Podcast 32: The Premier League’s ‘Big Four’

Is the Premier League the ‘greatest show on Earth’ or a boring ‘private member’s club’? On this week’s podcast we ask whether the dominance of the ‘Big Four’ in England is a good thing for football.

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The Premier League likes to see itself as the greatest show in the world, the best players, stadia, fans and of course having the most exciting football. But for many, the idea of a championship in which only 4 out of a total of 20 teams stand any chance of winning is, well, rather boring. This week saw Aston Villa lose in the league and they fell to 5th place meaning that the table now reads: 1. Manchester United 2. Chelsea 3. Liverpool and 4. Arsenal. Welcome to the world of the Premier League’s ‘Big Four’.

Was it always like this?
Well, no. When I first started watching football, there was a top 1 and that was Liverpool. The Reds dominated the First Division from the mid-1970s until the end of the 1990s though it has to be said that teams such as Everton, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest all won titles in that period as well, while teams such as Ipswich, Tottenham and West Ham provided strong challenges.

Now, since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, Manchester United have won 10 of the 16 titles up for grabs and have never been out of the top three. Arsenal and Chelsea have won 5 of the other titles between them with only Blackburn’s win in 1995 ‘spoiling’ the show. Liverpool have not won a title since 1990 however since the turn of the century they have yet to finish lower than 5th. This dominance has lead these teams to be known as the ‘Big Four’

How has this happened?
The obvious answer is that these teams have the best players and managers but to attract them you need money. Lots of money and luckily for the ‘Big Four’ they have had more than anyone else. Traditionally, Liverpool, Arsenal and especially Manchester United have always been rich clubs that can rely on large fan bases to support them economically, while Chelsea have a rich benefactor who has bank rolled their success. These four teams have qualified for the lucrative Champions League tournament on a regular basis and for the past five seasons no other team, apart from Everton, have done that. This, of course, means that they can earn far more money than any of the other Premier League teams so that they then can attract the best players and coaches and continue with their success.

Can any other team break through?
Well, the hope this season was that Aston Villa might be able to challenge the top 4 hegemony but it seems that like Tottenham in 2006 and Everton in 2005 they simply don’t have the resources to do so. If the Premier League is to truly be as competitive as its marketing team suggests then the question of the ‘Big Four’ needs to be addressed.

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