The Premier League’s ‘top four’ myth

by Sam Rider

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

The big boys league

In response to Stephen Trenery’s post suggesting that the Premier League has reverted to its boring tag as the ‘top four’ dominate everything, I felt compelled to doing some investigation.

This predominance of certain teams at the top of their leagues affects all the best competitions in Europe, without fail. Nevertheless, Liverpool are an exception. They are invariably in or about the top of the league but have failed to finish first for verging on two decades now. So why does this trend of dominance occur? It may seem a little obvious, but success breeds success. And in this day and age, that means money, ensuring they remain at the top of the table.
As the leading domestic competitions of England, Spain and Italy illustrate, there are always dominant teams that compete for the trophy who excel more than the rest and move away from the chasing pack.

In England, despite the Red Devils’ dominance, the last eight years have seen the trophy been shared more evenly between Manchester United (four), Chelsea (two) and Arsenal (two). Although these three and Liverpool are regularly at the summit of the league, the latter’s singular success coming 18 years ago suggests that their status in the top four has not been decisive. Verdict: ‘Big Three’ unless Liverpool can overtake Manchester United in the remaining two months of the season.
In Spain, the two giants of the game, Real Madrid and Barcelona have traded blows and first places by a long distance from any other team with eight a piece in the last 20 years. Teams like Sevilla, Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, who are in and around the top of the table now, have struggled to turn this position into league winning campaigns. Valencia have been unable to rediscover the champion winning form of 2004 and find themselves in mid-table. Verdict: only really a ‘Big Two’.

In Italy, Milan (six), Juventus (five) and Inter (four) have shared the spoils fairly evenly for the last 20 years. Despite Juve being relegated in 2006 for match fixing, they have restored their status as one of the top teams in Italy this season, currently sitting a few points adrift of Inter in second, with Milan not far behind. Yet the past glories for Roma, Lazio, Napoli and Sampdoria appear to be merely fleeting moments of glory and they cannot make their presence felt at the top. Verdict: dominance of the ‘Big Three’ European heavy-weights.

The global recognition of the game has gone into hyper-drive since the turn of the century, meaning that the dominant teams with the history of glorious eras have been exalted above all other teams who have not received such recognition. Therefore, financial investment from the high rollers with the biggest bank balances have come calling to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield first. The top clubs on the continent have investment from the actual government or whole communities as if they were a religious institution. AC Milan are owned by the Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi no less, and Real Madrid’s huge debts were wiped by the city itself buying their training facilities from the club at astronomical expense and then leasing it back to the club. So clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan, whose histories are steeped in unwavering glory, have likewise, been elevated to higher plains than their competition can cope with.

Ultimately, the modern game showers financial success upon the clubs whose past glories draw in the biggest crowds, the most sought after talent and the most privileged economic investment available – thereby solidifying their status at the top of the table. As a marketing goldmine, these teams have been built up as a global enterprise, crossing the boundaries between sporting recreation and lucrative business brands. Thus, they have become recognised by the companies fighting for TV rights, and the billionaires looking for global investment, finding them adorned with the corporate tag of being the ‘big’ boys of the league.
So stop complaining about this establishment of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal as the top teams in the league, if they are not at the top, it’s because they are underachieving and the best teams are not playing the best football. Realise that Liverpool are yet to be truly deserving of this title during the Premier League’s lifespan and be grateful that there are at least three teams capable of taking the top spot in England. The onus is on the other teams in the league to step up to the plate.

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  • stevie

    there’s one reason why the top 4 are the top 4 and thats because they are the best. They win the most games, they lose the least amount of games. It’s not about money because if it was then Spurs, Newcastle and even Sunderland would be there this season.

    The chasing pack have had a great chance to close the gap yet they blew it.

    Winning mentality comes plays in part in the same way Germany also make the semi finals of virtually every tournament at least.

  • Manchester United Wayne Rooney Jersey

    As a far-away (USA) Man Utd fan, I enjoy reading blogs like this.
    Maybe one day I can make it to the UK to attend a soccer game.

  • jimmy

    it’s not a game anymore !!! it’s bizzness so the top 4 are the most expensive teams around!!!!!!!!!!!! that’s why they are on the top!!!!!!!!! it’s all about cash now that’s why i now rave instead of playing or watch football

  • Nicholas Grounds

    Nice article Strider! I agree with you on some level. Certainly Liverpool have NOT done enough to solidify their spot in sky’s ‘big four’. Lets only hope the toffees can gatecrash it in the next few years!

  • Sam

    I feel I need to clarify exactly my point for any future reader. I think my loathing for the sudden inflation of the Liverpool ego clouded my argument:

    The teams in this ‘top four’ of United, Chelsea, Arsenal and to a certain extent Liverpool, are there because that is the way every European league works. It is not so much a ‘myth’ of a top four but just a way of life in football that some teams have been able to remain supreme and appear to dominate. The teams that were there or there abouts when the money from Sky and the money from the global market started pouring in (around the mid 90s), have had their successes consolidated at the top of the table. e.g. the top four, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, AC Milan, Juve, Bayern Munich, Lyon, Rangers and Celtic to name but a few.

    If anything, only the ridiculous amounts of money that City’s Sheikh Mansour have been able to conjour up will ever enable anyone else to break into the market that the top teams have established across the continent. That is why it is so tough for teams who have threatened to make it, like Everton, even Spurs and lately Villa.

    Even then, it may take quite a few years before they have the pulling power to lure the Kaka’s of this game to their stadiums.

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