The Premier League has changed. The influx of money from TV rights in recent years has levelled the playing field. Leicester City have shaken up the natural order by storming to the top of the table this season and they will only be the first. The days of the established top four dominance are over, the divide between the 20 clubs will only get smaller and the competition will only increase.
This narrowing of the gap means that every Premier League club is shopping in the same market. Sure, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea etc. can still go out and spend £50m, £60m for the very top talent, but such talent is rarely available and the clubs who possess such talent are almost always unwilling to sell. That means those clubs have to drop their sights a little and invariably find themselves shopping in the £15-£25m bracket of player – a bracket that almost every Premier League club can now afford to browse in.
Take Stoke City as an example. They have broken, no smashed, their club transfer record in the last two windows. They picked up Xherdan Shaqiri, a 23-year-old renowned talent, for around £12.5m last summer. They then broke that record again to bring in another well-known talent in Giannelli Imbula for £18m. These were both players that you would have expected to sign for the established ‘top clubs’ but Stoke, a mid-table Premier League side were able to attract two top talents.
That just serves as an example of the changing landscape of England’s top-flight. Every club, from 1st to 20th is shopping in the same market. Similarly, where the top talents of the clubs at the mid to lower end of the Premier League were previously easy pickings for the big boys, now those clubs can afford to resist approaches for their players no matter how much money is thrown their way – as we saw with Everton’s rebuttal of Chelsea’s many bids for John Stones last summer.
Money is key in football, it’s a well known fact. It used to be that those who have it dominated the league and locked out the top four places year after year. But now everyone has a fair chunk of the pie and it has placed extra importance on the way those budgets are handled and the ability of the managers to get the best out of their squads.
Look at the mismanagement of resources at Manchester United over the last couple of seasons. Louis van Gaal has spent almost £300m and his side are still struggling to even make it into the top four. Similarly, the money Liverpool received for Luis Suarez was invested poorly by Brendan Rodgers and set the club back significantly as a result. Now that every club can afford to spend more on transfers and the field has been levelled, those clubs who invest unwisely in the market are paying a much heavier price.
Man management is an art and those coaches who can drag every inch of talent out of their squad are worth their weight in gold. We are now entering a period where financial clout isn’t enough to make you dominate the Premier League and therefore greater stock is being placed on managerial ability.
Leicester’s fairytale rise this season is brilliant for football. It is brilliant because nobody expected it but also because it has given hope to every top-flight club that if they invest widely and appoint a manager who can unite the squad and make the team greater than the sum of their parts, they too can achieve something remarkable. They spent money, but not crazy amounts of it. What they did do what invest shrewdly in the likes of N’Golo Kante and Shinji Okazaki. The rest has been down to the sensational management of Claudio Ranieri, who has got the best out of £1.5m or less signings Jamie Vardy, Riyadh Mahrez and Kasper Schmeichel to name but a few.
It’s the same story right down the league this season. Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham has put faith in young British talent such as Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Harry Kane and has made Spurs title contenders as a result. Slaven Bilic at West Ham picked up arguably the signing of the season in Dimitri Payet for £11m and has instilled a determination and an energy which has West Ham competing for a top four place. Even newly-promoted sides Bournemouth and Watford have shown the value of terrific managerial performances. Eddie Howe has a footballing philosophy and has stayed true to that, getting the Cherries to play attacking, attractive football and believed in their talents. As such, they have survived comfortably. Similarly at Watford, Quique Sanchez-Flores has trusted the players that got them promoted and has been rewarded handsomely for that.
Money is no longer the deciding factor that it was in the Premier League. Shrewd dealings in the transfer market and a managerial performance are now even more paramount if you want success. The likes of the established ‘big clubs’ Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have underachieved this season due to unwise investment and poor management, allowing Leicester, West Ham and others to steal a march. The levelling of the playing field places greater importance of the performance of the manager and we are seeing some flourish under that pressure while others have demonstrated their deficiencies.
The modern Premier League is providing a bigger challenge to the main men than ever before, and that is brilliant for football.
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