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Is variety the spice of football?

By | 21st December 2009

Much of the talk surrounding the Premier League this season, as with most seasons, is about whether the big four monopoly on the Champions League places can be broken. Only time will tell whether or not Aston Villa, Tottenham, or Manchester City can capitalize on Liverpool’s poor start to the season, but a perhaps more intriguing question is whether or not this would be a good thing.

For the league in general, on a domestic level, the answer is undoubtedly yes. An increased level of competition will increase the general interest in the league and a spread of the Champions League money will mean that more clubs can buy a greater range of talented players and in turn the league will become a greater spectacle.

Hope is a powerful selling tool, and the German Bundesliga is a prime example of how increased competitiveness for the title can bring in the fans. Whilst no club outside the big four in England has had any aspirations of winning the league for the last decade, there have been five different winners of the Bundesliga since the turn of the century.

This has led to the Bundesliga en masse having the biggest average attendance in Europe, yet it has also come at a cost on the European stage. Since Bayer Leverkusen’s defeat in the 2001-02 Champions League final the Germans have not had a representative in the tournament past the quarter final stage.

If we think about it, that is quite a natural process; the lack of a dominant team(s) means that there has not been a sustainable high level of income at one particular club, which has in turn restricted their ability to consistently spend big money on big players. It does also mean that the top players from around the world cannot be attracted by the guarantee of Champions League football and the players that are already there become restless, Frank Ribery provides a prime example.

German football is obviously a very specific example but in general I think the theory stands true across all football in Europe; a variation of title winners and Champions League entrants is not conducive to competitiveness on the European stage.

The answer to the initial question asked – is a variation of the big four a good thing? – is clearly a matter of conjecture. Quite obviously all involved or attached to either Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Liverpool are extremely happy and content with their dominance, yet any fan of the other 16 Premier League clubs would quite naturally wish to see change.

A prevailing group of teams is not a phenomenon restricted to the English league; Spanish football has been dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid throughout history whilst in Italy Inter are on course to win their fifth title in a row.

Neither is it exclusive to Europe’s leading football nations: Scottish football in particular has been famously dominated by the two old-firm clubs throughout history. However, there are winds of change blowing north of the English border as the two Glasgow clubs find themselves in real financial troubles.

A similar question to that asked of English football can be posed here – would splitting the old-firm be a good thing for Scottish football? And the answer is not as dissimilar as you might think.

Whilst there have been a few exceptions in history when Dundee United and Aberdeen both won league titles in the late 80’s, the complaint of Scottish football from many has always been that Rangers and Celtic are too dominant and that the league is not competitive enough.

The problem that presents itself should one or both of the old-firm miss out on a Champions League spot is the strength of the Scottish sides who would replace them in Europe’s elite competitions. There can be few who would argue that the likes of Hibernian and Dundee United would struggle in the Champions League with their current squad of players, poor performances from them would result in Scottish football’s coefficient being lowered and Scottish football in general suffering on the European stage.

The ultimate question that any football fan across Europe must answer is whether they would rather have a competitive domestic league or national pride courtesy of successful teams in Europe. There is no wrong or right answer but it does appear that this is an ‘either or’ question and having both situations simultaneously is not an option.

Jaymes Monte is also the chief copywriter for ‘thebettingblog.’

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