"The new men at the helm at Newcastle, Aston Villa, Sunderland, West Ham United and Manchester City are not pouring money in to settle for a place in the UEFA Cup"
Since the beginning of last season, Premiership news has been dominated by the new money flooding into clubs and the cash injection shows no sign of slowing. The Premiership is about to become a whole lot more competitive.
For several seasons now, the Premiership has been led by a ‘Big 4’- an improvement on the duopoly constituted by Manchester United and Arsenal for so long but still not as cut throat as the Spanish or Italian top divisions.
Only 8 English clubs have had the chance to take part in the Champions League in its modern format-the current top quartet plus Newcastle, Blackburn, Everton and Leeds United. Of these Everton and Blackburn only had a crack once.
While some find this unhealthy, fans of the Big 4 point out that their clubs should not be penalised for being more successful and better run than the others. Their argument has been that other teams should strive for the same excellence.
Now it appears that the effectiveness of the Big 4 is going to be fully tested, because a number of clubs have started to line up for a major push toward the top. Roman Abramovich proved that a club can be shunted up the table by a dramatic cash injection, though it must be spent wisely and managed efficiently and imaginatively.
Money alone will not take a club to the Champions League spots but it certainly helps and there are a lot of billionaires and multi-millionaires who see no reason why they cannot achieve what Chelsea did.
The new men at the helm at Newcastle, Aston Villa, Sunderland, West Ham United and Manchester City are not pouring money in to settle for a place in the UEFA Cup and the odd Cup Final appearance.
The newly owned clubs join the likes Tottenham and Everton, where there were already legitimate aspirations to crack the top spots. Then there are a further group who may have the UEFA Cup as a more reasonable target but may be thinking long term about a challenge for the top four.
Middlesbrough, Birmingham City, Portsmouth, Bolton and Blackburn Rovers make up this section. It seems unlikely that they can compete at the moment but there is the possibility that they may have one remarkable season to push them suddenly to the forefront.
Perhaps only 3 or 4 of the Premiership’s 20 clubs will have mere survival on their mind. The three promoted clubs for this campaign are all from big city areas and each has the fan base and potential to do a lot more than aim for 17th position.
Change will not happen overnight and some of these clubs will undoubtedly fail to put together the right blend to overhaul the current leaders- and those elite clubs are not exactly standing still waiting to be passed.
The urgency with which Rafa Benitez has been prodding his new owners to open the chequebook indicates that he is aware that to stand still in the current Premiership is to be overtaken. Manchester United and Chelsea are adding quality and Arsenal have their wealth of talent to develop.
Undoubtedly Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal will put up a strong defence and a couple may even accelerate away even further. However, with so many challengers lining up, the law of averages says that at least one of them will get matters right and force a way into the top four.
It may not happen in 2007/08 but the smart money is that the current order will end soon. Competition within the Premiership is about to become even more intense and it should deliver excitement and tension from start to finish. Roll on August.