When winning the league becomes a foregone conclusion

By Tony Attwood

This article continues from our previous piece: The transfer window is nearly over, so why ain’t we signed no one?

If you are a regular reader you might recall how there was a time when Untold would predict the outcome of various leagues in Europe at the start of the season.  And we got them right too – although to be fair it was far from difficult.

Now the Athletic in its daily briefing has picked up on the point.  And this is interesting because it comes just a few days after they put out a piece suggesting that “The January transfer window will close at 11pm GMT on Monday and if the past week is anything to go by, Premier League clubs have got an awful lot of work to do.”

The publication doesn’t link the two factors together – and this is something that seems to be a regular feature of football reporting these days, not just something that the Athletic doesn’t do.  Keep each bit of info isolated from every other bit so as not to confuse the reader.

But maybe there is a link.   A lot of clubs have a serious need to buy players but few are moving, plus the fact that we already know who is going to win the major leagues.

I’d add a third point to this: the prices of players have inflated dramatically in the past year, just at a time that the non-state-aided clubs and those clubs that try and live on their income, have really been struggling because of lockdowns.

Indeed on this final point, if you have been to Arsenal lately you will have noticed that most games are far from sold out.  Indeed in the upper tier for the Liverpool League Cup semi-final, with tickets priced at just £20, there were spaces all around.

So what is it that links these factors together?

Lots of clubs desperately need new players, very few transfers are happening, prices insanely high, and with “four months remaining in most European domestic leagues, but the big titles are largely already decided.” (The Athletic).

In fact, as The Athletic article says, this business of us knowing who is going to win the league “by the turn of the year” is not new.  Indeed for several years we were making annual predictions at the start of the season and getting them right  Thus “tense run-ins are largely a thing of the past.”

So we know that PSG will win the league in France.  Bayern Munich will win the league in Germany.  Manchester City will win the Premier League.   Real Madrid will win in Spain.

Fractionally less certain but still highly likely, Inter Milan will win in Italy.  The only one of the leagues that we used to predict (before the whole process got so boring we stopped) is Scotland, where just four points separate Rangers in first from Celtic in second – and Celtic have a better goal difference.

Of course we have had good runs for teams in England before.   Arsenal won the league five times from 1931 to 1938.  Liverpool won it six times from 1976 to 1986.  Manchester United won the league eight times from 1993 to 2003.   And if this season continues as most of us expect Manchester City will have won it four times from 2018 to 2022.

Now you may know that Arsenal were known as the Bank of England club in the 1930s, but this was just a jibe thrown at the club by newspapers – as much of the success was not due to money but radical transformations of the way in which the game could be played, which I am not sure is always the case these days.   As we know Manchester United’s success was very much something created by one manager – once he left, the magic has gone with the club not winning the league since 2013.

But the current situation is different for it is based on not just on money and a manager, but on having so much money that no one else in the league can get near the players.  Hence the dramatic rise in prices, for these prices are aimed basically at the oil-rich or multibillionaire-rich clubs.

The only way this can ever be dealt with is through a financial fair play system that really does work – for once utter dominance is created, as in Spain and Germany for example, it is nigh on impossible for it to end.

By this I am not suggesting Bayern Munich, for example, have done anything amiss, it is just that their prolonged success has reduced the competitiveness of that league.

Thus the reasons for single club dominance might be different in different leagues, but the outcome is the same.   Fewer players move, because most clubs are priced out of the market and so the same team wins the league over and over again. 

Which makes the whole thing a bit less interesting.

12 Replies to “When winning the league becomes a foregone conclusion”

  1. I’ve been saying for years and years that winning the premier league is down to money above all else and often as not have been told the link between spending and trophies is tenuous at best and at worst doesn’t actually exist.

    Okay you can spend fortunes and NOT win the premier if you keep employing the wrong manager. See Man Utd. But almost without exception endlessly spending lots and lots of money means winning trophies, especially titles.

    These are the facts about money and winning the Premier League since our last title success in season ’03/’04, which oddly enough coincides almost exactly with the arrival of Abramovic at Chelsea.

    Before we start Man Utd are a very rich club and have been spending lots of money for years and are a ‘mega’ spender. The thing is though, they did actually earn their money, so respect where respect is due.

    But then we have the ones that didn’t. Abramovic arrived and Chelsea bought their first title in ’04/’05. Amazing for a club that had not seen Hyde nor Hair of a title for 50 years and had actually been sold for ONE POUND not that long ago. Over the next 6 years Chelsea bought 2 more titles and Man utd won 4.

    The 2 biggest spenders, by quite some distance, won all 7 titles.

    The Mansours then rocked up at City’s decrepit old ground and that saw the total dominance of Man Utd and Chelsea come to an end. City bought their first trophy in ’11/’12 and have gone on to buy another 5 (including this season?) meaning they have bought 6 of the last 11 titles.

    The arrival of the Mansours Mega Mega money has given both Man Utd and Chelsea bloody noses, Man Utd winning 1 title since their arrival, and Chelsea managing to buy just the 2.

    There’s been 18 seasons since the oil money teams started buying titles and since they did they have won 11 of them. That’s almost two thirds of the titles bought by oil money.

    Out of the remaining 7, the other mega spending club, Man Utd, have won 5.

    So to re cap.

    Out of 18 seasons since our last success the 3 Mega spending clubs have won 16 of them.

    The other 2 have been won by Liverpool, who despite spending well and keeping their Nett spend down are hardly paupers. Their Gross spend is enormous.

    So even though they have traded their Rolls Royces well, it is still about money, big money.

    The only exception to this rule is Leicester, which as honorable, and yes, remarkable as it was, was a freak. It will NOT happen again.

    Now because of the dramatic increase in TV revenue other clubs have spent big, including Arsenal, Everton and Villa to name but 3, but they have all failed to break into that triumvirate.

    Why ? Lets look at some reasons.

    -The first and most important thing is that there are already 3 mega spenders. Everyone else is playing catch up.

    -These 3 mega spenders will always mop up the best players, because:

    a)They can pay WHATEVER it takes to acquire who they want.

    b)They can pay the highest wages.

    c)They are the most attractive clubs for players that want CL football pretty much guaranteed.

    NB: The fact a club has won the most FA Cups ever has no influence at all, as Wenger always knew.

    -Similarly they attract the best managers in the World.

    -If they go wrong with a big signing, Torres to Chelsea for example, they just put him on the bench.

    -Because they don’t have to sell players to buy they can keep their top experienced players longer whilst a new one settles in. No big gamble.

    -Mega spenders don’t have to worry about a players value deteriorating as he gets past his peak, where as everyone else needs to recoup as much as they can from a player, as we did many times.

    If you’re lucky you sell a player at just the right time and perhaps lose just one year of him at his best. If you mis judge it he may play 2,3 or even more seasons elsewhere at the top of his game. It’s a gamble. Wenger got this right more than he got it wrong, but it’s difficult.

    -Those 3 Mega spenders have inflated the market so much the chasers still end up paying mega money for players that are not necessarily worth what they pay for them, for a number of reasons:

    a)Past their best.

    b)History of trouble

    c)History of injuries.

    d)Paying for potential.

    Not only can the mega spenders buy who they want, when they want, often as not who they want is one of your players, and obviously one of your players that’s been playing well. We experienced this when, as David Dein put it, Abramovic started firing his £20 pound notes at us.

    And even if you start producing incredible youngsters, these Mega spenders appear over the hill tempting them to pastures new.

    In the final analysis winning titles, Champions Leagues, and even for the most part the domestic cups, is all about Mega spending.

    And even then, if you are playing catch up, big spending still may now not be enough, as ourselves, Everton and Villa are finding out.

  2. @Nitran,
    a bit depressing, but true. And basically, it’s always been true, even before the oligarchs came in. You only need to look at Scotland to see how success is based on financial resources. Unless and until mega money comes to Scotland, Celtic or Rangers will dominate.
    The good news is we are not Burnley or some other small town club who will never win anything. So things could be worse.

  3. Dublin Gooner.

    It is a bit depressing but as I love Arsenal win lose or draw I try not to let it bother me too much. The way we get endlessly slaughtered in the media depresses me more as it has such a negative effect on the club, to the extent it turns our own fans against us. But the truth is it hasn’t always been this way, not really, at least not in the English first division.

    Those last 18 years I’ve highlighted above have been almost totally dominated by just 3 clubs. Even the domestic cups have been, by and large, swallowed up by them.

    But you did get me thinking though Dublin, what did it look like back in the day, you know, when men were men, pitches were bogs, and the only twinkle toes we ever saw were on the feet of a mischievous young lad from across the Irish sea.

    So I thought I’d take a look.

    For ease I went back 40 years and broke it into 2 X 20 year periods to see how things change.

    First of all seasons ’52/’53 through ’71/’72

    Over those 20 years we had 12 different winners of the first division. They were:

    Man Utd X 4
    Wolves X 3
    Arsenal X 2
    Everton X 2
    Liverpool X 2
    Burnley X 1
    Chelsea X 1
    Derby X 1
    Ipswich X 1
    Leeds X 1
    Man City X 1
    Spurs X 1

    So Manchester Utd out front with 4, but whether this was down to money alone I very much doubt. Of course they were a big Club so would be wealthy, and of course the more you win the more money you get, the more money you get the more success you get, and so on, but I don’t think it equates in any way to what we see today.

    And then of course the major thing we see is another 11 clubs win the title. That’s ELEVEN more different winners.

    Now seasons ’72/’73 through to ’91/’92

    Over this 20 year period we had 7 different winners of the First Division.They were:

    Liverpool X 11
    Arsenal X 2
    Everton X 2
    Leeds X 2
    Aston V X 1
    Derby X 1
    Notts Forest X 1

    The obvious change here is the rise of Liverpool who totally dominate this period winning over half the titles. Now why was this? Now I’m no expert on this but my understanding is over this period Liverpool were financial backed by Littlewoods the pools people. Whether that was to as significant degree as our 3 current oil sponsored teams I doubt, but my understanding is it certainly helped. But outside of Liverpool the remaining 9 titles were pretty spread out among another 6 clubs, 3 of whom didn’t appear in the first 20 years.

    So 15 different winners over 40 years and only 1 club, Liverpool, won the title more than 4 times.

    In the last 18 years of the Premier League alone 3 teams, Man Utd with 6, Chelsea and Man City with 5 each have already won it more than 4 times.

    So apart from Liverpools domination of the 70’s and 80’s, which was itself based partly on sponsorship from an external source, we haven’t seen anything like the scenario we are currently witnessing in the Premier League, And yes thinking about it, it perhaps is a bit sad.

    No matter what it wont stop me loving and supporting my boys.


  4. &Nitram,
    Yes, you’re right, I stand corrected, the situation today is unprecedented in The PL. The gap between the mega rich and the rest is a new thing.
    I think the big historical diffferebce is that back in the day a club’s resources were closely related to its the size of the fan base. So as your data suggests, the title mostly went to big City clubs who had a large fan base. Liverpool rather than Tranmere for example.
    Still back in the day, a club could enjoy success beyond that indicated by its fan base (Northampton were once in the top Division for example) but invariably dropped back to a level consistent with the size of their core fan base. More recent examples are Wigan and Blackburn, who temporarily flew high due to an injection of money, but have dropped back.
    The oligarchs (and to a lesser extent tv money) have broken the direct link between a clubs potential and it’s historical fan base. For me that’s the big difference. (When Chelsea were last in the second tier, for example, I think they got crowds of around 12k. That would be unlikely to happen with Liverpool or Man Utd.

  5. Dublin Gooner

    “big historical difference is that back in the day a club’s resources were closely related to the size of it’s fan base”


    And this was the case right up to the inception of the Premier League, at least.

    Of course once the Premier League started, along with SKY TV’s saturation coverage, came not only a sharp rise in TV revenue, but also a big increase in sponsorship money thanks to the Premier Leagues global exposure.
    We now had 4 major income streams:

    a) – Match day revenue.

    b) – TV money.

    c) – Sponsorship money.

    d) – Prize money.

    The thing about b, c, and d is that by and large the amounts generated by them will be directly proportional to ‘a’. As such the prevailing hierarchical status of clubs based on match day revenue, or support, which would now become Globalized, would be maintained.

    In simple terms nothing really should of changed.

    Big City clubs would still dominate. What would separate them would be how well they are run. That’s pretty much what had been happening over those 40 years, with the possible exception of the Littlewoods/Liverpool connection in the 70’s and 80’s.

    This is where Arsenal came unstuck.

    Back on the early 2000’s when the Emirates was first muted match day revenue was still crucial. This is from an article I found from around the time:

    “CHALLENGE. Despite Highbury being one of the most famous football stadia in the world, Arsenal realized that in order to be able to compete with the elite clubs in Europe they needed a larger stadium that would generate increased revenue through increased capacity and hospitality spaces.”

    So at that time Match day revenue was still crucial.

    Not only to compete with European Clubs but the ever expanding Manchester United Juggernaut, as well as the massive potential of Manchester City, the 2 Mersyside giants, Aston Villa and, not forgetting Chelsea and Spurs.

    Despite some of those clubs having considerable baron spells, they all had bigger capacity stadiums with potentially huge fan bases. They had enormous potential in this new globalized premier League era and it simply couldn’t be under estimated.

    As you know Dublin, because of it’s location Highbury was limited to under 40,000. Looking into the future, to do nothing about this would of been suicidal. We had to move.

    At the outset Arsenal still expected to compete for the title. After all Wenger and Fergy were both so good they had, through brilliant management, pretty much put everyone else out of contention. Yes it would be tough, but Wenger was good enough to keep on Uniteds tail, and even pinch a title here and there. Top four would be a given, and the odd domestic cup pretty likely.

    But just as we committed to the stadium so the entire financial landscape of football was turned on it’s head, first with the arrival of Abramovic, then the Mansours. Match day revenue was no longer the driving factor in your financial capabilities. Oil money was.

    Those 2 arriving in the Premier League changed the financial landscape of football, most likely forever. I would guess, though I don’t know, that Match day revenue is now at best 34th behind personal investment from outside the game, TV money, and probably Global sponsorship deals.

  6. Following on the observations of Nitram and Dublin Gooner, one might then ask “Does money really talk?” Well, according to Mr Infantino and FIFA, (speaking from Qatar no doubt!), he feels that there will be huge global benefits for the introduction of biennial World Cup tournaments for both men and women’s football for persons originating in African countries!

    He arrogantly suggests that “such tournaments will give hope to Africans so they would not need to cross the Mediterranean Sea in order to find a better life but more probably death in the sea.” He continues “We need to give opportunities and we need to give dignity, not by giving charity but by allowing the rest of the world to participate.”

    This from the head of a multimillion profit-making organisation that has funds that could be invested in creating many opportunities for disadvantaged people around the world.

    This new biennial proposal has been proposed to help set up further profits for FIFA! To even suggest that such a new World Cup biennial tournament could help reduce, or even be a solution for the migration of people who risk their lives fleeing war-torn countries seeking a better life is abject arrogance, and once again shows how little FIFA and its spokesperson understand the difficulty that such persons attempting dangerous migrations have and their reasons for acting as such.

    A biennial World Cup is not the answer to alleviate such problems. Perhaps a better suggestion from Mr Infantino would be for FIFA to consider investing time and resources into charitable causes NOW, at grass roots level throughout the world, rather than trying to disguise the real reason for these biennial proposals.

    I include these arguments here because I feel that this FIFA issue links in with this article and again with the comments of Nitram and Dublin Gooner about so-called foregone conclusions and money that has been invested in the Premier League with the resultant outcomes concerned with profit before people!

    FIFA and other football bodies around the world, have rarely ever shown interest in helping charitable causes. For Mr Infantino, to now use such fallacious arguments/suggestions to justify increasing profits, again tells me exactly what football is really all about at the highest levels. But, having this view about football, like Nitram, I shall still follow my team.

  7. Looking on the bright side, at least we managed to win three Premier titles before the mega money arrived with Abramovic.
    Without having a dig at Spurs you would have thought that they, as a big city club of similar size and financial resource to ourselves and others such as Everton, would have managed to win a title or two over the 42 year period between their last in 1961 and the start of the oil money influx around 2003. Now they have no chance for the foreseeable future so a couple of my mates approaching the twilight of their years who are loyal spuds fans face the prospect of going a lifetime without seeing their team win the league title. Sad for them really.
    But then they didn’t have a Wenger so another reason for us gunner fans to be eternally grateful.

  8. mick shelly

    “Without having a dig at Spurs you would have thought that they, as a big city club of similar size and financial resource to ourselves and others such as Everton, would have managed to win a title or two over the 42 year period between their last in 1961 and the start of the oil money influx around 2003”.

    Yes you would of. And it’s what annoys me when the fans of Chelsea and Man City try to justify the oil money by saying it was the only way of breaking into the ‘Cartel’.

    No it wasn’t. Running their club well would of been a good start. Over those 40 years the only real period of domination was Liverpools 11 titles in the 70’s and 80’s.

    But then they went 25 years without a title.

    Some Cartel that !

    Other than that we had 4 titles for United. Hardly utter dominance. Not only that but they didn’t win the title once in the 2nd 20 year period. Not only that but they even got relegated.

    Some Cartel that !

    Then in the early stages of the premier League we saw the first signs of dominance by 2 clubs, Man Utd and Arsenal, and I challenge anyone to deny that that was entirely down to the stewardship of 2 great mangers.

    As I have said many times, Chelsea and Man City were ran terribly. City at one point dropping 2 divisions. Chelsea at one point being sold for a pound.

    Now if as a fan of those clubs they are happy with the way their club has bought it’s way to success fine. That’s up to them. But it really annoys me when they start chuntering on about how it was the only way they could break up the ‘Cartel’, because that’s absolute crap.

    Running their club well and not going through an average of around a manager a year for 20 years would of been a start !

    For all the shite we get from the media and some of our own fans, even by certain posters over the last few days, our club is actually run very well. Of course it isn’t perfect, but over all it is run very well.

    If it wasn’t for the oil money we would still easily be the 3rd most successful Club, behind Man Utd and Liverpool, that this country has ever seen.

    Of course all clubs, from the bottom of League 2 to the top of the Premier League will try to look after their own self interests. I doubt there’s a club in the World, indeed a business in the World, that doesn’t behave in that manner to one degree or another. That is normal. But that is a lot different to being part of a Cartel. Or even Cartel like behavior.

  9. Am I right in thinking that in the American NFL there are limits and restrictions on how clubs are funded?

    If this so and we cannot do this in Europe then the only solution would be ( for want of a better term) ‘The Rich Club European League.’

    These clubs would not play in their national league.

    The Europe league possibly creates as many problems as it resolves. If we can’t limit club funding, what alternative is there?

  10. Charles,

    in the NFL there is a salary cap. With very complex set of rules, but the aim is to level the playing field financially.
    The draft which is a springboard for young players out of college (mostly) is another way to level the playig field, with teams farig the worst having forst shot at new and hopefully talented players.

    The aim ? To keep the NFL an interesting championship, with real competition and not make it possible for a team to purchase its way into winning the Super Bowl. And guess it has worked rather well for decades and decades.

  11. Chris

    Can I ask? Does this mean the players in the draft have no say as to what team they play for ?

    If so isn’t that contravening so many ‘rights’ ? Freedom of choice ? Restriction of trade ? To name but 2.

    Cant see the best academy player at Chelsea, for example, (we don’t have the collegiate system don’t forget) ceding to the notion that because Burnley finished bottom and chose him, he has to play for them next season. Not only that but in the Championship.

    Sorry, not a chance.

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