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.

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.

End of an Era: Sir Alex to Retire

It’s official, Manchester United will begin their title defense next season without Sir Alex Ferguson on the touchline. It’s still fresh in our minds and we still have another two games of outrageous amounts of stoppage time, but it will take a long while before we get used to seeing someone else in United’s dugout. My money’s on David Moyes, but that’s a conversation for another post and another day.

Having served United for 26 years, Fergie has been the Red Devils’ gaffer longer than any other manager in team history and has led them to 13 of their 20 Premier League/First Division championships. His success is known far and wide, even extending outside of the football world. He’s managed some of the best players of all-time and built some of the greatest teams.

Sir Alex Ferguson is finally calling it quits.

Sir Alex Ferguson is finally calling it quits and the end of an era.

Sir Alex’s retirement marks more than an end of an era at Old Trafford. On the precipice of a huge TV deal, Sir Alex’s retirement marks the beginning of a transition to a new-look Premier League.

The door is now open for another powerhouse to rise to the top of the heap. Mind you, I’m not saying United are going to become a bottom-of-the table club but they’ll have to search far and wide to find a manager who will be able to get what Fergie has out of some of the mediocre players over the years.

Sure, Jose Mourinho probably could… while simultaneously pissing off the other half of the team.

Without the money of a Manchester City or Chelsea, Manchester United will lose some steam in the transfer market as players are swayed away from the club without Sir Alex on the touchline.

Regardless, it’s a story that couldn’t have had a better ending. No one would have wanted to see Fergie go out with Manchester City holding the Premier League trophy — except myself and every other City supporter.

He’s got his umpteenth trophy and now he can ride off into the sunset.

When is a Club Successful?

It’s a topic that has been run through the ringers too many times over the past few years as more nouveau rich clubs pop up on Europe’s football landscape. Of course some have last longer than others, the funding being pulled away just as quickly as it arrived but for the ones that remain — or even for the clubs that aren’t backed by petrol-dollars but lack the tradition of the more prestigious sides around the world — when is it okay for supporters to dub their team successful?

Swansea City is one of England's upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Swansea City is one of England’s upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Many point to silverware as the defining factor of success, arguing that a club is only as successful as its trophy case is vast. We’re talking the Barcelonas, Real Madrids, Juventus(es?) and Manchester Uniteds of the footballing world. The clubs that expect to finish every campaign with at least one cup being added to the cabinet. However, I’m willing to argue that this is a far too simple way of looking at this.

In my opinion, as long as a club is making forward progress, they can be deemed successful. It doesn’t matter how it is achieved, if a club goes from wallowing in relegation battles of lower leagues to fighting for European spots in the country’s top flight, they should get the respect they are due.

Let’s take Swansea City for example. They aren’t that far removed from being a mid-to-bottom of the table side in League 2 or the old Third Division. A few well thought out managerial hires here and a couple cheap player buys there and they are going to be playing European football next season after winning the League Cup.

The Swans’ trophy case isn’t filled to the top but are we really not going to call them successful for such a reason? Most teams get relegated in their second season in the Premier League. With continued improvement, Swansea may be pushing Everton for Europa League spots every season.

For a look at a club with much higher ambitions, Manchester City is moving in the right direction. You can argue that finishing 2nd this season is a step backwards, but it isn’t often that teams other than United repeat in the Premier League. Regardless of the point gap or whatever qualifier you want to attach to it, the league was a two-horse battle from the onset and a few sub-par performances saw City fall behind their crosstown rivals.

And for Borussia Dortmund, coming out of a period when they were struggling to stay in the Bundesliga after their Golden Era of the 1990s, one could argue that they are possibly as successful as any club in Europe right now. They may not have the trophies of Bayern Munich, but their battle from the bottom of the table to the final of the Champions League is sign enough.

Should Clubs Sell Players to Rivals?

We’ve seen it before, a club being forced into a sale by a player and that player being sold to a direct rival of said club. Arsenal sold Robin van Persie to Manchester United. Obviously, this is only one example of this happening but I chose him because  van Persie played direct roles in Manchester United winning the Premier League. I’m sure a quick search could yield more results of players going from one side of a heated rivalry to the other.

After this season, Mario Götze will join the list of players who moved between rival clubs and it begs the question of should clubs sell their players to clubs who are rivals, either historically or in the grand scheme of winning a championship in their league.

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City after a loan deal, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Hypothetically, we would like to say that clubs shouldn’t do this and I tend to agree. Nothing would anger me more than United somehow prying Vincent Kompany away from the Etihad, but not because United had gotten better but because City sold him to the other side of the city.

Transfers are meant to strengthen clubs and we know that sometimes, clubs’ hands are forced when it comes to want-away players. Would Arsenal have benefited more from sending van Persie to Italy, Spain or Germany? I’ve seen a modified table taking out every club’s top scorer and United would have theoretically still won the Prem, but that’s only when using the season’s actual stats.

Tottenham is doing it the right way. Any time Gareth Bale is linked with a Premier League team, he is also linked with an astronomical transfer fee. They would rather send him to Spain and never play against him than send him to United, City, Arsenal or Chelsea and have to face him multiple times a season.

I also think the big two in Spain are good about not doing this. How many times have you seen a player leave Real Madrid for Barcelona or vice versa. There aren’t many stars who have made that particular move in either direction, I can assure you.

At the end of the day, money is the name of the game. No club is going to turn down a big paycheck, no matter where its coming from. City’s money is good at Old Trafford, Arsenal’s money is good at White Hart Lane and Everton’s money is good at Anfield.

But at some point, on some purely competition level, some executive has to step up and say “No, our clubs are rivals and I refuse to sell him to you regardless of how much money you are willing to pay.”

Edit: It seems in my haste and fog of early morning, I accidentally said Tevez was sold to Manchester City. I apologize for the mistake.

City Carves a Bigger Slice of the Manchester Pie

In the 79th minute of yesterday’s Manchester Derby as Sergio Aguero dummied his way through the United defense before blasting a shot into the top of the net, you could feel the pendulum beginning to swing back towards a more 50/50 share of Manchester dominance between the top two clubs in the English Premier League over the last two seasons.

Not to be misquoted, I’m not saying that Manchester City is on its way to matching United’s bloated trophy case. It’ll take a while to do that and it doesn’t help matters that those guys are still probably going to win the Premier League this season. However, a second consecutive victory at Old Trafford has sounded the alarm to the rest of the league and to the old fogey in charge of the Reds.

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Sergio Aguero continued to etch his name into Manchester City lore with the game winning goal in last night’s Manchester derby.

If City is still only noisy neighbors then they are those neighbors you have when you move into your first apartment. The ones above you that stomp on the floor all night, seem to drop everything and have a shouting match or two in the wee hours of the morning.

City were on the front foot for most of the game, playing their attractive style of football that has been seldom seen this season. Fergie’s boys seemed content to sit back and try to absorb wave after wave of City attack and hit them on the break. Remember that Phil Jones actually headed Robin van Persie’s free kick attempt away from Joe Hart’s goal. If it weren’t for Vincent Kompany’s back, Jones would have looked like a fool.

Amid ludicrous rumors that Roberto Mancini would lose his job if his team lost the game, Mancini once again showed that he was a quality manager. Choosing the right team to control the game, albeit Samir Nasri only showed flashes of decent play, and bringing on the ever-deadly Aguero at the right moment to drive the dagger in their rivals’ hearts.

Only the second team to beat United at Old Trafford this season and the first to beat them in two successive seasons at the Theater of Dreams since Bolton in 2001 and 2002, City can take some pride in being the best team in Manchester or at least being able to stake a claim to the title.

City’s presence as a force in the Prem won’t fade anytime soon, much to the behest of United supporters. The Blues out-talented United last night just as they did last year in the 6-1 drubbing of the Reds away, Mancini somehow managed to out-manage the shrewd Sir Alex, and Sergio Aguero just upped his price to over 60 million if Real Madrid do come calling this summer (but I doubt Aguero is going to leave the Etihad. He is already a legend for Manchester City.)

All is right in the blue half of Manchester for at least a week as City prepares for their semi-final FA Cup tie with Chelsea on Sunday. United may win the title going away but the war is far from over and you can expect to see more results like last night as City continues to improve as a team and club.

The champions demanded respect from their rivals, even if they had to beat it out of them.

3 Reasons I Hate Manchester United

The Manchester Derby is tomorrow and for all intents and purposes it is meaningless outside of the rivalry between the two teams. It would take a colossal meltdown for Manchester United to drop a 15 — 18 should they win tomorrow, 12 should they lose — point lead in the final six games and Manchester City is destined for second and another go next season. I’ll believe the the rumors of an empty team sheet and no manager at the Etihad in August when I see it.

However, the countdown to the derby has me — a Manchester City supporter — thinking about all the reasons I despise United. I could probably go all day, but I’ll only give you a few.

1. Manchester United boasts over 650 million supporters worldwide.

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I bet there are a few tourists in the stands there. You know, 650 million supporters and all.

I’m not concerned with how many supporters they have worldwide because quite frankly I couldn’t give a damn. This comes to mind first because United supporters like to call City supporters fake. There is no way in Hell that over 650 million supporters (only 0.1% of those come from Manchester if you believe these numbers) aren’t most glory hunters. It’s been 30 years since United has had a bad stretch of seasons. As an American, I know a lot of “football fans.” Most of them are Manchester United supporters. Half of them don’t know that David Beckham played for United.

2. Manchester United plays the victim role too often.

Why did they lose to Real Madrid? The refs. Why didn’t they win the league last season? City spent a bagazillion pounds. No team has as many 50/50 calls go their way as Manchester United does. The only reason people talk about Fergie Time is because it’s proven fact that United wins many games in added time which is easy to do when said team regularly gets 4 or 5 minutes to score in. How many times have we heard Sir Alex moan about not getting enough time added after an United loss or draw?

3. Manchester United supporters like to act like United is a poor club

Everytime City or Chelsea or any other big money club wins, it’s because they bought it. Apparently, every single player on Manchester United’s squad is a product of Manchester United’s academy. Let’s take a look. Of the current first team squad, Ben Amos, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck, and Jonny Evans are products of the academy. If you were keeping count, that’s only six players and Ben Amos is stretching the classification of a “first team player.” That means that United bought every other player on their squad. Gasps!