“You can’t win anything with kids.” That’s the famous quote from BBC pundit Alan Hansen, who in 1995 was criticizing Sir Alex Ferguson for turning his Manchester United side over to his famed ‘Class of 92.’ United of course went on to win the League and FA Cup double that season and the class of 92 became the backbone to the greatest team in Premier League history.
Twenty years ago when Hansen said those famous words he was wrong, but if he made that statement in 2015, he’d be 100 percent right.
The Premier League has evolved over the years and it’s become a league where teams no team can afford to throw their kids out there to learn on the fly anymore. There’s too much on the line. The reason behind that is the massive amounts of money the league brings in through its TV contracts.
In 2012, Sky Sports and BT Sport paid a combined £3.018 billion for the rights to show the Premier League within the UK. In 2015, their new deal, running from 2016-19, was worth a total of £5.14 billion.
Those numbers are just for the UK. Two weeks ago, NBC agreed to a six-year deal believed to be around $1 billion, and that’s just for the United States. Now factor in how much money the league is bringing in from every other country in the world that televises its games.
The influx of cash has led to a dramatic change in the Premier League as we know it. These changes have occurred gradually, but we’ve come to the point where we are now finally starting to see the residual effect that the TV contracts are having across the league, and there have been several:
Everyone is rich — and good
Remember the days where Tottenham had a monopoly on signing every top player who was leaving a big club but wanted to join a club that still had a shot to make the Champions League? You know, guys like Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov and, most famously, Rafael van der Vaart. Well, the Spurs no longer have that monopoly because now that everyone has money — everyone can (and does) sign those guys.
Just last week, Leicester City completed the signing of Switzerland captain Gokhan Inler from Napoli. Napoli — the team that won the 2014 Copa Italia and last season finished fifth in Serie A which qualified them for the Europa League — just lost a player to a Leicester City side that barely avoided relegation last year.
Why did this happen? Because 14th place Leicester City can pay Inler more than Napoli.
They’re not the only ones. Aston Villa are signing highly touted prospects away from Barcelona, while Stoke has compiled a team that features Bojan Krkic, Ibrahim Afellay and Xherdan Shaqiri — three players that just five years ago were all considered the next big things in Europe. Two of them have already won the Champions League, now they’re all playing for Stoke, a side that only gained promotion to the Premier League in 2008.
All 20 clubs in the Premier League are among the 40 richest clubs in the world. Bottom clubs in England can pay players more than even the third and fourth place teams in other leagues. Top to bottom, the English teams are spending their money to bring in top talent from all around Europe, which is why…
You can’t win with kids anymore
Unless you’re sitting on the next Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes, the days where you could slowly let your youth academy graduates develop into the first team are over, especially for the big clubs. When teams had up and coming players, they used to be able to play 15-18 games in a season to really give them a look and help the players development at the highest level. Teams can no longer do that because they no longer have 15-18 easy games where they could afford to rotate their squad enough to let a teenager get a chance.
This is true even of the smaller clubs. While Southampton have a proud history of producing tremendous talent out of their academy (talent that is now playing everywhere else in the league), they still rose to their best Premier League finish behind imports like Jose Fonte, Morgan Schneiderlin and Sadio Mane.
Manchester United currently are sitting on an interesting dilemma with 20-year-old Paddy McNair. Last season when pressed into duty because of injuries, McNair showed flashes of brilliance, but also had plenty of moments of inexperience. If everyone stays healthy this season, United will have a hard time finding the time to get him a game, because if he hasn’t improved his consistency he can be a liability.
The top teams don’t have as much depth as you’d think, and they’ll continue to falter in Europe
Back in April, I wrote a long piece on how the league’s TV contract was hurting English clubs in Europe. The same thing rings true today for one simple reason — English clubs don’t have enough depth. It takes a large, deep squad to be able to compete for both the league title and Champions League, and the English teams don’t seem to be deep enough to do it anymore.
The last time an English team appeared in the Champions League Final (Chelsea in 2012) they finished sixth in the league. The last time an English team won the league and made the Champions League Final (Manchester United in 2011) was the last time an English team truly had the depth to pull it off.
For all the shortcomings that team had, they only had six automatic starters when they were fit (Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney), the rest of the starting XI was always anyone’s guess.
Gone are the days where the Premier League clubs dominated the Champions League the way Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool did in the late mid-2000’s. The reason is pretty simple: it’s almost impossible for Premier League squads to stay fresh enough to do so.
While the Spanish, German and Italian leagues have quality at the top of the leagues, the rest of the league is significantly worse. If Barcelona or Bayern Munich have a crucial Champions League match on Tuesday, they have the luxury of rotating their squad on Saturday for their trips to Real Sociedad or Stuttgart. Manchester United or Chelsea can’t take a trip to West Bromwich or Aston Villa lightly because West Bromwich and Aston Villa have the quality to beat them.
The FA Cup will be wide open
The FA Cup is the oldest trophy in all of sports and can be the most awesome tournament around or it could be a dud. This is both a good thing and a problem. The problem being, as more money flows into the league, the financial benefit of finishing 11th rather than 12th is greater than the financial benefit of making it to the sixth round instead of bowing out in the third round.
What used to be a tournament where only the big clubs would (minimally) rotate their squads is now a tournament where everyone rotates their squads. There’s really no way to solve this problem unless the FA can pump enough money into the tournament to make it financially worthwhile for clubs to have a go at it, which is unlikely.
But that’s also a good thing because now everyone really does have a chance to win if they choose to. It’s not a coincidence that the last three finals were contested by one of the top four teams and a team that was involved in a relegation fight (including Wigan winning in 2013 and getting relegated the same year). If you like the cinderella stories, the FA Cup is going to have a lot more of them in the coming years.
The Premier League is by far the best league in the world
It’s time to settle this debate once and for all. People like to harp on the strength of the Spanish League or how, minus Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga is the most competitive in the world, but it’s time to stop that. Yes, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich have the biggest superstars in the world but does that make them the best team?
Every weekend the Bayern’s and Real’s of the world win games 5-0 or 6-0, but they’re also competing against teams that don’t test them at all. The English clubs don’t have that ability to run up scores because from the middle of the table to the bottom the teams in the Premier League are light years better than those same teams in Spain, Germany and Italy.
We’re going to have the best season of all time
If one thing is apparent after three weeks of the season it’s this, this season in the Premier League is going to be awesome. Leicester City hasn’t lost a game yet and that doesn’t look like it’s a fluke. West Ham opened their season with a win at the Emirates and followed that up with a loss at home to Bournemouth. Meanwhile after three games, Chelsea have just one win and they were lucky to even get that one.
It truly is a case of anything can happen in any specific week. So sure the English teams might be beating up on each other so much that they won’t be able to compete in Europe anymore, but that just makes the domestic games each weekend even better and I couldn’t be more stoked to watch it.
And it’s all thanks to those out of control rising TV contracts!