Jonathan Wilson recognises in his book Inverting the Pyramid, “that excitement and quality are not synonyms.” He continues. “If goals were a mark of excellence, there would be thousands queuing to watch primary school football.”
Plenty of excitement is whipped up with the Premier League but quality is not ubiquitous in England’s top flight. Last season for example was described by a few as the best Premier League season of all time. Perhaps it was in terms of entertainment but in terms of actual quality, it wasn’t.
Look at the relegation fight last year. Over half of the league was involved in the battle for survival at one stage. This was part of the ‘entertainment’ for some – having so many teams embroiled in the mayhem of a basement battle. On the other hand, it demonstrates the amount of sides lacking quality in the division. The reason it lasted so long and went down to the final day was because no one had the quality and consistency to pull away. This meant an exciting final day for all supporters not affiliated with Blackpool, Wolves, Birmingham, Blackburn and Wigan.
The other side of the argument is that last season was brilliant to have such a competitive league where anyone can beat anyone. It’s great to have that sort of competitiveness and it also proved the teams behind the top six had improved. If anything though, it confirms they’ve weakened. For whilst sides outside the elite are able to compete from game to game, over the course of the season the top six still reign supreme in the overall standings. It wasn’t like they were at the peak last season either.
This is illustrated by the Champions, Manchester United winning five games on the road. The ability to be able to perform away from home on a consistent basis helps to define how good the Champions have been over the course of a season. The Red Devils spectacular form at Old Trafford, where they won 18 of their 19 matches, suppressed their travel sickness.
Arrigo Sacchi won Serie A and the European Cup twice in the space of three years with AC Milan. He once said, “If you want to go down in history you don’t just need to win, you have to entertain.” Sacchi has been also been quoted in the past as saying Arsenal are one of his favourite teams.
When the Gunners won the Premier League in 2002 and 2004, they fulfilled Sacchi’s creed in the process. They were unbeaten away from home in both seasons – an outstanding achievement. Beating Arsenal then was considerably tougher than it is currently.
To prevail against Manchester United last season, it would seem you didn’t need to maintain a similar level. The plaudits they’ve received appear premature and this term they haven’t had to be at their finest. Arguably this has lead to them coming unstuck in the Champions League against the likes of Basel. United would benefit from a more competitive division, thus giving them better preparation for the challenges of the Champions League.
That’s part of the reason why Bayern Munich cruised past Manchester City. Edged out in their opening game despite they dominated Borussia Monchengladbach, Jupp Heynckes used it as a wakeup call. Since this mishap, the Bavarians have obliterated the opposition standing in their path, even though they’re playing in a more competitive league.
The golden years of the Premier League in European competition appear to be cooling. Many point out how there’s been an English side in six of the last seven finals. What is ignored is the amount won by the English – two. It’s doubtful whether people will remember the quantity of teams who were runners up in years to come.
So Bayern Munich may well be strolling their way through the Bundesliga at present but it is still giving them enough food for thought to defeat teams of Manchester City’s calibre.
Now this is not to suggest the English top flight lacks any quality. Indeed, there is a concentration of high quality players in the top six. If you were to make a team of the best players outside the Premier League elite though, it would be much inferior to a side of the best players in the top six.
The Premier League needs to find a balance between excitement and quality to move forward. With Financial Fair Play about to take effect, the English top flight lacks the right quantity of these two ingredients. Whilst the Bundesliga is not perfect, it is much closer to this balance than any other league in Europe currently.
Whether the Premier League’s top sides will be able to find a financial loop hole will emerge soon. They are yet to rally against Financial Fair Play which implies the clubs’ lawyers have already found a way to circumvent the new measures. For whilst the excitement may be there in abundance according to the likes of Sky Sports, the quality on show throughout the league is poor considering the amount of money involved with the Premier League.
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