How there is little room left in the Premier League for the not so super rich.
Last weekend a very rare incident occurred in the Premier League. It was lost somewhat amid manic results elsewhere, but Burnley were actually well beaten at home under Sean Dyche. A 1-3 reversal at home to Watford has seen them take just one point from six and has had a few pundits scratching their heads.
Under their likeable manager, Sean Dyche, few would have questioned whether or not Burnley could have survived this season. However this is now a changed league, and the Lancashire club may not have the right size wallet for it.
Burnley Football Club defied all odds last season by holding their own to clinch a place in European competition for the first time in two generations. Their seventh place finish was all the more impressive when you consider they were relegation favourites with an extremely modest budget.
Their work ethic and honest group of hard-working pros was encouraging to see. However, with their prudent transfer window and significant additions to their fixture congestion this season, will they still be able to compete?
The top flight is increasingly the domain of wealthy clubs. Many a Championship side are equally prepared to have a stab at big spending in order to earn a shot at the big time.
The likes of Huddersfield, Cardiff and Burnley are no doubt wonderful success stories, but are they in danger of being elbowed out by the super-rich?
Huddersfield Town are very much cut from the same cloth as Burnley. A proud northern side, working-class heritage and genuine history to be proud of.
Their survival last season was arguably as much an achievement as Burnley getting into Europe. Wagner’s squad consisted of continental journeymen and Championship quality. It was a truly motley crew.
Even the most bitter fan must have been pleased to see their successful fight against the drop. Wagner has built a hardworking side that actively engages with its fans. It’s nice to see in a game where clubs now seem intent on freezing out their hardcore local fan base.
However, no matter how enthusiastically the German bangs the drum for his club, he cannot escape the harsh reality that a wealthy duo has arrived in The Premier League with big ambition. He also has to contend with serious spending power by even the most middling of sides.
The Terriers, like The Clarets at the other side of the Pennines, will feel the heat this season as their lack of heavy investment starts to pinch. Huddersfield’s owners have not been misers though. They have spent almost £95 million over the past three transfer windows, which by their own historical standards, is massive.
By comparison, in the two years prior to their Premier League promotion, the club spent less than £5 million. Their fans should be in dreamland with that level of investment. However, this is the Premier League and the likelihood is, that the money spent on The Terrier’s squad will only be good enough to keep their squad fresh. You need to invest simply to be able to stand still and not drift ominously backwards, as Aston Villa and Sunderland fans can attest to.
With so many clubs now able to spend huge sums, you cannot help but fear for clubs like Burnley, Huddersfield and Cardiff. Even ten years ago the likes of Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan were able to scrap and survive despite a significant financial limitation.
Back then though the middling sides of the day like Everton, Fulham and West Ham were not exponentially wealthier. The more prudent spenders could survive on cut-price options and a tiny comparative spend.
Those days are long gone though. Bolton, Wigan and Blackburn have been clambered over and left behind. They are now fighting to stay in the second tier, surviving season to season, the Premier league years a fading memory for their fans.
Successful in their own right, but unable to compete consistently with the vast majority of clubs able to outspend them, Burnley, Huddersfield and Cardiff will be wary of the trap door. Yes, Sean Dyche has the elbow grease and know how, but he was able to add just three players for a combined £30 million spend. It could be a long season for them with Europe in the equation. Tired legs could be very costly at the business end of the season.
The chairmen of these proud establishments may have to settle for a season to season strategy of survival. With a manager like Sean Dyche at the helm, Burnley are in possession of their greatest modern-day manager. He is more than capable of surviving with his side this season, but he may well have his head turned by a bigger club with more financial clout. That is the precarious nature of life in The Premier League for the smaller clubs.
Ultimately, the top flight is now the playground for billionaire investors and big spenders. Long-term prospects for provincial teams with smaller budgets look to have gone full circle to the early nineties when sides like Swindon and Barnsley looked nowhere near able to compete with the big boys.
Sadly though, unlike twenty-five years ago, this is a monetary rather than a quality issue. Lamentably, success stories like Burnley look likely to fade away into the quaint corners of football history.