It’s Manchester City’s time, but eras of dominance have always existed

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.

Newcastle United have spending power, but January windows can disappoint

NEWCASTLE United’s controversial takeover by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund will be tested soon when the transfer market opens again. Already, predictions have been made about who they might sign and how much they will have available to spend in one window. 

Newcastle are in dire straits and have to strengthen their team if they are to avoid relegation, but can they get the required quality they need to clamber out of danger, or will the Saudi regime have to begin its reconstruction job from the second tier of the English game?

January windows don’t always work out well and the players available are often not the most coveted around. Furthermore, remoulding a team in January does not allow much time for new talent to gel. The most pragmatic way for Newcastle may be to bring in short-term, high-quality players in order to stave off relegation. Then, with that mission completed, start to acquire the level of player that can start to make them into a team challenging for honours. The trouble is, managers are rarely given the time they need, but even a low profile prize will seem like achievement given the club’s 50-plus years without a glimpse of silverware.

As it stands, Newcastle look bound for the drop, which would be an inauspicious start to the Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) reign in the north-east. Players like Sven Botman (21), Jesse Lingard (29), Aaron Ramsey (30), Kieran Trippier (31), Dele Alli (25), Philippe Coutinho (29), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (32), James Tarkowski (29) and Kieran Tierney (24) have all been linked to Newcastle. According to CIES Football Observatory, the value of this group of players would come to around € 200 million, but the problem is Newcastle will find the market will expect them to pay more than they need to given the size of their wallet.

While they are struggling at the foot of the Premier League table, Newcastle may find it hard to attract premium players that can pull them away from danger. And should the worst case scenario happen, the sort of star names the fans are longing for will be reluctant to play in the Championship. Newcastle need so many new players in order to make them a contender for something other than a trip through the trapdoor.

Cash will be available, but the Saudi Arabian fund will not be able to “do a Chelsea” and go crazy in the market like Roman Abramovich did in his first two or three years at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea and Manchester City seemed to have no constraints when they became wealthy overnight, but the consequences of their behaviour are the many restrictions clubs now have. The profit & sustainability rules mean Newcastle will have to work within strict boundaries, but that could still mean a war chest of up to € 500 million. Moreover, the new rules around sponsorship are deliberately designed to prevent inflated investment that exceeds “fair market value”, so there’s another hurdle.

Not that money is any guarantee of success, but it does go a long way towards elevating a club to the upper quartile of the Premier. Not every club is proficient in the market – for all Chelsea’s success since Abramovich took over, some of their signings have not worked out as planned – Fernando Torres (a January signing) was not a rip-roaring success, and players like Mateja Kežman, Hernán Crespo, Adrian Mutu, Andriy Shevchenko and Álvaro Morata proved to be quite underwhelming.

In more recent years, Everton under Farhad Moshiri have had a poor return on their investment in players and remember how careless Tottenham were with the proceeds of the Gareth Bale sale to Real Madrid? Whoever controls player recruitment – and the club is looking to hire a sporting director very soon – will have to have a clear strategy that looks beyond the next few months. They had hoped to secure Liverpool’s highly-rated Michael Edwards, but he turned down their approach.

The fact is, Newcastle’s substantial funds will rebuild their team, but they may still find they trail the Premier’s elite clubs by some distance. They may be rich now, accounting for 83% of Premier League clubs’ overall owner wealth, but PIF cannot simply pump Newcastle full of money.

The current situation is dire, but Newcastle can still get out of danger, but they must start winning consistently. Only one win in 16 games is a poor show and their away record is undoubtedly relegation form. Both Chelsea and Manchester City took time to move from under-achievers to global super clubs, so Newcastle United and their fans may have to be more patient than they care to be at this particular time. Dynasties are not built in one (or two) transfer windows. However, from a financial perspective, Newcastle can probably afford to make mistakes in the forthcoming window, but whoever they sign, they need to get it right if they are to remain in the Premier.

Newcastle United’s new owners may have to be patient

POOR OLD Steve Bruce went through the entire portfolio of emotions on the day Newcastle bounced up and down in anticipation. At times, he resembled an exhausted marathon runner. 

Bruce’s future was one of the major themes of every preview, commentary and review of a game that highlighted just how poor Newcastle United’s current team is. For much of the game, they made ragged Spurs look decent but were let off the hook by the fact the north Londoners are very average and past their Pochettino peak. A better side would have walloped the Toon by 5-1 or something along those lines.

Up in the stand, the Saudi regime sat with their oversized scarves draped around their necks, looking uncomfortable and a little out of their comfort zone. Before the game, a van drove around the St. James’ Park area with a reminder that the Saudi rulers may be linked to the murder of a leading journalist. “Fake news,” said one supporter, attempting to kid himself that all is well. “This has nothing to do with politics, it’s football. We’ve got the money and the future is great,” said another loyal Newcastle fan. 

Inside the ground, the noise was intense, the banners disjointed, but this was the how it was meant to be, the start of a new era, one without the unpopular Mike Ashley. However much the fans try and ignore the people in the posh seats, the link between Newcastle United and Saudi Arabia will become something of a running sore over the coming months. 

This isn’t Abramovich at Chelsea, not even Qatar at PSG or Abu Dhabi at City, it is something altogether more worrying and a little disturbing. Not so much because of who has taken them over, but because of the hysterical reaction of so many who seem happy to ignore what Saudi Arabia has stood for. 

You could argue fans of Chelsea and City have always cared little for the origins of Roman’s wealth or any human rights issues involving Abu Dhabi, but the sheer joy expressed by the Newcastle fans prompts you to fidget a little. After a grim period, you cannot blame them for being excessively happy, but comparing an owner with a poor communications record and a prudent approach to business with a state that beheads people and kills journalists is not really a fair fight. The world is now too small to be ambivalent about the events taking place in a faraway land. 

Unless somebody sprinkles something magical over St. James’ Park, Newcastle’s owners may have to be content with a relegation fight this season, so any transformational rebirth on the pitch may have to wait. They cannot really start spending on new talent until January and even then, they may be looking for people who can grind out results to save the club’s Premier status. 

As for the players they currently have in their ranks, who are they trying to impress and are they on their way out anyway? From a motivational perspective, how many will be deemed fit for purpose for a new manager?

If Newcastle can now be compared to Chelsea, City and PSG, an influx of talent will accompany the new manager, unless the paymasters decide to give Bruce an extended run. At Chelsea, Abramovich’s entourage gave Claudio Ranieri a year, in which he took Chelsea to runners-up spot and the semi-finals of the Premier League. We now know from experience this level of performance was never going to give the popular Ranieri more time, and besides, they had already lined-up José Mourinho. You had to admire Ranieri for the way he carried on against a backdrop of speculation from day one about his replacement.

Manchester City had Mark Hughes in charge when the middle east money arrived and he had 18 months before being shown the door. While Chelsea won trophies in Abramovich + 1, City had to wait longer for their first silverware in the form of the FA Cup in 2010-11 and another year for the Premier. 

Hiring your own carefully-chosen people is something that has become very prevalent in the corporate world, so much so that when a new boss arrives, legacy staff become very nervous about their futures. Football is no different – hence, everyone expects Bruce to go. Goodness knows who will be his replacement, but it will be somebody from the catalogue of blue-chip managers, individuals who know what temporary jobs are all about and accept the terms and conditions of contemporary football management. Steve Bruce, an honest broker with a track record of almost 2,000 games as player and coach, has always been more Allardyce than Allegri and it is the latter the new owners will undoubtedly demand, but let’s hope they treat Bruce with due respect.

At the moment, it looks like “new regime, old problems” for Newcastle United, although they have one or two players who will surely become part of the new team that will emerge over the coming year. They are going to need at least 11 local heroes, although the reinforcements are likely to come from everywhere other than Tyneside. Talking of local heroes, though, the club’s medical staff acted heroically in helping to save the life of a stricken fan who needed urgent treatment.

But how long will it take to make Newcastle United into a trophy-winning club again? Many people have tried in the past: Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit, Bobby Robson, Graeme Souness, Rafa Benitez – the list of big names is impressive, but none have managed to plant major silverware on the boardroom table. The last time it happened was in 1969 when Joe Harvey’s team won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, but domestically, you have to go back to 1955 and legendary striker Jackie Milburn. It has been a long wait, so a couple of years won’t make much difference, although the new owners will surely disagree. For decades, Newcastle’s fans have been expectant and frantic for success, but now they have stakeholders who will be insisting on something happening sooner rather than later. Who will exercise the greatest patience going forward?