Before I offend anyone, let me first tackle the use of the word core. Core by definition is ‘the part of something that is central to its existence or character.’ Therefore these are the teams that have made the English Premier League the toughest and most entertaining league in the world, broadcast to a global audience of billions of people.

xoxa1-3The English Premier League as we know it today essentially began in 1992 and the first title went to Manchester United. The club would continue to dominate this new format for many years under the guidance of the sage of management – Sir Alex Ferguson. The EPL era also coincided with increased levels of professionalism in the sport of football as a whole and the combination of both had contributed to the product we now see on our various screens, be it Television, Mobile Phones, Tablets, PC’s, Laptops, every weekend.

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Consistently over the period of the EPL, the same sides have monopolized the top 4 positions. So much so that they have commonly become known as ‘The Big Four’. Manchester United with 13 EPL titles followed by Chelsea with 4, Arsenal with 3 and Liverpool with 0 titles but consistently over this period finishing in the Top 4. The modern day Big 4 will probably exclude Liverpool and include Manchester City with their 2 EPL titles under the ownership of Mega-Rich Sheik Al Mansour.

Players-with-Most-Red-Cards-in-premier-league-historyI’m probably opening a bag of worms with this next part but the EPL is generally regarded as being the most competitive, toughest and most entertaining league because on any given day the team in 20th can beat the team setting the pace at the top of the league. We’ve seen this happen on many occasions over the past 15-20 years. The match attending fans seem to thrive on this phenomenon they term a ‘Giant Killing Feat’, we even see it in cup competitions such as the FA Cup and League Cup where teams in the lower divisions wait the entire year for their ‘final’, that one game in the season when MK Dons can welcome the Mighty Manchester United and their team assembled with millions of pounds into their 20000 seater stadium and beat them. We saw this happen in last seasons’ Carling Cup when MK Dons humiliated Manchester United 4-0 and the atmosphere was electric unless you’re a united supporter. This kind of result simply doesn’t happen in Spain’s La Liga or Germany’s Bundesliga or Italy’s Serie A.

“The true measure of any new comer into the league was always, “Can He Do It On A Cold Winter Night At The Britannia””

Another reason, and this goes back to the title of the article, that the EPL has managed to stay as competitive as it is, is that the main source of income has always been distributed evenly. I use the word ‘evenly’ relatively because of course the team finishing 1st will get more money than the 3 relegated sides, however the scales are apportioned appropriately, whereas in Spain 80% of the TV Rights are distributed between 2 clubs (I don’t have to say which clubs those are) and the other 18 teams must fight over the remaining 20%. No football lover enjoys seeing scores of 5-0 and 8-1 and 10-2 every weekend, sport is about competition and although Real Madrid and Barcelona are currently miles ahead of what the best EPL teams have to offer the top 2 positions are decided before a ball is kicked. From 2004 Real Madrid and Barcelona shared every title available until Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side ended this trend in 2014. 10 years of domination and to further emphasise the point of domination, Real Madrid have won 3 titles in that time to Barcelona’s 6. In the same period, Manchester United have won 5 titles, Chelsea have won 3 and Manchester City 2 so there has been more diversity.

originalThe latest TV rights deal signed by the EPL with BT Sport and Sky was a whopping 5 Billion. Not in rands or naira but UK Pound Sterling. This was a 70% increase on the previous deal, which amounted to 3 Billion Pounds. This has allowed clubs in mid-table and the lower end of the table to “close the gap” to the big four (or six these days if you include City and Spurs). These teams are able to compete for players that were previously outside of their financial capabilities. This explains for instance why Stoke City, renowned for their long ball rough house tactics, have been able to recruit ball players such as Marco Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri. These 3 players failed to make it at Inter Milan, Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively but Stoke had the financial muscle to convince them that they can rehabilitate their floundering careers at the Britannia. The true measure of any new comer into the league was always “Can He Do It On A Cold Winter Night At The Britannia” because that environment was like a cauldron you needed to get through the countless long balls, long throws, battering from Stokes physical defenders and attackers (yes their attackers were physical as well) but the new money has changed that. Stoke are playing some very good technical football that’s easier on the eye than say – LVG’s Manchester United. Not for a lack of offers as well but Stoke became a realistic option because financially they could make those deals happen as well as guarantee first team football for these 3 players. Everton were able to pay 28 Million Pounds for Romelu Lukaku as well as rebuff Chelsea’s advances for John Stones over the past summer rejecting bids of up to 38 Million Pounds for what was then a “rookie” defender with lots of potential. “Money can’t buy you Stones” the fans sang proudly as Everton smashed Chelsea 3-1. So that’s one side of it.

“Manchester City have never gone beyond the Quarter Finals despite investing nearly a Billion Pounds in talent since the clubs acquisition by the oil sheiks”

7176The additional income from TV broadcasters has seemingly had an adverse effect on the traditional big four of the EPL. As the money has continued to come in, the performances of English clubs in the UEFA Champions League and other European competitions seems to have declined. One would expect that with more money flowing in the Premier League, all clubs would be able to compete for the top talents globally but the lack of frugality has meant that heaps of money has exchanged hands but is not being spent wisely. This is particularly evident with Manchester United and Liverpool who have spent a combined 550 Million Pounds in the past 2 seasons but find themselves in 5th and 7th respectively. You could probably pick no more than 3 World Class players from both clubs combined and after those kind of spends its totally unacceptable. Both clubs essentially made a brief return to the Champions League while failing to make it past the groups stages in groups that are generally regarded as being ‘favourable’. Chelsea will almost definitely miss out on next season’s competition unless they can somehow win this season’s competition, which is highly unlikely on current form. Arsenal have never won the Champions League and will face Barcelona AGAIN in the Round Of 16 so that’s another year the club will not be winning the coveted Big Ears trophy.

IMG_5994-0.jpgChelsea in Mourinho’s second stint can at least hold their heads up high as they’ve balanced the books. That’s what the accountants will tell you at least, their fans will point to Kevin De Bruynes’ productivity at Manchester City, Romelu Lukaku’s goals at Everton, Petr Cech’s points saving (pun intended) at Arsenal and condemn their club for letting these players go when they are struggling for creativity and goals, further exacerbated by the long term injury of Thibault Courtois. You can never win in football these days it seems. Manchester City have never gone beyond the Quarter Finals despite investing nearly a Billion Pounds in talent since the clubs acquisition by the oil sheiks and seem to find new and wonderful ways of losing to clubs with a 10th of their budget such as Gladbach and Ajax Amsterdam. All in all, the performance of English clubs in Europes top club competitions is diabolical and it all goes back to bad player acquisition and long term planning. The top clubs in England have stopped looking for that great deal, they’ve stopped trying to develop their own players in the search for short term success – because that’s what Real Madrid do isn’t it? Yes, but their on-field success over the past decade barely justifies the approach. It is now the clubs who are built on long term planning principles that are benefitting from the additional income, such as Arsenal that are reaping the rewards. Leicester City signed this seasons sensations Riyaad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy for a combined total of 1.4 Million Pounds. Marouane Fellaini cost Manchester United 28 Million Pounds, Adam Lallana cost Liverpool 25 Million Pounds, Pedro cost Chelsea 21 Million Pounds but Vardy and Mahrez combined have scored more goals and influenced more games for table topping Leicester City this half season than those multi million pound signings by the big clubs have for their respective clubs.

This season more than any other has left the traditional big clubs of England with their pants down, they have been exposed by mid and lower table clubs in every way possible. It’s now the end of January and the top 4 excludes Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. It is still possible for Manchester United and Liverpool to make Top 4 of course but it requires a change in fortunes especially for the most successful club in English Premier League history to get back into the Champions League. How ironic that the best run club commercially is now floundering hopelessly on the field. More money more problems they say!

“Andile Qokweni is hoping to be a regular contributor on the Grit Sports website, he is an expert on arm-chair critic and spends most of his free time watching sport on his couch and forcing his opinions on others.”