Can we ever expect this kind of success story in the Premier League?
Borussia Dortmund captured a lot of hearts two years ago when they won the first of their two recent Bundesliga titles. It was something fitting to what we’ve seen in German football in recent years – it was a success story of a smaller team, complete with its own collection of stars, standing up to the might of the country’s greatest football product.
It was also a wonderful moment for the club, who very recently were on the brink of financial meltdown and who still need to be careful with the balance sheet. Hoffenheim were also very close to adding to the list of previously unlikely Bundesliga champions. Another fantastic story in football would have been told had they built on their pre-Christmas form and continued on towards the title.
These are stories we see in Germany and also recently in France. It’s something we’re unlikely to see in Spain anytime soon; Malaga dashed all hope of their gate crashing of the party between Barcelona and Real Madrid following their problems of the past summer. But isn’t it a little disappointing that we’re not really expecting to see it in the Premier League?
Montpellier did something incredible last season by storming past the big spenders, the historically powerful and even the then reigning Ligue 1 champions. The club’s owner says he’ll never pay big money for players and he’ll keep the wages modest. Olivier Giroud, the club’s leading scorer last season and the top earner, was reportedly on wages of 15,000 euros per week. Isn’t that the real romance in football and what many would like to see, if only once or twice in their lifetime?
Manchester City have brought something different to the table, both in England and Europe. But these debates about them being a small club became pointless when people started to understand the power of their owner’s chequebook. So for now, lets cross them off this list. Instead, I’m talking about clubs like Everton or even Newcastle (who I don’t believe to be small clubs either, but they’re certainly the underdogs in England when talking about title contenders) pulling out all the stops and landing an unlikely Premier League title.
I’m a little sick of commentators and people in the game talking about a great advert for the Premier League. Coincidently, it was the recent 2-2 draw between Everton and Newcastle at Goodison Park which was described as one of those adverts. Well, people are already aware of the football and entertainment quality in England. In fact, the technical quality has been surpassed in other countries. What the Premier League needs is something that really knocks people off their seats, something beyond just “Aguueeeeroooo!” inside the palace of endless pound signs. An Everton or Newcastle lifting the league title would be the best advert for our game.
Is it beyond the realms of possibility? Maybe, but maybe not. The Premier League also likes to pride itself on the sales pitch of everyone being able to beat everyone, with promoted clubs giving champions a real run for their money. Managers like David Moyes are the people you want overseeing any great ambitions at your club. He’s shrewd in the transfer market, he knows how to get the very best out of his players and, as Phil Jagielka recently stated, there’s a joy and very real desire to playing at Everton with very few wanting out. It’s solidity, it’s backs to the wall, it’s David vs. Goliath, but most importantly, it’s all very English.
Shouldn’t we be talking about what these clubs—those who are just on the outside of the Champions League places—could do in the near future? What’s the point if it’s same old, same old? We now have Manchester City and probably Manchester United again as the two front runners for the league title, where Chelsea previously took the place of City. But isn’t it all a bit too similar to what we damn La Liga for being a two-horse race with not much else going on.
Martin Samuel wrote at the beginning of last season that Stoke could be a contender for a Champions League place. Fair enough, but Tottenham were also spoken about so confidently as the third in what was always a two-horse race for the title. Sometimes it’s getting ahead of ourselves, other times it’s the desire to see something really breathtaking, something that wasn’t put together in a day and shipped out as a great product for everyone to lap up.
Clubs like Newcastle and Everton don’t lack ambition, they just lack the resources of the other clubs higher up the league table. But who sets the rules in stone and dictates that less money equals less chance, or even zero chance, of title glory? What about good football that’s pleasing on the eye? Are champions determined by how well they play the attacking game? If so, Chelsea’s Champions League victory last season was a damn shame.
The Premier League is exciting, just as much as it can be incredibly frustrating. I’m all for something different happening each week and even each season. No one told Swansea they had to go the way of Blackpool the previous year, immediately back down into the abyss. For that reason, no one should tell Newcastle, Everton, Spurs or whoever else that fancies a good go that it can’t be done.
For now, English football is a variation of what’s on offer everywhere else. It’s familiar and it’s easy. There are some “neutrals” who’d rather watch Wigan vs. Stoke on a miserable, typically English Monday night rather than El Clasico—although Barcelona or Real Madrid would never play on a Monday night (if they had a choice). But if the Premier League really wants to walk around as if it’s king among a group of other very able contenders, then do something that we’re seeing abroad – really knock the socks off the football world.