New Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish has lashed out against the “super clubs” who are able to take any players they like from other clubs, given the financial backing and power behind them. McCleish’s comments came about after five of England’s starting eleven against Wales on Tuesday were former Villa players, and with the exception of Gary Cahill, now all play for the ‘super clubs’ who have the financial muscle to lure players away. The likes of Ashely Young who recently signed for Manchester United, Steward Dowining of Liverpool, and both Gareth Barry and James Milner of Manchester City all lined up to face Wales at Wembley, and the Scot insists that these departures emphasise how difficult it is for the other clubs to compete in the long run. According to McLeish, these ‘super’ clubs “are on another planet”.
The Villa boss was keen to reaffirm that the club were not a ‘selling club’, but that fans needed to be realistic in these ‘modern times’. McLeish aim then, is to continue to produce talent at Villa Park that is good enough to break in to the national team. Villa currently boast young English talent in the likes of Marc Albrighton, Ciaran Clark, and Barry Bannan, and while McLeish concedes that ultimately a ‘super club’ may come in and buy them, it is important for the club to continue to produce such talent. Although McLeish’s comments do hold some substance, and it is without question going to be difficult for the ‘smaller clubs’ to compete alongside the likes of Chelsea, United, City and Liverpool, there are one or two exceptions to the generalizations been made, in that a ‘rich’ or wealthy club does not necessarily entail any ‘superiority’, and as we saw with Tottenham two seasons ago, clubs without this kind of financial backing can still break in to the top four of the Premier League.
In the 2009-10 season, Tottenham secured Champions League football for the following season, having pipped big-spending Manchester City to fourth place in the final games of the season. This was the campaign in which City had brought in the likes of Gareth Barry, Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Carlos Tevez in a bid to break in to the top four, while the only players of note that Spurs brought in were Peter Crouch, Niko Kranjcar and Younes Kaboul Spurs finished the season three points clear of City, and enjoyed a successful run in the Champions League the following year before losing to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.
City’s solution the following year was to invest heavily once more, and this time it was to pay off as Spurs struggled to mount challenges on both a European and domestic front, and finished the season in fifth. Spurs’ qualification for the Champions League went some way in showing that money did not guarantee success, especially not immediately anyway. Spurs have also shown us that you do not have to let players leave to the ‘super clubs’ if you really don’t want to. Cheslea were in pursuit of Luka Modric for the majority of the summer transfer window, however both Redknapp and chairman Daniel Levy remained adamant that the Croatian would not be leaving White Hart Lane at any price.
McLeish’s suggestion that money or financial backing entails ‘superiority’ is also contradicted somewhat by the lack of success at Anfield in recent years. Liverpool have always had the funding to bring in new talent, though those players brought in were often not of a high enough quality, and the management in place was also deemed to be substandard for a club of Liverpool’s stature. While the club was generally considered a ‘top-four side’ for a number of years, Liverpool have failed to qualify for the Champions League since 2009 and have finished seventh and sixth in their last two Premier League campaigns. Kenny Dalglish has spent heavily since taking over in January, and for the first time in three seasons this Liverpool side look as though they could be a force to be reckoned with. However, while Dalglish has brought in players of quality, both Benitez and in particular, Roy Hodgson, brought in names that simply weren’t good enough to compete with the top four.
McLeish makes a valid point in that those ‘smaller clubs’ who lack any real financial support or backing will generally struggle to compete with the big-spenders of Chelsea, United, City and Liverpool. However, Harry Redknapp has shown that a top-four challenge can be mounted with the right kind of players, and that quality players do not have to cost the thirty or forty million pounds that these clubs are willing to fork out. Redknapp, and particularly Levy, have shown that key players do not have to be sold. Keeping a player against their will is always a risk, however if they are of as great importance to the club as Modric is to Spurs, it is perhaps a risk worth taking. It seems McLeish could probably learn a thing or two from Levy and Redknapp, and his assumption that money entails ‘superiority’ is not always the case. Good management and the right players is also fundamental to a clubs success and while heavy funding will certainly make things easier, it does not guarantee success nor the ‘untouchable’ status that McLeish has placed on these clubs. Tony Fernandes completed his takeover of Queens Park Rangers back in August and despite a reported net worth of £250m, McLeish will surely fancy his chances when the two sides meet this season.
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