By Tony Attwood
According to the general view, what is happening at Chelsea is a quirk, an oddity, a one-off. Normal service resumes soon. Chelsea have spent over £700,000,000 on transfer fees and had undoubted success both in Europe and at home, including of course being the current champions of England. And they are having a bad time. The general view is, it will end soon and they will scamper up the table, or they will bring in a new manager and they will scamper up the table, or they will buy a lot more referees and scamper… well you get the point. By and large it involves rising back up the table.
But slowly an alternative view is being expressed. A view that remembers that even when Man U were by far the richest team in the country, they were relegated. Indeed if you have been following the series on the Arsenal History site about Arsenal in the 1970s you will be aware of it as we published the league table for December 1972 this week. Man U were very much bottom.
Money, to everyone’s utter surprise, doesn’t buy success. It can help, that is true, but it doesn’t buy success automatically. If it did Man City would be so far ahead of everyone else in the league it wouldn’t be worth playing.
Of course there are other sides of the coin. In the 1972/3 season that we are covering at the moment on the history site Norwich powered their way to the upper echelons and beat Arsenal twice at Highbury in one season, once in the league cup 0-3, and once in the league 2-3. After Christmas however it all went a bit wrong, and in the end they only just avoiding relegation. Arsenal on the other hand came second.
As you may recall we’ve been publishing the league tables this season with details of how much money each team spent this last summer and how much they have spent over the past five years (in both cases reporting just the nett spend to give a fairer picture). Spending money can help, but is absolutely no guarantee of success.
This season even some of the more lunatic newspapers have recognised that spending money isn’t everything – the Independent today for example examines “How the 11 forwards let go by Louis van Gaal are currently performing” and finds that some of the flops at Man U are doing rather well, while others clearly were never any good in the first place. There is also talk about how Schweinsteiger wasn’t worth the money. Good job all that stuff about us buying him wasn’t true then.
The Mail today goes another way with the headline, “Why elite clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool look at Chelsea and shudder: ‘It could be us next’.”
They don’t mention the incredible achievement of Arsenal in staying at the top for so long – both in terms of being a first division club since 1919 when the league was expanded, and in terms of the years and years of being in the top four in England.
But they do report that Manchester United made it into the top two for eight years running and then ended up seventh. Liverpool have finished sixth or lower in five of the last six seasons. Chelsea finished outside the top two just once in eight seasons, then came sixth. But no contrast with Arsenal. Funny that.
If there is anything to be learned from this it is that momentum is important – being there, staying there. However a slip can happen any time; Arsenal are the oddities in all this, keeping the run going for so long – and of course building a stadium and paying for it out of their own money, while doing so.
But this is not quite the same as the position of Leicester. They are doing better than Norwich in 1972/3, but the point about Leicester is that over the years other clubs have pushed their way into the top four for a while, only to come unstuck near the end.
Just look at this league table from 9 December 2000
Leicester were third, and yes a fair way off the lead, but even so, this was Leicester up there with the big boys, above Liverpool who in those days were still considered to be an important club. Leicester finished the season in 13th.
That season Ipswich finished fifth and were talking all about Europe. The following season they were relegated. Last season Southampton were being talked about as Champions League contenders, and even this season we have had a lot of talk (now safely pushed under the carpet) about West Ham breaking into the top four.
So when the Mail says, “The new threat comes from a rump of previously middle or low-ranking Premier League clubs,” they are talking through their arses as usual. This isn’t a new scenario.
They go on, “Leicester, West Ham, Everton, Crystal Palace, Stoke City — not league winners, maybe, but capable of claiming one of the Champions League places? Why not?”
The answer is because they don’t have the long term continuity of success and they don’t have the in-depth resources of youth players, a solid set of reserves and the experience of facing the pressure near the end of the season.
In 2013/14 it was Liverpool who broke into the top four and Everton who came fifth. In 2012/13 West Brom were fifth in December. Yes it is true none of these clubs were actually top like Leicester, but they all suffered in the same way. They have money – lots of money in fact because of the TV deals – but not as much as the big clubs. And they don’t have the experience.
Leicester now play Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City and if they are still in the top two after that I will have to reconsider, but I don’t think the evidence is there yet.
There is also the point about where Leicester are in the injury league
|9||West Ham United||5|
|20||West Bromwich Albion||2|
Yes, some clubs do go through the whole season with a low score – but not many, and those injuries can come at any time. Man U have a lot at the moment – and the Independent with its “players that United let go” story is being misleading as usual. You can only make a guess at how many players you will have out of the team at any one time, and which players they will be. You can’t buy a series of replica squads just in case. Players just won’t come on an “in case someone gets injured” basis.
It does however raise the question of who to support when Leicester play Chelsea. I still think Leicester will slip up in 2016 and so I’m supporting anyone who can give Chelsea yet another knock about. Chelsea’s approach to refereeing, to the loan system, to stewarding, to racism, and just about anything else, makes me support anyone against them – except Man City where in my most evil moments I hope for a riot by players and the sort of punishment that the League thought it a good idea to dish out to Arsenal in the Graham era for a bit of pushing and shoving. Failing that a series of non-life threatening injuries and a 0-0 draw.
The Daily Mail has however done me a good turn, by saving me the trouble of looking up one set of data. It tells us, “Over the last 10 years of the Premier League, the highest finish of any team residing in 14th place on December 8 has been 10th.”
This accords with the story we ran a couple of months ago, looking at how the table after a quarter of the season relates to the final table over the last few years. A few clubs move more than a couple of positions – but not many. Taking that same approach (blimey did they read our piece???) the Mail does the same analysis for their one selected season: “three teams rose to 10th, one came 12th, the rest dropped lower, two were relegated.”
And there is that old Untold point – that just because team A wants a player team B doesn’t have to sell him. It happened to Chelsea in the summer and they were rather surprised that Everton didn’t have a breaking point. Turns out all they had to do (and WBA did the same) is tell the agent to go away and play with some other toys.
If there is a shift in things happening it is that. I am not so sure that the rise of Leicester is a shift in power, but the collapse of Chelsea might make a few money mad owners think again.
The Untold Books
Woolwich Arsenal the club that changed football, is now available on Kindle at £9.99. For more details and to buy a copyplease click here or go to Amazon Kindle and search forWoolwich Arsenal.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal
- The Arsenal Yankee By Danny Karbassiyoon
- Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970. By John Sowman. Introduction by Bob Wilson.
9 December 1975: Arsenal 2 Feyenoord 1 Peter Storey Testimonial. It is said that the follow-up celebration in Storey’s pub lasted two days and included a range of interesting guests.
9 December 2011: Arsenal History Society’s suggestion made to Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis in a discussion on Arsenalisation finally came to life: the first three statues were unveiled including the requested statue of Chapman facing the ground from the south bridge.