s simple math. If a club wants to win trophies, they have to spend money. If they don’t win trophies, they won’t make money. If they don’t have the quality to win, they won’t win trophies anyway.

The solution? Throw caution to the wind, forget about FFP for a summer and break the bank to win as many trophies and as much money as possible before it catches up to you.

Chelsea’s Not So Consoling Consolation

The Champions of Europe (for the next few weeks, at least) defeated FC Basel of Switzerland and  have moved on to the Europa League final to face Portugal’s Benfica. However, considering that I just called them the Champions of Europe, a term usually reserved for the winners of the Champions League, one would think that the last thing Chelsea FC wanted to be tasked with doing was winning Europe’s second-tier competition only a year after hoisting the big-earred cup.

In a campaign where Chelsea featured in eight tournaments, it wasn’t a stretch to think that they would come away with a trophy or two. The Club World Cup has had a history of being a pretty easy road for the Champions of Europe once they manage to navigate their way through the Copa Libertadores winner.

Masked man Fernando Torres has found a penchant for scoring in the Europa League.

Masked man Fernando Torres has found a penchant for scoring in the Europa League.

Instead, Chelsea has been knocked out of the running for all the tournaments they began the season in and have to settle for being the bridesmaid in the pecking order of European tournament champions to the winner of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund’s May 25th meeting at Wembley Stadium.

Some will say the Europa League serves as a second chance for the teams knocked out of the Champions League group stage. A chance for the supporters and the players to relive old memories of working their way through a grueling two-legged knockout stage that tests the mettle of all those involved. It’s safe to say that Roman Abramovich is not someone who thinks this way.

The Blues will have a chance to make history when they meet Benfica in Amsterdam. Should Chelsea defeat the Águias, they will become the fourth team to win all of Europe’s intercontinental titles joining Juventus, Ajax and Bayern, an impressive list to join. This will surely quiet a few who say the club has no history as they continue to add to their trophy case, but how consoling are such accolades?

Rafa Benitez made his name winning the UEFA Cup — the Europa League’s predecessor — but it is all but guaranteed that he will be gone at season’s end and is only going through the motions of managing the team for a few more months. For another season, they are without Premier League glory and the sting of being one of the few defending Champions League cup holders bounced in the group stage won’t be going away soon.

The money will flow again in the summer at Stamford Bridge. It has already begun with the agreement of the deal to bring André Schürrle to London. We will see players move in and players move out, but it won’t easily be forgotten that the season’s only trophy may be won in the Europa League by the manager that no Chelsea fan wanted to win for them.

From the supporters to the highest executives, May 15th may be a day where they hoist another piece of silverware but it will always fail in comparison to the miracle run of Roberto di Matteo and the team that never should have won the Champions League.

Mancini’s Silver Touch Has City Looking at Another Trophy

Today at Wembley, Roberto Mancini once again quieted his critics as Manchester City beat Chelsea 2-1 to advance to the FA Cup Final against Wigan Athletic. Should the Blues beat Wigan on the 11th of May, Mancini will have won his fourth piece of silverware with City in three seasons. Quite amazing when you add it to the nine trophies he won during his spells at Fiorentina, Lazio and Inter.

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Roberto Mancini: Scarves, fruit pastilles, and a whole lot of silverware.

Like the derby a week ago, Manchester City looked the better side from the start. The intricate passing moves between Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Samir Nasri and even James Milner had the Chelsea defense all bent out of shape. If not for some key blocks from Branislav Ivanovic and Ryan Bertrand and some decent goal keeping from Petr Cech, City would have scored two or three goals long before Nasri bumbled one into the back of the net to make it one-nil.

Also like the derby, it made you wonder where was this City for the first eight months of the season? Where was this high-flying, quick passing team during the Champions League? It’s a question that has been beaten to death in the past few weeks and the blame has been heaped on the gaffer but can you reasonably expect this type of play when the likes of Aguero and Vincent Kompany have missed stretches of the season due to injury?

Whether you call this season a failure is up to you. I definitely won’t because it wasn’t long ago that a City supporter couldn’t dream of three consecutive seasons with silverware and the reason City supporters can see that becoming a reality is Roberto Mancini.

Que the people arguing that it was the money, not Mancini.

Let’s not forget that Mark Hughes was given the same giant transfer budget that Mancini was. Let’s not forget that if it weren’t for Hughes floundering about, Mancini would have never been hired by City. Taking that into account, you have to point to the manager as the reason City has been so successful in the last three seasons.

Mancini is a winner. The same executives who were supposedly looking to give him the sack as soon as possible said so themselves. He’s won trophies as both as player and a manager. No, City did not win the Champions League yet but the Champions League isn’t easy to win. Ask Sir Alex, he’s only won it twice in 27 years. (Gasps!)

City’s recent run of form is an example of Mancini’s management. Seven wins out of eight games. It was Mancini’s management that chose to stick with Costel Pantilimon who hadn’t conceded a single goal in the FA Cup run until today and it was Mancini who knew what to say to Samir Nasri to get him back on track. It will probably also be Mancini’s management that sends Nasri to PSG in the summer.

I don’t want to count any chickens before they hatch but it’s highly likely that City will beat Wigan in May. And while I don’t know what the future holds for Mancini and if he will be the manager of City next season, one thing I do know is that there aren’t many City managers who can say they put as much silverware in the trophy cabinets as the Italian.

The Fight for Credibility

Since the English Premier League was created in 1992, Manchester United has won the league in 12 of the 20 seasons and they are well on their way to win their 13th in the Premier League era (20th overall). It’s safe to say that Fergie’s boys — as much as this pains me to say — are “the” team in Premier League history. However, when is it time to give an upstart the respect they deserve?

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Sir Alex is one of the best, but at some point it is okay to say that other managers are good enough to shine his shoes.

We all know about England’s “Big Four” and their dominance through the years. Outside of Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City only three clubs have won the Premier League; United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Meanwhile, Liverpool gets included for their exploits in Europe.

Blackburn was a flash in the pan. They went as fast as they came and they are now in the Championship, having never come close to winning the league since and will probably have a tough time repeating 1994-95. Blackburn’s meteoric rise and plunging fall is the reason that football purists don’t give credibility to teams like Chelsea and Manchester City.

“They bought the league” is something you hear when asked about Chelsea’s back-to-back under Jose Mourinho and City’s thrilling last day title clincher last season. United, Arsenal, Liverpool, those teams would never do that. They would never spend millions to position themselves to bring home the title.

It’s true, Arsenal hasn’t spent much under Arsene Wenger. His financial policy is well known and the fact that the Gunners have been paying off the Emirates is also well know. I’d like to point out that since the Invincibles season and the one following, Arsenal hasn’t finished higher than 3rd in the league. They now sit in 5th place by Spurs and Chelsea.

Liverpool… hasn’t won the league in the Premier League era.

So that leaves us with Manchester United. As far as transfers this season, only one club spent more on players than Fergie — and no, it’s not their crosstown rivals. It’d be difficult to say that Robin van Persie hasn’t been the difference in United’s 15-point lead. How many winners has the Dutchman scored this season? Basically, it can be argued that United bought the league by buying van Persie from Arsenal.

But that will not be the case because United has “credibility.”

Whether just or not, teams do not get respect for winning the league in England because United has won it so many times. Teams do not get respect for finishing high because that’s something that Arsenal does on a meager transfer budget.

It took Chelsea winning the Champions League to earn some form of credibility with the purists and they are still defined by their owner’s purse strings.

I’m one to believe that constantly finishing near the top of the league should earn a team the respect they deserve as one of the more dominant teams in English football. Manchester City has finished 5th, 3rd, and 1st in the last three seasons and they will likely finish 2nd this season. They will have won a trophy in 3 of those 4 seasons should they get past Chelsea and Millwall/Wigan.

If that isn’t deserving of credibility then the league’s name needs to be changed to the “Manchester United will win” Premier League.

Who’s to Blame for Soaring Transfer Fees

It’s easy to look at big money clubs and say “You’re the reason that players are getting bought for £50 million and getting paid £200k-a-week when they aren’t worth either.” Football purists will say if it weren’t for oil rich clubs being able to pay clubs those prices for players and giving them ridiculous wages, no one would be asking for it. I’m here to tell you that if you really think this way then you are wrong, my friend.

Sure, we can blame people like Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour and the Qatar Investment Authority until we are blue in the face. They throw their money at any and everything they want. It’s true and I’ll admit that.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has shown he has no problems throwing his money around.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has shown he has no problems throwing his money around.

However, it’s the clubs selling the players and the agents of those players who are creating “arms” races between the big money wielding powers that be in the football world.

Just take a look at some of the bigger transfer targets of this upcoming summer and the valuation put on them by their current clubs. Napoli demanded that bids for striker Edison Cavani must start at £60 million. Stoke City slapped a £15 million price tag on goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. Manchester United made an inquiry for Gareth Bale and Tottenham told them £70 million or keep it moving. Teams are reportedly plotting bids in excess of £80 million for Brazilian star Neymar.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Anytime a player is linked with Manchester United, Manchester City, PSG, Real Madrid, Barcelona or any of the football finance giants, the club they would be leaving immediately wants excessive amounts of cash for that player.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe Asmir Begovic is a quality keeper who should be worth a pretty penny but £15 million is a little over the top. Maybe it was a ploy by Stoke to keep buyers at bay, but these days most big clubs will pay that for a player they want.

Manchester City isn’t pricing clubs out of moves for players. The clubs the players are at are pricing clubs out of moves for players. How many Premier League teams can afford Gareth Bale at £70 million? Three. City, United, and Chelsea — and United may be a stretch. And it’s not only limited to big time players, go back and take a look at how much City and Chelsea payed for players who haven’t seen the pitch in months.

As football fans, we need to take a step back and realize it’s not the oil-rich clubs that  created situations like Pompey, Blackburn and Leeds. Selling clubs see these teams getting cash injections and dollar signs flash in their eyes.

So in the summer when Napoli sell Cavani, when Bale leaves White Hart Lane and when Neymar finally makes his move to Europe, don’t blame the clubs that splash the cash for them, blame the club that sold them for that amount.

Why is AVB Succeeding at Tottenham?

Andre Villas-Boas is one of the brightest young managers in the footballing world, that much is hard to be argued against. He is only 35 years old and has held jobs at some of the better clubs and done reasonably well wherever he has gone. However, following his stint at Chelsea, some were questioning his ability as a manager of a big name side.

There were plenty of reasons why Villas-Boas only lasted nine months at Stamford Bridge. He was too young to lead that club. He didn’t have the backing of the veteran players. His preferred style of player was entertaining but it allowed too many goals. And of course, Chelsea had a string of bad results prior to his sacking.

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Andre Villas-Boas has Tottenham believing they could do something great in the very near future.

All that being said, how is it possible that Villas-Boas has gone to another London club, Tottenham, and had much more success with arguably a less talented team and definitely a smaller transfer budget?

It’s a quite simple answer actually, he isn’t under ridiculous amounts of pressure.

I could just imagine how excited Roman Abramovich was to bring in a young manager who had working under Jose Mourinho, an 88% winning percentage at Porto and a Europa League victory on his CV. I could also imagine that he thought Villas-Boas was going to pull something along the lines of a quintuple.

Don’t get me wrong, Tottenham had Champions League aspirations when they began this season but I doubt Daniel Levy is as tough a boss as Abramovic is. Think about it. Harry Redknapp was given four years as Tottenham’s boss as their best finish was coming in 4th twice and they didn’t win any silverware. Levy probably also learned something from his quick fire decision to sack Martin Jol, but I digress.

Villas-Boas has Spurs playing some of, if not the, best football in the Premier League right now and at some point you have to look to the manager as part of the reason for it. His free-flowing tactics have allowed Gareth Bale to wreak havoc on defenses both domestically and in Europe, giving Tottenham a chance to win the Europa League if they continue this run of form.

Now that he has the supporters, the players and ownership behind him, I believe we will see AVB continue to flourish in his role as manager of Tottenham. They went from a club aiming to finish in a Champions League spot to a club that is a player or two from challenging for much more seemingly overnight with his hire.

A perfect end to this season would be if he could find someway to keep Bale in London for a few more years. Whether or not he does is another story altogether, just know that as of now there is nothing stopping AVB from achieving greatness at Tottenham.