Does the manner of promotion tell us how well they will do in the Premier League?

Reading FC playersAfter such a strong finish to their Championship title winning season last year, Reading go into Christmas bottom of the Premier League, six points adrift of safety and without a win in seven games.

It is many people’s perception that newly promoted sides tend to struggle in the top-flight immediately after being promoted and, if they do manage to survive in their first season, it will be a case of ‘second season syndrome’ the following campaign.

However, only six sides have suffered from second season syndrome since the Premier League began, which pretty much puts to bed any talk of second season syndrome being something that regularly claims the victims of newly promoted sides. That could become seven, however, with QPR already starting relegation straight in the face this season.

There’s always debate on what exactly is the best way to get promoted to the Premier League. Is it best to win the league, come second or earn promotion via the play-offs? Does the way teams are promoted give them a real idea of how they’re going to fare in the top-flight? The statistics don’t particularly make interesting reading and go some way in suggesting that the way in which a team comes up has no bearing on how successful they will be the following season.

Firstly, if you take the teams that come up as champions, 13 of the overall 20 survived their first season, with just five of those enjoying a top-half finish. Seven have suffered an immediate return to the Championship/First Division.

The promoted league runners-up doesn’t particularly enjoy an easier ride and just 11 out of the 19 (the 1995/1996 season saw just two newly promoted teams because of the change in the amount of teams in the league) have stayed up, with eight going straight back down and only five finishing in the top half.

The play-off winners, contrary to popular belief, are, according to the statistics, the most likely to go straight back down with 11 play-off winning teams only lasting one season back in the promised land.

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In fact, looking back on the statistics, it is actually more likely that a newly promoted side will finish mid-table after coming up. Aside from the teams that have finished in the top-half, four champions, two runners-up and two play-off winners have only managed to survive after a nail biting relegation battle in their first season. The others have enjoyed mid-table mediocrity, which is what every newly promoted side would be pleased with.

So the stats don’t really tell us what we might expect, while they also clear up the idea that play-off winners are the more likely to impress in their first season up than the two automatically promoted sides. It’s almost the opposite, but with nothing really standing out in the history books no teams should take the manner in which they were promoted and use it as a guideline for the following year.

Everyone likes to end the season as league champions while going up via the play-offs and a historic win at Wembley (or the Millennium Stadium) are memories fans will treasure forever but they, in fact, have no bearing on the following season.

In a game that is pretty much ruled by finance, newly promoted sides are under more and more pressure to spend money in order to compete at the highest level. Of this season’s newly promoted sides in the Premier League, Southampton were the biggest spenders in the summer (£ 30million), while West Ham splashed out £20million and Reading only paid £6million to strengthen their squad. West Ham have so far exceeded expectations and are 12th, while Southampton and Reading in particular are both caught up in a relegation battle half way through the season.

With Southampton spending so much money but not having results to reflect that, you feel it is a lack of Premier League experience that has counted against them so far this season, while Reading’s failure to spend a great deal of money to improve their side means they are languishing at the bottom of the table. Many would argue that the size of a club like West Ham and the talent/experience they already had there meant they would survive comfortably, although others would happily disagree.

We are all aware that clubs must spend money in order to compete and remain in the Premier League but, despite what people claim and believe, the way in which a side is promoted doesn’t have much to do with how well they do in their first season. For me, it is as much to do about spending money and experience as it does about the manner of promotion.

If Reading fans believe in the myth then they have a 65% of staying up, Southampton have a 58% chance and West Ham won’t be pleased with the 45% chance they might have. However, if you believe in fact then  all the current table does is reflect the amount of experience, talent and expenditure each of the promoted teams have.

What do you think? Should clubs use the manner in which they promoted as a guideline of how well they will do in the Premier League, or does money, experience and talent have more to do with being able to survive in the top-flight?


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