Can Small Football Clubs Ever Compete?

Smaller Clubs

Can smaller football clubs ever compete against the big spenders like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal?

The Premier League has been around since 1992, born from the public’s appetite for televised football and the football clubs’ hunger to maximise the highly lucrative benefits from the new television rights.

It was a fresh start, a second chance, a leaf turned over. Now twenty seasons on and with a television deal worth around £3 billion, the Premier League has revolutionised how soccer is watched, consumed and even played.

Premier League The Best?

John Cross of the Daily Mirror was one of a panel of top football writers asked to answer the question of whether the Premier League is the best domestic football competition in the world.

While the panel felt that the Premier League was definitely the most exciting, they considered Spain’s La Liga to be of a higher standard.

Talking about the Premier League, John said: “I think it is the most exciting, the most competitive, and from that end, it’s probably the most watchable, but the standard has now fallen short of Spain.”

Another of the panel members, David Walker, who writes for the Sunday Mirror was even more critical: “We’ve got some very, very strong teams at the top of our League. But look beyond that, and I don’t think it’s a very good league.”

And there certainly are some big clubs at the top of the Premier League. Some might say that they are no longer football clubs at all, but magnificent money-making machines with brands potentially as valuable as Pepsi and Apple.

Take Manchester United who dominates, winning twelve out of twenty championships since the League’s inception. Some claim that it is Manchester United’s domination of the League that has caused its perceived lack of competitiveness.

No Duopoly

In reality, though the Premier League is competitive and United’s domination is in part history. Last year, Manchester City became the fifth club to win the title.

The Premier League is not a predictable duopoly like La Liga, where Barcelona and Real Madrid contest the title each season.

To underline this, four of the last 20 UEFA Champions Leagues have been won by Premier League sides, with three of those in the past decade. If, as many believe, the Champions League is at the very top of football quality, the success of these Premier League sides is significant.

Can Smaller Teams Compete?

So, can smaller football teams ever compete against the big spenders like Chelsea and Man City? Well, these days it is European success, plus massive amounts of cash that attracts the star players the crowds demand to see and, at least in part, it’s top-class players that make top-class teams.

Undoubtedly, this is where the big money-rich clubs’ score and the rest struggle. From Cantona to Bergkamp, Ronaldo to Silva, the Premier League has always been a showcase for some of the world’s best players.

Homegrown too with Rooney, Beckham and all the rest, but expensive to buy and costly to keep.

There’s no getting away from it; these days football and the Premier League is all about money. Gone are the days when a club like Ipswich Town could become champions (at least not without the help of a foreign billionaire) and, although the Premier League pitch is still just about level enough for the big teams to be humbled occasionally, the smaller teams are often overshadowed.

It Can Be Done

It can be done though; all you need do is flash a lot of cash as Wigan Athletic has proven. Still in the fourth tier only fifteen years ago this is their eighth season in the Premier League.

It isn’t easy, and it causes pain, but last year ‘The Latics’ avoided relegation with seven wins in their last nine games. They included historic victories against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, with a 4-0 thrashing for Newcastle United to prove a point.

Yes, fairytales can happen even if it is a continual struggle.

And then, beneath the Wigan Athletics and the Premier League sits the Football League, almost forgotten and drifting away in an ever-widening gulf, where promotion to Premier is both a cause for celebration and a curse.

This is caused by the vast difference in the value of television rights between the leagues and the difficulty of avoiding relegation in a promoted club’s first season.

No Lack Of Ambition

So, can smaller football teams ever really compete against the big spenders? Clubs like Newcastle and Everton don’t lack ambition or the will; they lack the financial resources of the elite clubs higher up the league table.

As I keep repeating: it’s about the money, and there’s no getting away from it. The Premier League was always meant to take the pounds away from smaller clubs and put it into the pockets of a few elite ones.

Of course, there’s always the FA cup, open to all teams who compete in the Premier and the Football League; so there’s still a chance of a club like Altrincham or a Wrexham – but it’s slim, and the big boys generally come out on top.

Even so, miracles can and do happen, and it has happened elsewhere. A couple of years ago Borussia Dortmund caught a lot of people’s imaginations when they won the first of their two recent Bundesliga titles, and if it can happen there it could happen here…couldn’t it?

Well maybe. There’s no doubt the Premier League is exciting, but it can be incredibly predictable and frustrating. It’d be nice to see something different happening each week, maybe even each season.

It might happen one day, but probably not as things stand at the moment. For now, perhaps the real questions are: can champions Manchester City hold off rivals United again?

Will Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool improve on where they finished last season? Will Arsene Wenger be planning a renewed title challenge from Arsenal? Who knows, so let’s just get on with it and enjoy.