Is the Premier League boring?

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Well, I’ll save you reading all this by stating first off that “yes, it bloody is”. Kevin Keegan‘s been raked over the coals for his comment on this “most boring, but great” league. Thing is, he’s spot on the money.

Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, says that’s nonsense as it’s the most-watched league in the world. But that doesn’t make it exciting. Eastenders is the most-watched soap on TV and it’s a load of shit as well. The reason it’s the most watched is for the teams at the top end. It’s not the league that’s watched worldwide, it’s ManUre, Arsenal, Chelski and Liverpool… the continual top 4.

His argument that “the numbers tell you it is the most exciting” falls down when you break those numbers down into what teams are being watched and why. ManUre fans don’t watch because they find it exciting – they watch because they know they’ve got a good chance of winning. And, this season, people will have watched them because they’ve played excellent football. Give more teams a chance of getting into the top end of the table and the League would be more exciting. Presently, it’s most exciting to ManUre, Chelski and Arsenal fans. End of.

Honestly, outside of actual fans of the teams, who “worldwide” is going to watch Fulham v Man City? Or care where they end up? ManUre, for whatever reason, have a massive worldwide following. People watch their games and – despite never having been to Manchester (fair enough as the team aren’t from the city either) – genuinely care whether they win the title or not. And, in all fairness, each season they have a chance to do so. So it’s exciting for them.

But is it genuinely exciting for roughly 12 of the remaining 16 teams? Sure, two or three will maybe push for that fourth spot. A couple will battle for the 5th place UEFA spot. Someone like Derby will be humiliated all season. There’ll be the occasional local derby to raise blood pressure. But overall is the entire league more exciting that, say, the Dutch one?

Some figures for you. In the last five seasons the same four teams have finished in the top four every year bar one (Everton replacing Liverpool). In the Dutch Eredivisie, six different teams have occupied their top four. The top two seem concrete, but those spots underneath are hard fought for and generally a lot closer than the English equivalents.
The Bundesliga, now in it’s fifth season, has had seven different top-4 teams and three different champions. Spain’s La Liga has had nine teams up there. France’s Ligue 1 has had twelve. In most cases, there does seem to be a runaway team or pair of teams that everyone plays catch-up with though not always the same one each season. The Russian Premier League top four finishers number seven in the last five years.
A huge part of the problem is money. Teams which finish top get a huge pile of cash (especially in the EPL). They can buy better players, get into European competition and attract more better players. Which means they win more. And can buy even more of the better players.
To break into this loop, you need luck. A huge bankroll from a Russian oil billionaire worked for Chelski, though – worryingly for them – it looks like he’s getting bored. Liverpool’s American takeover seems to have done them more harm than good. Man City have been bought by an idiot who’s sacking the best manager they’ve had in years because his ego is more important than the club. Arsenal have their place on merit alone, as do ManUre. Both built good squads, kept managers on long-term and had this all in place around the time the Premiership kicked into gear.
Breaking into that top four is incredibly hard. It’s as much theirs to lose as anyone else’s to gain. Look at other sports where they have wage caps, spending limits and drafts. The Australian Football League has had 3 different “ladder-toppers” and 4 different Grand Final winners in five seasons. The NFL – four different winners out of eight different finalists in five years. I admit that both of these leagues work differently to a “pure” league like the Premiership but just look at the spread of teams who do well at the end of the season. Realistically, nobody could predict what four teams would be in the semi-finals for the Superbowl at the start of the season.

Short of the top teams going bankrupt or the manager having a shitter, there’s no way in for the other teams. Who cares about your league position if you know, realistically by game 10, that you’re going to finish somewhere between 7th and 15th? Each game may be exciting on its own merits, but the League sure as hell isn’t.

The thing is, what can be done? It’s too late to put wage capping in place. European law won’t allow us to restrict players to national or regional birth only so bang goes the “pride” aspect. The rich clubs are already stupidly rich, the poor clubs are already struggling. So many have faced financial problems for various reasons (low crowds, trying to buy success, fans being priced out) that the game’s dying in the upper leagues.

I don’t have a solution that would ever be accepted by the top clubs – including Newcastle. Frankly, if I didn’t follow a team that was in the Premiership, I’d not give a damn about the League. The Championship (old Second Division) was much more interesting this year.