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Why Southampton's Trip To The Etihad Shows The Premier League Is Dying
Wednesday, 10th Mar 2021 10:10

When the trip to Manchester City comes around it is a stark reminder of just how uncompetitive the Premier League has actually become and how most clubs in it these days are merely cannon fodder.

Many Saints supporters love to hate Liverpool and rejoiced in their failure to win the title, when that happened last season most were raging, but the truth was just as when Leicester won it in 2016, it was actually a breath of fresh air in a Premier League that is now very much split between the have and have nots.

Take a look at the list of Champions in the last 16 years, take out those single season wins for the Scousers and the Foxes and there are only 3 other clubs that have won the title in that period, Chelsea 5 times mostly over 10 years ago, Manchester United 5 times the last being 8 years ago and Manchester City who are about to win their 5 th title.

I could have thrown in Arsenal whose last lifting of the trophy was in 2004 but that doesn't change much, nor the only other winners Blackburn who younger reader's under 35 will be surprised to learn were the richest club in the division back in 1995.

So as the 29th season heads to its ending with Manchester City likely to lift the title again it is galling to realise that in almost 30 years there have only been 7 winners of the Premier League and 3 of those have only won it once and don't look like winning it again.

The Premier League has finally become what it set out to be and that is an exclusive club that is aimed at ensuring the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

When the Ugly Inside started in 1988 Liverpool dominated football, but when we played them it was far from a foregone conclusion, move on just over a decade when this online version first appeared in 2000 and things had changed, Manchester United where now ruling the roost and a trip to Old Trafford rarely saw anything but heavy defeat, not just for Saints but virtually everyone else.

Back in 1992 it was about a big three, Liverpool, United and perhaps Arsenal, now it has expanded to a big six but Spurs and to a lesser extent Arsenal are just making up the numbers at the table, give the other four some tough games in a season to sort out the wheat from the chafe and give the Illusion that this League is competitive.

Many years ago we used to sneer at the Spanish Dutch and French leagues for being dominated by 2 or 3 clubs whilst we in England had a truly competitive League where anyone could win it and second division sides could win the FA Cup, most clubs and indeed supporters were happy with that, indeed proud of it, but somewhere in the boardrooms of football where a few individuals who wanted to carve up the cake for the selected few and slowly but surely they have managed it.

Perhaps the lockdown is an extension of this, it is doing even more to keep the small clubs down and we saw just what is being plotted going forward when Project Big Picture suddenly came out late last year when Liverpool & Manchester United not at boardroom level but at owner level in the USA where drawing up a blueprint to "save" the lower leagues but in doing so actually signing their lives away in the long term, luckily even the rest of the cannon fodder in the Premier League didn't buy that one.

So in my opinion the Premier League is dying, on the surface pre lockdown it looked healthy, but scratch that surface and it has a cancer that hasn't quite been diagnosed as of yet although the symptoms are there.

Worldwide it is healthy , it rakes in Billions from TV rights sales and of course the overseas markets where Manchester City have far more supporters than they have in the UK or at least they do in a Title winning year, some of those who defected to Liverpool might not have returned to the City fold just yet.

The Big clubs already want a bigger share, to be able to sell the rights to show their own matches on TV this will spell the death of the Premier League as we know it.

The only real question now is whether this will be a slow and painful death or whether it will come swiftly, there have always been mutterings of a European Superleague and indeed with the latest plans for the Champions League that will only be a step away.

Personally I am not scared of this, far from it I think that the Big Six leaving the Premier League will be the saviour of English football.

Yes it would hurt for a while, but those who go to the grounds to watch the matches and travel the length and breadth of the country following their teams would not care, football would be competitive again.

We didn't care when we were in League One and the Championship that it wasn't Manchester United and Liverpool but Barnsley and Exeter, the fans flocked to St Mary's because we had a chance to win things.

The Premier League would be devalued if the Big Six left financially, but the rest of us would just get on with things and enjoy the ride.

It would be great to be able to enjoy going to every game knowing that we had a chance of a win unlike this evening when most Saints fans I know will be celebrating a 2-0 defeat tonight at the Etihad because we won't have been slaughtered.

We will play teams that will battle for 90 minutes at 100% effort, not like when City came to St Mary's in December where they played at half pace and still could have had 5 goals, because we had the odd shot and kept it at 1-0 some thought we had actually given them a tough game.

So for me I am not afraid of change, the Premier League needs a swift conclusion in it's present form, the sooner a European Super League aimed at the armchair supporter comes into being the better, let the social media warriors who gloat when their team destroys yours do that to Ajax, Anderlecht and Borussia Dortmund.

The funniest thing though is that it seems that there won't be enough room for all the big six, a European Superleague would want Liverpool United and City, even Chelsea, the first two have a Worldwide support, the second two money, but would there be enough room for Arsenal & Spurs ?

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SanMarco added 10:30 - Mar 10
"The Premier League has finally become what it set out to be and that is an exclusive club that is aimed at ensuring the rich get richer and the poor get poorer." Yes, and that reflects life in the UK since then too. Elite self-interest is all. But therein lies the rub - will the elite clubs prosper if they breakaway? There is no guarantee that TV money and international revenues will go on for ever, nor that the £billions of dirty money will flow forever. The only bet I would make on any of this is that if/when a big six/seven/eight do leave they will insist on a formal return mechanism in case things go t1ts-up - and of course given their power they will get it.

Ripleys_revenge added 10:42 - Mar 10
Totally agree with this. The sooner the so called big six f@ck off the better! My only reservation is being able to watch us play as I live abroad. Other than that though, I would much prefer a more evenly contested league.

Good point about the 'big six' too - would be hilarious to see the likes of Arsenal and Spurs attempting to blag their way in!

allsaint54 added 10:48 - Mar 10
Agree 100%. The quicker the multi millionaire big 6 leave the better. The majority of games between these clubs are dull despite all the hype from the media. The public will soon get bored of watching this type of football week in week out. I can't wait for them to leave.

Block8 added 11:22 - Mar 10
Difficult to argue with this viewpoint particularly from a ticket purchasing fans perspective. The premier league and champions league are designed to protect their own. Back this up with FFP and the chances of any small club joining the "elite" are remote at very best. We hear much about ownership & investment currently but FFP ensures there will never be another Chelsea or City breaking into the big boys domain. So I'm with Nick on this one, I'll miss us competing against the best players but can enjoy going home and away with a bit more of a smile.
Only one request, can we leave the disastrous VAR with the TV fans it was designed for and get back to berating the ref in the pub after a game!

highfield49 added 11:34 - Mar 10
All a bit simplistic Nick? The big four, six or whatever leave the league and take the tv, sponsorship money, etc etc with them and the remaining teams are free to win the cash starved default. So how are Saints, and the rest, going to fund their player contracts for three four or five years? We can't even get rid of our current unwanted stars and certainly can't sign new players on sensible money. The required restructuring could see most clubs go out of business I suggest.

SaintNick added 11:54 - Mar 10
Highfield- I was being a little simplistic, there would need to be transition and clubs would sell players to survive, but ultimately within a couple of years things would have evened out

JohnT added 12:02 - Mar 10
I remember back when we used to play a part in printing the hard copy version of 'Ugly'

Colburn added 12:10 - Mar 10
I'm not sure this is the answer to attempts at a break away, the league would never be the same. In terms of improving finances, I think a trick is being missed by all.. When you look at American sport and the youth games, the attendances are huge. I don't understand why there is such little focus on those waiting in the wings for the big stage.. If Sky were to promote this and strengthen the importance of the U23 development league, there could be a huge market to help the finances of those outside the big 6 and a real stage to showcase their young talent. In America the fans are almost as excited by the youth as the first team. I would watch every U23 game on TV and if the competition was taken seriously, we could effectively see evolution within the game too. Surely if these things are big in US, it can be the same here.

SaintNick added 12:38 - Mar 10
Colburn- you make some good points, but the US is different, their professional leagues use feeder teams rather than youth teams, the youth element is through the University/college system, the colleges get massive crowds, but they are their following their own college team not a professional outfit, so the system is a little different.

I think there is now no compromise, the big six have seen the riches they can get elsewhere the Premier League cannot survive with it being six teams and then another 14.

Our fans whing that there is no investment, but what savvy investor is going to spent £100 million a year funding transfers when there is still only a slim chance of a Champions League place

redwight added 12:53 - Mar 10
Superficially Nick, I agree with you. Since its inception, the PL has systematically seen power gravitate towards the top. The League cup has been trashed, the FA Cup has lost everything that made it so special and every decision is now geared towards those who have serious ambitions of CL qualification. As you say, this was always the intention. A European super league would make permanent the disparity of wealth - in fact it would exacerbate it - and the best players in the domestic league would always aspire to sign for the breakaway clubs. However, with all that said, we would reclaim everything which has been lost with all the fun and enjoyment that went with it. Yes, I would vote for it, given the chance, with only the one condition - they take VAR with them.

PaleRider added 13:07 - Mar 10
Colburn - the US system is completely different. Major professional sports teams are so thinly spread across the country that college sports really take their place in many areas. Also the NCAA is awash with cash and college sports are very professionally run (I know this from first-hand experience).

I think the Premier League is a busted flush - from a business viewpoint, I just don't think it's sustainable. The impact of the major leagues in Europe (England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy) has been devastating for other, potentially really good leagues in Europe (eg Dutch, Belgian etc.).

As a result, I think the only long term solution is a US style European major league for a small number of "soccer" teams around Europe - and let the rest of us get on with it.

Jesus_02 added 13:09 - Mar 10
I wonder how the teams that make up the championship "cannon fodder" feel? If 4 teams left then it would just be Arsenal and Spurs that dominate. If there were 6 that left it might take longer but there would soon be a couple of teams at the top that cant be shifted.

Its how capitalism works

Boris1977 added 13:53 - Mar 10
I think most fans of clubs our size would be happy to see the richer clubs move to a euro-mega league. There would obviously be a financial impact as sky/bt sell 'their' product. However getting rid of them would enable a return to the football pyramid under the Football League and a genuine redistribution of money throughout the league's. I'd be in favour of universal caps on wages and spend.

Plenty of details to work out but the main driver would be the goodwill and integrity of the involved parties. That would be the biggest stumbling block.

halftimeorange added 14:11 - Mar 10
It might make things interesting if the two teams finishing bottom in the European Super League were relegated to their domestic league(s) and replaced by the teams who finished first or first and second in those leagues. I have opined before that competitive football in England ended when Man C beat Watford 6-0 at Wembley. How will we feel if there is another 9-0 reverse tonight. The same as Sheff U - we just don't have the money or resources to continually fight our corner and there comes a point when going to see the world's best players outclass your side simply isn't attractive.

GeordieSaint added 14:37 - Mar 10
Whilst I agree it would be better in many ways if the richest clubs left the problem is they won’t. They might leave the league cup running for the rest but what the most likely outcome is is that the premier league will be reduced to 16 teams to allow for a midweek fixture against European opposition. This will lead to even more disparity and less opportunity to even become cannon fodder. I have really begun to hate the premier league and don’t think I have actually sat down to watch a game this side of Christmas that saints weren’t playing.

I don’t agree with your analysis of the last saints city game though. I thought that was an excellent performance that was a bit unlucky not to get a draw at least. We looked like our first 11 was really solid and the lads kept possession and knocked it about nicely.

JimmyMeliaPhD added 15:27 - Mar 10
The compariosns to US sports by Colburn, Nick et al above are to the point whilst also missing the most important point.....Even in the home of the most capitalism, every major league imposes a salary cap on teams. The effects are obvious. All the major sports are much more competitive and more genuinely unpredictable than the EPL. I'd vote for trying a salry cap system before endorsing a breakaway league!

JimmyMeliaPhD added 15:29 - Mar 10
Just saw that Boris1977 agrees with me on salary cap!

underweststand added 15:57 - Mar 10
One article where most of us agree with your sentiments (Nick) ..except on a personal level my team (s) to hate are Man U. and Spurs. Begrudgingly accepting that (under Ferguson) Man. U produced many excellent sides for many seasons, but with their financial backing one would expect big successes to have followed.
Spurs - whose " glory days " date back almost 50 years, and who haven't won anything of significance in the last 10, have a fan base who consider themselves " the best London side" ..and will continue to play in their now- empty Billion pound stadium in the hope of rediscovering some sort of success to help fund their huge debt.
YES - Business is Business, but they have scr*wed us in almost every transfer deal we've ever done, but I hope the KWP deal may have gone some way righting that wrong.

Ironically - I don't hate Liverpool. Partly, because I recall the great Liverpool sides under Bill Shankly in the 1960's , and the " Anfield boot room managers " who succeeded him. In the late 1970's /early 80's when Saints were at their best during the McMenemy years, they were the one team who were just ..that much better .. than we were.
Those transfers during last 8 years were the base of their "Liverhampton " teams, which radically improved their squads, and even though we were sorry to lose those Saints players, we were at least reasonably well-paid in their departures, and most of them reached career-highs that they wouldn't have known - had they stayed at SMS.

Back to the article, and the one thing that this season has highlighted is that Covid is a non-footballing factor that no-one could have predicted, and that "the big teams" have all shown some degree of frailty when being forced to play in empty stadiums that (in many cases) are normally filled with 50-60,000 plus fanatical home fans.
Wins at these stadia are seldom seen otherwise, but nevertheless bring a great deal of hope and encouragement to the " lesser / smaller clubs " in the Prem.

** Belated apologies for the " hate club" rant above, but I feel better for it.

AmericanSaint added 16:03 - Mar 10
So, there are some good points Nick makes and same with the panel about the US. Two points that people are missing here that I think play a factor. (1) Agent fees - in the US, the agent is paid normally 10-15% of the salary by the player. This takes away the incentive of the agent constantly trying to sell his player to the highest bidder so that he can make millions on the transfers. This would have a stabilizing effect on a lot of the "non - super-stars". (2) Everyone is concerned with the TV money, but in today's technology, if the big six left, each team could do a pay-per-view style system. In the US, many colleges have this and earn big money just from their fans and dont have to deal with the tv networks. Even small colleges with no more than a few thousand students are doing this. And away teams could pay a small fee to tap into the home teams feed, so that the can provide all the games. Finally, a salary cap could work, if you could solve the agent problem described above and more importantly solve the greed from the super rich owners, who do not want to be handcuffed so they can buy anyone anytime they want. Just a few ideas to think about.

JoeEgg added 16:10 - Mar 10
Well done Nick! Your article was a shrewd piece of timing. I doubt though we shall be celebrating a 2-0 defeat tonight ; so are you just preparing us for the possibility of another................?

Centurion added 21:30 - Mar 10
The Championship is a better league than the Premier League for the average club. I agree without the big 6, it will be better for the non plastic football supporter.

dirk_doone added 09:43 - Mar 14
Five different teams have won the Premier League in the last 8 years. It's easily the most compettive of the major leagues in Europe, which are mostly just dominated by 2 or 3 big clubs.

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