The Summer of ’92. No, not an 80’s classic rock anthem but the date when the Premier League was formed and the English game changed for the better.
There can be little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Premier League is the best league in the world. The excitement of last season was enough to adhere to that label. However, is the quality of the play in our domestic league on the decline? Over the last 10 years, disintegration of some of the best teams ever to grace this country have prompted arguments as to whether the abilities of the teams in the current league can match up to their predecessors. The aforementioned song states, “you told me it would last forever” and that lyric may be an apt description of the broken promise of Premier League domination.
Last season Man United lost 1-0 to a lowly Wigan side, when a positive result for the Red Devils was of vital importance. 10 years ago, this would simply never have happened. With a midfield that rivals any in footballs existence, United would have dominated a game in similar circumstances, due to the team and their natural abilities. A similar label can be tagged onto Arsenal and their team of “unbeatables”. With such majestic talent rife throughout Highbury, the league had never witnessed anything of the sort and Wenger’s men went an incredible 49 league games unbeaten. This season the Gunners lost to the likes of Wigan, QPR, Sunderland, Swansea and Fulham, as well as conceding 8 against Man United. If you would have told an Arsenal fan these results 10 years ago, they would have laughed in your face. Granted, there has been a changing of the guard at the summit of the Premier League what with Man City and Chelsea gaining titles through investment but even their squads, of which they can add to at any time thanks to financial aid, are nowhere near the overall team abilities of the Manchester United of 1999 or the Arsenal of 2003-04.
With numerous teams now able to compete for the title nowadays, the climax to a season for the neutral is a fantastic spectacle. However, the number of clubs able to challenge also indicates the drop in class of the league as a whole. It is a far more level playing field nowadays with any club able to beat the most elite teams in the Premier League. The fact that all 3 promoted clubs from last season were able to stave of relegation with relative ease, suggests that the Championship is fast approaching the quality to be able to offload some of its better teams into the Premiership with the confidence that they can survive. It used to be almost impossible for promoted teams to survive in the cut throat world that was England’s top division, now, Southampton, Reading and West Ham will have every confidence that they can achieve comfortable mid-table finishes.
When watching highlights of the football week’s action in La Liga for example, you tend to witness all manner of skill, with incredible goals arriving on a regular basis, even from clubs with a smaller reputation. On the other hand, many of the goals that are conceded in the Premier League come from defensive errors or exhaustive lapses in concentration. Until the English game rids itself of the old hat long ball 4-4-2 curse and promotes skill and athleticism, the world’s most prominent players will prefer to play their trade in Spain. Ronaldo is the best player the Premier League has had in the last 5 years. However, his move to Real Madrid at the peak of his career indicates his thoughts that his abilities would work majestically in Spain. Lionel Messi may never ply his trade in England. Putting to one side his love for Barcelona, the free-flowing beauty that the Spanish game presents on a weekly basis allows Messi to apply his game perfectly. This is not an attack on the Premier League; some of the most exciting moments in football history have occurred on our shores. However, if we want to see the Henry’s, the Ronaldo’s or the Xabi Alonso type players commit their careers to the Premier League, teams must look forward and focus on technical skill and teamwork. While the joy that the English game brings to millions is unquestionable, the inconsistency of its talents in recent times is just as worrying.
Premier League fans, when do you think the English League was at its best? Who were your favourite team? The ‘unbeatable’ Gunners, the treble winning Red Devils? Let me know your thoughts on twitter @mattpegg1