Is the Premier League top six becoming a closed shop?

It would be perhaps be a step too far to call the Premier League anti-competitive, but you could have a fair bet that the top six in the Premier League next season would be Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool – but it remains to be seen in which order those teams will finish; but it would be a surprise if a different club appeared in those top six places.

Teams that may look to break into the top six would be Everton, Fulham and if they can make the right managerial appointment Aston Villa may fancy their chances. However, do they really stand much of a chance especially given the impressive squads of the current top six? Chelsea looks set to return to their old ways and spend big during the summer and we all know that Manchester City will do likewise; but Manchester United are also looking for a big spend as they bring in replacements for players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Arsene Wenger will be reluctant to spend big – but they will also feel they need to bring in some new quality.

Liverpool’s £35m capture of Andy Carroll show that they are unlikely to penny pinch in the summer and even if Tottenham don’t spend big they already have an impressive squad and any players that leave will be replaced with quality.

The table below shows the 2010 breakdown of the current top six clubs financial breakdown:

Club Turnover Gate/Match-Day Income Commercial Income Wage Bill TV Income
Arsenal £382m £94m £31m £110m £85m
Man Utd £286m £100m £81m £131m £104m
Man City £125m £18m £53m £133m £54m
Chelsea £213m * * £174m Unknown
Tottenham £119m £27m # £67m £52m
Liverpool £185m £43m £62m £121m £80m

*Chelsea’s figure is basically combined between Match-day Income and Commercial income and totals £213m comprising of football activities, hotel/catering, corporate hospitality, other commercial and merchandising.

#Tottenham’s number is £42m and comprises of sponsorship/hospitality, merchandising and other commercial income.

Now it is clear that these clubs are making a lot of money and makes it very difficult for other clubs to break in and in particular the income Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal enjoy from match-day and commercial income. It also should be noted that 5 of the top 6 clubs have a wage bill in excess of £100m, suggesting that clubs need to pay a certain amount to build a successful club.

If I then go back to the three clubs of Aston Villa, Fulham and Everton that may be most likely to break in based on how they finished last season and their previous records in the Premier League.

From a purely financial point to view Aston Villa are the best placed of the three clubs. Fulham and Everton face a significant financial shortfall from the current top six.

Here is another table shows the facts from 2010:

Club Turnover Gate/Match-day income Commercial Income Wage Bill TV Income
Aston Villa £91m £24m £14m £80m £52m
Everton £79m £19m £10m £54m £50m
Fulham* £77m £11m £11m £49m £42m

*Fulham also gained a further £11m as a result of being involved in the Europa League.

This really does show that it will be a big challenge to break into the top six next season for any of these clubs. Clearly the transfer spending will be significantly smaller than the big six and it will be very difficult for them to compete.

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens with the financial fair play rules and there are indications that clubs will look to spend big this summer – because it’s likely to be their last chance to do so. But let’s not make the mistake to assume that it will make a fairer financial situation for everybody. Yes, there are positives such as it should restrict massive transfer fees – but what is considered within the means of Manchester United is entirely different than what is within the means of Fulham.

The brand and the income of Manchester United is simply too strong and whatever rules come in the reality is the team will always make huge amounts of income and be able to spend significant amount of money in the transfer market and let’s keep in the mind they already have a superb squad and facilities.

With the possible exception of Aston Villa the teams out of the top six cannot hope to compete on a financial basis. So their best hope of putting together a challenge is by playing the game smart. First of all that means having a top quality manager who will build the team in the right way, but will also not have problems from the board interfering with transfer policy.

Next investing in the youth system is going be very important to develop future star players and giving them the best chance of developing. So it will be important to both invest in the best facilities but also develop a world-wide youth scouting set-up to try and find the very best youngsters and get them into the youth set-up; a policy that will be useful to do anyway to help satisfy some of those home-grown rules.

However, even by doing that it is still going to be very difficult because of the financial gulf and also the bigger clubs may also look to implement similar ideas and may have the advantage of also being able to bring in big-money signings. But the other problem that smaller clubs are going to have is keeping the squad together, which is an important part of the strategy; If players must be sold then the money will need to be reinvested into the team to continue the progression.

By doing these things then the likes of Fulham may have a chance but you have to feel it is a fairly slim one.

* Financial information courtesy of David Conn’s article -In sickness and in wealth: a guide to the latest accounts at England’s top clubs – click here to view

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