Disruption Of The Big Four? I’m Not So Sure

28th January 2010

The current season of The Premier League looks to be the most open yet. Relegation looks as if it will go to the wire, and we may experience the most exciting ‘Survival Sunday’ since the 2004/05 season, and with an enthralling battle at the top of the table this could be one of the best Jan-May periods The Premier League has ever seen! However, has this season shaken everything up quite as much as the neutrals will have hoped? I think not!

Chelsea are in sublime form, with or without their African players; Arsenal look like having their most competitive Premier League season since the departure of the talismanic Thierry Henry and Manchester United are, despite the loss of Tevez and Ronaldo, having another solid season. These three heavyweights will continue to exchange blows until May, making for fascinating and mesmerising viewing, however it is intriguing to mark what is occurring just below this in the European places.

Aston Villa, aided by a combination of clever management, stylish football and a strong chairman have worked their way up the Premier League hierarchy in recent years. Tottenham, deploying attacking football and a clever management have found themselves sitting in the final Champions League spot and Man City, assisted by an interminable pocket of money have also reached the possibility of European Qualification. This, plus a very average season from the Reds of Merseyside have accounted for a four-horse race for the coveted 4th Champions League spot, which looks like it too, will also go to the wire.

This battle for 4th is not a new concept however. Newcastle finished in the final Champions League spot in 2001/2 season (this before Abramovich’s millions and thus Chelsea as a member of the elite) and 2002/3 at Liverpool’s expense. Everton managed 4th spot in 2004/5, and Tottenham agonisingly missed out on the final day of the 2005/6 season by 2 points from Arsenal. This shows that, whilst not in the last few Premier League seasons, the Big Four have been disrupted at some point; the difference is that in each of these cases it seems to be just one club infiltrating the pack.

Now we have City, Villa and Spurs all competing with the top order; a second pack of three chasing the 4th spot with all intention, something which has not happened this side of the millennium. Whilst we haven’t seen this second pack in the modern era, what we have seen is sides falling away from the seemingly untouchable elite spear-heading the top division of English football. Leeds have significantly fallen from grace since their semi-final Champions League appearance in 2001 and consistent high finishes in the Premier League; Newcastle are recent sufferers of this syndrome, finding themselves in The Championship, far from the dizzy heights of 3rd place in The Premier League in 2002/3, and it seems that more is needed than just a decent season.

In April 2009, the estimated value of each club in The Big four stood at;
1. Manchester United: $1870 million
2. Arsenal: $1200 million
3. Liverpool: $1010 million
4. Chelsea: $800 million

Manchester United stood clearly top of the world in this statistic; Arsenal and Liverpool 3rd and 5th respectively with Chelsea in 8th. Granted Man City, Villa and Spurs also appeared in the top 25 in the world, but with a long way to go before catching Chelsea. It seems therefore that it is not just performances on the pitch that are needed, but in a world of entrepreneurship a financial stronghold on the sport is also required to better domestic achievements.

Further to this, the domination of The Big Four in Europe has helped them maintain a consistent hierarchy in The Premier League. The last five seasons have seen two English winners and four runners-up, with each of these teams appearing in at least one final. The control of Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool on recent European football has been nothing short of incredible, and it seems that this, the financial welfare of the club and the domestic achievements are in a circular process, with each affecting the others.

Therefore, one big season in The Premier League is not enough. Nor is one big season in Europe (as Leeds proved). Spurs, City and Villa have all showed great promise on breaking into the elite of English football in recent months, but it seems that we need to judge these performances over a time of three, maybe four seasons rather than a single year to properly evaluate their influence. It is a great step for these clubs in the chasing pack to be up there and to have been up there for most of the season, albeit just a challenge for 4th place rather than the title, but it is movement in the right direction.

What is now needed by these clubs is consistency; solid performances over a few seasons, not just in The Premier League, but also in Europe and finances to properly mount a serious challenge to disrupt The Big Four, ensuring they don’t allow the top dogs to make them into another Newcastle or Leeds.

by Sam Edwards