English club football competition earned the reputation it enjoys today because it was seen as one of the most evenly balanced in football.
After the English Football League’s partnership with Sky Sports in the 1990s, English football amassed a following that rivalled the Italian Serie A, the most popular league at the time, and surpassed it.
In 2022, the English game is still very popular with the Premier League leading the way. The top-flight has the most reach of any club football league across the globe, the most sponsorships, and the biggest collection of football superstars in the world.
But it has been dominated by one team for the better part of a decade – Manchester City.
Despite the reach, status and football on display in the Premier League, it fits the description of ‘farmer’s league’, the banter name given to top-flight leagues which have become the stooge of a single club.
Manchester City have become the landlords of the Premier League and the other clubs are its farmers. They have won four of the last five league titles and six of the last ten. This dominance has pleased fans of the club as well as neutrals because they have done it while playing impeccable football.
But to prevent the league from becoming like the German Bundesliga where Bayern Munich rules supreme with their 31 league titles over the next team with five, the other Premier League clubs must take the following steps.
Step 1 – Get some more money into their clubs
This goes without saying but at the same time, it creates a dichotomy of ethical spending in football which has become the Premier League’s bane in recent times and a story for another day.
Man City’s dominance began not when they were taken over by the United Arab Emirates government-backed Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited, but in 2007 when former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra acquired the club through his business, UK Sports Investments Limited.
The spending sprees began with both owners who came in within a year of each other and soon, they were able to ‘buy the league’ with amazing players who cost an arm and a leg that other clubs did not have to give.
Pep Guardiola has been an amazing manager but it is hard to mention his success without mentioning the money City spent in the build-up to his employment as manager, and after. So for any club who wants to compete on level ground with City, the truth is that they need to get their money up.
Step 2 – Spend wisely and on quality
It is one thing to increase the funding of a club. It is another to actually spend wisely on players and staff who are worth it.
Manchester City have done both excellently since being taken over by Abu Dhabi and handed over to their sports division, City Football Group.
They brought in brilliant backroom staff including scouts, physios, and everyone who knows how to work for a winning football club. They followed this up with the appointment of a brilliant tactician in Roberto Mancini who won them their first Premier League title and their third top-flight title overall in 2011/12 with astute signings including Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Edin Dzeko and so on.
Manuel Pellegrini came in after Mancini left and won another Premier League title after making astute signings, before leaving the role for Pep Guardiola to step in who, like Arsene Wenger before him, forever changed the face of English football.
The Cityzens may have spent a premium on these players, managers and staff but the results are there for all to see. Every single acquisition since the takeover of the club by Abu Dhabi in 2008 has been useful to the side. When they were no longer useful, they were moved on and replaced with more useful ones.
Bring actual football nerds into your club and see it flourish – I’m talking to you, Manchester United.
Step 3 – Invest in the squad depth
Fans will tell you that City is a team with two complete starting XI teams. They are right, mostly.
Those in the reserves of the club can form an XI that can hold their own and even possibly finish second to Guardiola’s preferred starters if they were their own team. This is simply because City spent their money to acquire talent and not just marquee names.
Marquee names are good for a club because of marketing as well as the prospect of easy adaptation. A finished product integrates more easily into a team than one that possesses talent but still needs a bit of coaching. City tend to go for more of the latter in the Guardiola era than the former (paying a premium for them, of course). This allows them to be shaped into what the club wants rather than having to shape the club into what the player wants.
On the flip side, it creates a dearth in talent because all the prodigies end up in one club and this is not good for football. But if the clubs who already have money or get acquired – like Newcastle United did last season – can focus on step two listed above, they will be able to identify talents early and take them to their clubs to shape them into players who will be useful in the future.
In summary, clubs need to become profitable by allowing a takeover or sealing investment deals, hiring football nerds, and investing in squad depth.
Liverpool have started on that path and look how close they have come.