The conception of the Premier league is a fascinating tale of clandestine meetings, outraged outsiders and burning ambition. However, one of the most astonishing side stories of the league’s foundation is that, in a meeting room oozing with wealthy free market capitalists, something distinctly socialist was born.
Club representatives signed off on a notion for part equal share of both the domestic and foreign TV rights. That new money would, in part, be split evenly regardless of stature or standings in this new Eden for football.
From this bold egalitarianism, came an explosion of wealth that complemented the new Premier League superbly. Clubs could spend more, with the confidence that, so long as their status in the top-flight remained, healthy revenue streams would continue to flow into their coffers.
One of the side-effects of this saw the frenetic tribal landscape of English top-flight football mutate further, to become one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world.
Of course, almost every August for 20 years, everyone knew that Manchester United would usually win the title. However, it was what filled the space between late summer and late spring that made it all so captivating and so darn lovable for those watching from afar.
On any given weekend, the best sides in the land could be served one hell of a run for their money by teams who were, at best, fair-to-middling. Almost each and every fixture had to be navigated with respect and wariness by managers, even if their sides were focused on the top spots. Random upsets became as plentiful as they were memorable.
That factor of unpredictability also helped make the Premier League the global funhouse it is today. The £4.2 billion raked in from the latest foreign TV rights package, gazumped the previous deal by 30%. Today the world is hooked on Premier League football with it’s no holds barred unpredictability.
On the surface of things, at least, everything looks hunky-dory. Looks though, can be deceiving. Creeping in, behind the hectic scenes of goals, glitz and glamour is an authentic threat to this all-important characteristic of the Premier League.
At the time of writing, Newcastle United look set to build on foundations that were put in to place by a Lancashire steel magnate back in 1995. Even in the Premier League’s infancy, it was clear that it was going to take something remarkable to stop Man United running away with it.
Jack Walker though had a very simple shortcut to matching their success, in short; you simply outspend the competition.
Many modern fans point to Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea takeover in 2003 as a watershed moment. However, it was Walker before him who completely transformed the fortunes of a lesser team with astonishing wealth and seemingly limitless ambition.
Blackburn’s model was refined by Chelsea before Manchester City took it up a gear in 2008 when the wealth of a sovereign nation’s royal family re-sculpted the landscape of English football forever. Today, this is the route that Newcastle will try to go down as they look to transport their club from perennial underachievers to serial prize winners.
If – and it still remains a big if – the Premier League ratifies the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund’s already controversial takeover of Newcastle, then there is no doubt that another superpower in the league will be born, almost overnight.
Looking to emulate Manchester City and Chelsea before them, a nouveau riche Newcastle would be a force in the transfer market as they’d look to shake up the established order. No doubt, transfer records would tumble while opposition fans watch on with collective wariness at a cascade of new signings.
However, you cannot help but feel that all of the above is a little bit dated. For football fans who have grown up with the Premier League, there is a sense of been there, done that and for some, they even bought the proverbial overpriced t-shirt.
Debates raging over how organic Man City or Chelsea’s recent success is, are also starting to feel more than a little contrived and tired. No doubt the same accusations over a lack of authenticity would be thrown at Newcastle but the topic is now more than just a little tedious. Yet, so too is the story of a club on the periphery transformed by wads of cash and gargantuan wealth; such rags to riches tales have surely only got so much shelf life left in them these days.
When the only feasible way to usurp the elite is for a sugar daddy to step in, the whole set up feels mechanical and wholly predictable. It remains to be seen what impact this would have on the Premier League’s precious pillar of unpredictability
Another issue that the Premier League’s top salesmen should be cautious of, is what another Man City style takeover would do to the chasm opening up in the division.
City’s emergence as a dominant force has seen them win the last two league titles with tallies of 100 and 98 points respectively. Such staggering point tallies took the league into uncharted territory. As recently as August 2019, City had taken 49 points from a previous 51 available, equating to 16 wins from 17 games. Their superiority over almost everyone else was unquestionable. Almost, but not quite everyone.
Liverpool to have made the league’s unpredictability into something of a fallacy. Their final return of 97 points last term was the third best haul in the history of English football, behind only City who had notched the other two top slots in the proceeding seasons. The Red’s current lead of 25 points at the top is a splendid record that may well stand the test of time.
Or maybe it won’t. It may all depend on what happens at St James’s Park this summer. If Newcastle’s takeover and road map top glory go to plan; we could be looking at a similar stellar success story in the coming years. Such a scenario though would further assault the Premier League’s unpredictability, making a larger portion matches more routine, as we have seen with City and Liverpool.
The Premier League’s status in world football has been forged, in part, on the wonderful reputation, it garnered as a dog-eat-dog madhouse. That competitive balance has already been shrinking in recent years, as the top six have gotten richer and more imposing. What would another super-rich club mean for this diminishing equilibrium?
In Spain, La Liga’s top brass recently moved to end Real Madrid and Barcelona’s duopoly over broadcasting rights. A big step that was taken to emulate the Premier League’s more even keel and fair spread. It now seems though that the English model is going into a worrying reversal.
In 2017/18 the traditional top six sides took on average 2.31 points per game from matches against the other 14 sides; a figure that stood at 1.95 in 2010/11. This only further highlights the erosion of the league’s competitive nature, despite some anomalies this season.
Ultimately it was that uncertainty of the end result which helped draw in the billions from domestic and overseas markets. If fans start to disengage from a competition that is becoming more and more predictable on all fronts, then it will eventually hurt the league’s finances.
Much remains up in the air with Newcastle’s takeover, but the league’s executives should be wary if the top six swells to a super seven, or whatever the marketing gurus chose to christen it. A fragile balance remains in the league for now, but it surely cannot survive another barrage if a new superpower emerges in the North East and is unleashed mercilessly on us all.