Football: EPL simply the best, because its players aren't

Football: EPL simply the best, because its players aren't

SINGAPORE - The English Premier League just might be the best league in the world because it no longer boasts the best players.

A weekend of extraordinary upsets will be long remembered, but other equally daft scorelines can be expected this season.

Despite the billionaires bankrolling the fun and games at Manchester City and Chelsea, there could be a shrinking gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Oh, don't get too excited.

The Premier League hasn't suddenly embarked upon a socialist crusade to create a level playing field where everyone from Chelsea to Burnley has a shot at silverware.

On the contrary, the league's insatiable greed has finally offered an unexpected benefit.

Recently increased TV revenues have coughed up even more cash for all.

There is now £5.5 billion (S$11.4b) to share equally among 20 league clubs.

That's a princely sum for former paupers to throw around, allowing the Upton Park faithful to look on in disbelief as Barcelona old boy Alex Song dominates the West Ham midfield against Liverpool.

Flush with TV cash, Premier League newcomers Leicester signed Esteban Cambiasso, an Argentina international who probably hadn't heard of the club before he was pummelling away at Manchester United's soft centre.

Queens Park Rangers, Sunderland, Hull, Aston Villa and Everton all made expensive signings or completed loan deals considered unthinkable by their fans just a season or two ago.

The meek are suddenly blessed. They are capable of dangling enough carrots at the world game's second and third-tier talents to drag them away from Spain, Italy, Germany and Holland.

That's a bit of a problem for Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and the two halves of Manchester.

They are not competing for the best of the rest, just the best.

And they can't really compete.

With spectacular irony, the huge financial pie that the Premier League gobbles up in TV revenue penalises the big boys because it is carved up equally.

Real Madrid and Barcelona negotiate their own TV deals and Bayern Munich are a law unto themselves: an unstoppable financial and cultural juggernaut in the Bundesliga.

Just consider the best players at the World Cup.

From front to back, a rough line-up could conceivably include anyone from Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Ezequiel Garay, Philipp Lahm, Javier Mascherano, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, Thomas Mueller, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

They are 14 standout performers in Brazil that leap to mind. None of them features in the Premier League. (It's particularly strange to think that not one of the defensive-minded players joined the EPL when Manchester United and Liverpool can't put out a decent back four between them.)

Heavyweights

Of those names, Messi, Suarez, Neymar, Ronaldo and Kroos, along with Gareth Bale, are the global heavyweights who jostle for space on the pantheon.

None of them features in the Premier League.

The exceptions are obviously Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria, with an honorary mention perhaps for Diego Costa. Falcao's transfer smacks of a tidy retirement package for a man finding his fitness again after a long spell on the sidelines. He needs time to find his form.

Di Maria and Costa are undoubted assets, but di Maria was considered dispensable at Real - rightly or wrongly - and both the Spanish giants were not tempted to move for Costa.

Apart from salary, a familiar climate, culture and language usually tempt the South Americans to Spain and Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich's storied heritage offer winning attractions for Europe's finest.

Put simply, the game's true greats will always get their heads turned by the greatest in Spain and Germany (which goes some way to explaining why no English side have featured in the Champions League quarter-finals in the last three years, apart from Chelsea).

So, England's elite continue to struggle on the European stage at a time when domestic opponents are suddenly emboldened by their financial strength.

The rest of the Premier League has more TV cash than ever before. European fixtures do not encumber them either.

Liverpool barely got through an exhausting Champions League opener against Ludogorets before they were facing a rested West Ham boasting the likes of Song and Enner Valencia.

The Premier League's smaller sides have signed better players, but the EPL's giants still can't sign the best players. So the gap is narrowing.

That's not to suggest that Leicester or Southampton are going to win the title, but further upsets are almost certainly on the cards.

It's great news for the Premier League.

But it's bad news for the old greats of the Premier League.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on September 24, 2014.
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