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Can clubs like West Ham, Spurs and Newcastle ever eat from the top table?

This article was originally published in the now late sports portal Sportingo in Nov 2007. I managed to trace it, however, and save it from posteriority.

By Michael Perukangas, on 23rd November 2007, 10:20 UTC
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The almost complete downturn of Leeds United and problems at Newcastle United are the most telling examples of what happens when a cat mistakenly thinks he's a lion. The Premier League club has become the favourite pastime of foreign bankrollers and it's all getting a bit much. It wasn't that long ago that Chelsea were on the brink of bankruptcy, and Portsmouth were a branch of the French foreign legion.

Consecutive league titles are not enough, as demonstrated by the fate of Jose 'Moan' Mourinho. Martin Jol led Tottenham to consecutive fifth-place finishes, far better than any of his successors had achieved. His sacking is a telling example that patience rarely matches ambition among football club boards assembled by embarrassingly rich businessmen. Even with Juande Ramos at the helm at Spurs, the club will have to endure another year of frustrating reconstruction work.

The Spurs board should look at what has happened at Liverpool, a club spoiled by winning everything in the eighties but hardly anything since. Gerard Houllier had a promising start, bringing in some fresh French blood with him and grooming Jamie Carragher and Stevie Gerrard. His masterstroke was perhaps acquiring the semi-unknown quantity in Sami Hyypiä.

Seeking silverware in various Cup competitions is all well and good and Houllier managed the UEFA and FA versions but the Premier League is what really counts. In came Rafa Benitez with a 'continental' reputation and he brought in continental (mostly Spanish) players. Yes, he won the Champions League but the coveted title is still elusive.

My club, West Ham, are justifiably proud of their Academy, which has produced some of the most talented English players in the last few years. Perennial under-achievers, as soon as one of our youngsters starts to flourish, he is sold, either because of the huge offer on the table or the 'ambition' of the player. Now most effectively bankrolled by an Icelandic egg, the future looks bright for the faithful Irons. Solid mid-table security would secure sweet dreams for the Hammers faithful.

In the United States, the shadow of the five most prestigious symphony orchestras, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland - looms large over other orchestras. Despite huge television revenues in the Promised Land, the gulf between Premier League and Championship is said to have diminished recently, perhaps jugded by the relative success of Wigan and Reading in recent seasons.

As the label 'big' is a handy marketing tool, the big ones tend to develop empires around them. In England, the 'Big Four' - Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool - have developed into multi-national corporations, and to break the duck, you have to be a duck. The best the other clubs can expect is a fifth-place finish.

If one Premier League season represents a battle, then the football industry that is called the Premier League is a war, and winning a battle is much easier than winning the war.

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