Is the gap between the top flight and the Championship declining?
In recent years there is evidence that this gap is closing, how we are not sure? Is it the decline of talent in the top flight or is it evolution of second tier clubs being able to punch their weight following a step up?
It is true that the Premier League is weakening, players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano all have felt they would be more challenged in a league in Spain. Equally so there is proof that the Championship is improving, players of international calibre such as Craig Bellamy and David James have all made the step in to the abyss of the Championship.
What has made the Premier League one of the most respected leagues in the world is the money pumped in and the exposure that it then receives; well today we can see substantial backing in the second tier of English football, Cardiff City being the latest. The Welsh outfit are currently top of the Championship as they make their ascent to the Promised Land. Under Malaysian owners money is available as is the exposure that the club now has in the Middle East.
There was a time when it was near impossible for teams from a lower league, even when entering a higher league, to compete on a level playing field with the teams ahead of them. Due to the economical downturn that the country has had, top teams have also felt the pain of not being able to offer as high amounts of money to incoming players, in turn creating a more level setting for incoming teams to play.
If looking for further proof, look no further than Norwich City. Just three years ago the Canaries were gaining promotion from League 1 and then the Championship before finishing at their destination of the Premier League. During the rise out of the lower leagues the nucleus of the squad has stayed together, there hasn’t been a huge amount of money thrown the way of the Norfolk club. Grant Holt still leads the line, the same very man who did so when the club was playing the likes of Exeter City.
It’s not just Norwich that can help this argument out; looking up and down the Premier League clubs that only five years ago you would say would have no right in being in the top flight. Swansea City, QPR, Southampton and Reading have all showed that they can compete when it matters.
Yet further evidence is that not only the elite clubs are having players chosen for the highest honour of representing the country, recently Roy Hodgson called up Crystal Palace’s Wilfred Zaha who although is still plying his trade in the Championship, it won’t be long until he is showing the Premier League what he can do.
In the last three seasons, two out of the three promoted clubs have stayed up showing a trend that new entrants into the Premier League are simply not cannon-fodder. It has been ten years since the last time that all three promoted clubs sealed safety and the argument of whether the gap is closing would be bolstered if we can see a repeat this time around.
Will the gap ever close fully? I doubt that! Simply due to the levels financially that top Premier League clubs operate on makes this near impossible.
We have seen however that teams can come up and consolidate themselves in the top flight, but the days of back to back titles of the second tier followed by the biggest achievement of them all, such as Derby County are long and truly over.