The Premier League, that bastion of hype and hyperbole, has grown aware of its reduced status.
Self-awareness is not a trait associated with the glitz and the gilt of the Premier league. for 18 years, the top division of english football has existed in a world unencumbered by modesty, a concocted reality of showdowns and shootouts and super sundays, of relentless self-promotion, a contest conducted at the sort of decibel level more commonly associated with a stan Collymore radio phone-in. It screams for attention, demands your reverence.
Yet perhaps Britain’s only remaining boom industry is beginning to emerge from its years of hedonistic narcissism. There was a time when the Premier league styled itself the best league in the world. There had been no referendum on the subject, of course, no public vote. There hadn’t even been a Britain’s Got Talent-style audition.
now, though, those words are rarely heard. Instead, the prattle and the blurb which spews from the mouths of the Premier league’s unofficial Ministers for Propaganda – richard Keys, I’m looking at you – centres on the idea that this is the most exciting competition on the planet, more gripping than a Gloucestershire Cheese rolling contest, a swordfight and Gladiators put together.
It remains somewhat galling, yes, and it is a similarly undemocratic appointment, but it indicates that even the Premier league, that bastion of hype and hyperbole, has grown aware of its reduced status. even in the sky studios, they know that the best players in the world now play in spain. They know that the best teams in the world last year were in Italy and Germany.
and, looking at the table, they must know that excellence is in short supply in the Premier league itself. Before wednesday night’s round of fixtures, there are 10 points separating the Champions league and the relegation zone. The bulk of the league is suffering from its most pronounced concertina effect since 2002 (when just nine points separated third and 18th after 11 games). what was once a league defined by imbalance, by the impervious brilliance of the elite and the scrap for survival of the impoverished masses, has become a level playing field. everyone is middle-class now. even at the extremes, there is no great chasm of ability. Chelsea, as they proved at anfield on sunday, might look likely title-winners, but they lack the ruthless efficiency of previous years. It is a matter of some marvel that Manchester United are yet to lose a game. west Ham are not significantly worse than Blackpool, wolves have already beaten Manchester City.
To many, that is a good thing. for too long, the haves have swatted aside the have-nots. now, the likes of Bolton and Blackburn and – significantly, for it is their mutinous attitude which now pervades the division – stoke are unwilling to kneel before them. Many of the lesser lights are even, to take the cliche, approaching things in the right way. Blackpool and west Brom play attractive football. They are not just power and pace.
There can be no question that makes for a better contest. liverpool, locked in crisis for three months, might have been two points from fourth place had results gone in their favour on wednesday tonight (it didn’t).
Teams rise and fall, positions ebb and flow, and it’s all very interesting. Very exciting.
But is it any good? Does a strong competition make for a strong league? The temptation is to compare the Premier league, favourably, to spain, its natural rival. There, the annual two-horse race is already underway, as engaging but more exclusive than ever. Yet to dismiss la liga as the scottish Premier league in the sunshine is disingenuous. Villarreal, atletico Madrid, Valencia and sevilla, even Mallorca, are all good footballing sides. The league is of a high quality. There is strength in depth. Barcelona and real Madrid are just exceptional.
The more natural comparison is with the Bundesliga or serie a. There, too, no side this season appears likely to dominate, to excel. There, too, the competition is more exciting for all 20 teams. The reason? In Germany and Italy, as in england, there has been a realignment to the reality of this post-lehman world. The age of austerity has set in. The difference in spain is that real Madrid have been able to keep spending and Barcelona have been able to keep nurturing (and spending)*. football as a whole – with two notable exceptions – is levelling out. everyone is aware of their status in the new world order. It is intriguing, perhaps more so than for many years, to follow. But there is no point pretending it is as good to watch. – © The Daily Telegraph UK 2010
*City are excluded from this pet theory because they are not spending from a position of strength.