1:34pm Wednesday 14th November 2012
By James Hoxey
And then there were three...
Let's be honest, the Premier League title is a three horse race, and you'd be either hopelssly optimistic or in denial - in other words a Liverpool fan - if you claimed otherwise.
Even performing badly, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea are significantly better than the rest of the league.
One of these teams will take the title - that much is certain - so the real competition lies in scratching about for that much-coveted fourth place that promises untold riches and Champions League football next year.
But is this really what we want from our elite footballing competition in this country?
Even a club steeped in tradition and silverware such as Liverpool, who have in Luis Suarez a striker who would walk into any team in the world (and the world's number one warmer of benches in £90k-a-week Joe Cole), can only dream of finishing in the top six.
According Reds manager, Brendan Rogers, Liverpool need significant investment before even attempting to bridge the ever-widening gap between themselves and the pace setters at the top of the table.
This, after the club’s American owners forked out £100m for players just over a year ago.
If I were them I would hesitate in handing over another blank cheque to a manager that may not be in the dugout this time next year, only for another coach to issue the exact-same demands and the team be no better off in the league.
It all comes down to a simple question: does money really buy you success?
The answer, sadly, is invariably ‘Yes’.
But significant, sustained investment is needed along with an understanding that it still doesn’t guarantee an immediate return, if there’s to be a return at all.
Chelski got lucky early on in their transformation because non-one else was spending the kind of money they were.
But it has taken the club a decade to get back on something approaching a sound financial footing, and that was purely a result of their - rather fortunate - Champions League triumph.
When the money-men behind Manchester City get bored with their play-thing, they’ll turn their attention to horse racing or high-stakes tiddlywinks or whatever else billionaire oligarchs get up to in their spare time, rendering the blue half of Manchester impotent for the next fifty years, banished to the annals of history under the heading: ‘Teams that spent big, but were still rubbish.’
A cursory glance around Europe illustrates the scale of the problem, which even the new FIFA Financial Fair Play regulations cannot solve.
In France, Paris Saint Germain’s new Qatari owners have spent £143 million on players this summer; Russia’s Zenit St Petersburg splurged over £60 million on two players in August ,and on the other side of the country Anzhi currently boast the world’s top earner in Samuel Eto.
In Spain, Real Madrid mortgaged the future of the club with a £225 million pound shopping spree a few years ago, the result of which is one Spanish Cup and a La Liga title, plus one extremely delicate superstar whose ego needs more massaging than the rest of the first team squad after a home game.
Not exactly a roaring success for a club who were already one of two perennial favourites for every title in Spain.
With so much money being spent irrespective of the parlous state of the world’s economy, all in the vein hope of landing the top trophy in Europe, it won’t be long before it takes a guaranteed spend of £100 million to even get to the qualifying rounds of the competition.
And who will the clubs turn to to bail them out when it all goes wrong? The long suffering fans who already pay through the nose just to catch a glimpse of a bunch of over-paid primadonnas making a mockery of a club they don’t care about.
The glimmer of light of the end of the tunnel can be found in the ‘evolution not revolution’ model of success currently employed by teams like Barcelona and Everton.
Iniesta, Xavi and Messi cost the Catalan club a combined total of absolutely nothing, whilst Everton manager David Moyes has worked on a shoestring budget since 2002.
He has constantly over-achieved in a climate dominated by big bucks and big salaries, and there’s a lesson to be learned in there somewhere.
Hopefully one day we’ll see a club able to follow up on the exploits of the late, great Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest and win something the old-fashioned way.
Unfortunately, I can’t see that happening for a long, long time.
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