MANCHESTER CITY are now red hot favourites for the Premier League title and if the forecasts are accurate, it will be their fifth in 10 years and third in four campaigns. It is beginning to look like one-team dominance. But we have been there before, several times in fact since the Football League was inaugurated in 1888.
The big fear is, to quote the Carpenters’ wedding favourite, “we’ve only just begun”, and the era of City is now moving in full stride after a decade of warm-up. In the 11 seasons since 2010-11 when City won the FA Cup, they have won 13 trophies, an impressive haul, but compare that to an 11-year stretch for Liverpool between 1975-76 and 1985-86. Their trophy collection was 18 (eight leagues titles, one FA Cup, four League Cups and five European prizes). Manchester United, between 1992-93 and 2002-03, won 11 trophies, including eight championships, and the first flourish at Chelsea under Abramovich, yielded 13 pieces of silverware between 2004-05 and 2014-15.
Since Preston North End won the double in 1888-89, English football has been dominated, at various times, by Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Sunderland, Huddersfield Town, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. Others such as Sheffield Wednesday, Everton, Leeds United, Wolves and Tottenham have also shone brightly at times.
If the popular view is that City are now so far ahead of the competition that they will sweep-up in the years ahead, it is worth noting when assessing the relative strength of a team, there’s always an assumption the current situation will go on for ever. How often have teams been labelled “best ever” only to find they are human after all and they do eventually decline? Admittedly the situation City are in is somewhat unique, but not unique enough that others with lots of money cannot come along a build teams to challenge them.
Of the current 92 Premier/EFL teams, 43 have won major silverware, while every other team has won promotion at some point. There is not a single team that hasn’t experienced the joy of some form of success. Some have had to wait for it longer than others, some clubs have to go back over a century for their last big success. What is very clear is there is a greater level of concentration than in the past, with 73 of 87 domestic honours in the Premier League era going to the so-called big six, which represents an astonishing 84%.
Of the 2021-22 Premier League, Everton have not won a trophy or experienced promotion since 1994-95 when they lifted the FA Cup. No other club right across the 92 has had such a run, not even lower league clubs whose most notable achievement has been climbing out of the bottom tier. Only four clubs in the Premier have never won a pot, but three of those four – Watford, Crystal Palace and Brighton – have at least reached the FA Cup final and lost and all have won promotion in recent times.
Empires do not go on forever, they either run out money, lose their impetus or they get challenged by new kids on the block. Can anyone unseat Manchester City? Although they do look formidable and their financial advantages suggest a long period on the podium, there is no eternity in football. Who would have envisaged Liverpool going so long without a league title, or that Manchester United would fall from grace after Sir Alex Ferguson’s time? When Tottenham won the double in 1961, did anyone in that part of north London believe they would still be waiting for another league title in 2021? And what of Arsenal, so impressive in the early Wenger years, yet their position was gradually eroded over a decade or so. Furthermore, you look at clubs like West Ham (41 years without a cup), Wolves (ditto) and Newcastle (almost a century without a league title, 52 without any sort of silverware) and you realise these clubs have been pushed down the pecking order. There was a time when clubs like these could win things.
Manchester City will surely lead the way for a few years, but they will be challenged at some point, but let’s be clear, it will only be those with comparable resources, those they count as their peers. That’s a small band, but football being the industry it is, there is likely to be more rather than less clubs trying to join the elite, which won’t necessarily be a good thing for the game as a whole, but will further confirm the game has moved way beyond its relatively uncomplicated past.