Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Duncan Tucker

GET UPDATES FROM Duncan Tucker
 

Is the Premier League Becoming a two-Club Dynasty?

Posted: 1/09/2011 00:00

The 13-goal mauling dished out by both Manchester sides to their north London opponents on Sunday raises an intriguing question: is this the future of English football?

Having dominated the opening fixtures of the season, Manchester United and Manchester City look streets ahead of their closest rivals, leading to suggestion that the Premier League could become a perennial two-horse race akin to the Spanish and Scottish leagues.

Such a development would undoubtedly be to the detriment of English football. As brilliant as the Spanish clásicos may be, the predictability of seeing Real Madrid and Barcelona quash their opponents in every other game of the season rather detracts from the excitement.

The two great rivals have won nine of the last eleven La Liga titles, while in recent seasons the chasm has only widened between the best and the rest. The gap is now so entrenched that Barcelona strolled to a 5-0 victory over Champions League side Villareal on Monday, despite only fielding one recognised defender.

In Scotland it is the same story. You have to go back to 1985 to find the last time a side other than Celtic or Rangers won the Scottish league. The winners that year? Aberdeen; managed by none other than Alex Ferguson.

Thankfully there remains one crucial difference between the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga: in the distribution of revenue from broadcasting rights. In England television revenue is shared out relatively evenly, although obviously the clubs that qualify for the Champions League stand to make a lot more, thus reinforcing their position at the top.

But in Spain each team negotiates separate agreements over broadcasting revenue, meaning mega-clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid earn as much as the rest of the league combined. As a result of this structural inequality, only these two teams have any realistic chance of winning the title.

While it remains early in the season to say with certainty that the Premier League is going the same way, the signs are ominous. The current trend dates back to 1992, when England's biggest clubs broke away from the Football League to create their own lucrative division. Now, with every year that passes English football becomes more of an elite sport in which financial might outweighs all else.

As the wealth gap grows more extreme, the top six has now become a top two or three. While Chelsea might just challenge the Manchester clubs for first place, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs will be scrapping it out for the final Champions League place this season.

Neither Arsenal nor Tottenham can afford to pay the requisite wages or transfer fees to attract the game's top players. Arsene Wenger's sound philosophy of financial responsibility may be admirable but try telling that to a trophy-starved Arsenal fan after the 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford. Meanwhile Liverpool have strengthened considerably and look unrecognisable from the sorry outfit of the recent past, but would realistically settle for a return to the top four this season.

Thanks to Roman Abramovich's billions, Chelsea remain the side best equipped to compete with the red and blue halves of Manchester. Yet even Chelsea have grown so desperate not to fall behind that they've already spent the best part of £100 million in 2011, half of which was on a misfiring striker Fernando Torres.

Manchester City spent the same figure last year just to force their way into the top four, and they have not let up since, most notably bringing in Sergio Agüero and Samri Nasri over the summer.

Having long since established themselves at the top of the Premier League hierarchy, Manchester United can take their pick of the league's most talented prospects, such as Phil Jones and Ashley Young. While United's talented young side might seem a refreshing antidote to their noisy neighbours' expensively assembled dream team, it should be remembered that the Red Devils are consistently ranked as the richest club in the world. While Ferguson can take great credit for their success, it is no coincidence they always finish in the top two.

While FIFA's financial fair play regulations should even things up in theory, both Manchester sides have moved to pre-empt these restrictions by signing unprecedented sponsorship deals. In July Manchester City sold the naming rights to their stadium as part of a record £400 million sponsorship deal with Etihat Airlines, amid whispers of links between the company and City's Abu Dhabi-based owners.

The following month Manchester United announced a new £40 million sponsorship deal with DHL for their training kit - worth more than all but five of the league's main shirt sponsorship deals. The biggest clubs, it seems, will always find new ways to bring in greater revenue.
So after three games played, United and City sit top of the table. We should get used to it. A real gulf in class has opened up among the Premier League's top sides in 2011. If English football is destined to follow the same path as in Spain and Scotland then this season may well prove the moment it became a duopoly.

 

Follow Duncan Tucker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DuncanTucker