As the English Premier League draws to a close, we reach that crucial point in the season with teams locked in either a relegation battle or a push for promotion. Burnley and QPR have been the first casualties of the relegation scrap with as many as five other teams in the mix to join them. Bournemouth and Watford have already sealed their promotion from the Championship to the Premier League for next season. For Bournemouth it is the club’s first time in the Premier League. For Watford, next season will mark its third promotion into the Premier League in the last fifteen years.
The ambition for English clubs to play in the Premier League remains strong, but as strange as it sounds, getting there is the easy part. Staying in the Premier League is the hardest part. Over the last decade there has been a revolving door of teams passing through the Premier League. When you examine the current Championship table you will see no less than seven former Premier League teams in the lower half of the division. Second from bottom is the 2013 FA Cup winners; Wigan and who were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2012-2013 season. It is puzzling to think that a side with enough quality to earn a place in the Premier League and subsequently win the FA Cup would collapse so badly upon relegation.
It begs the question; is the chase for promotion into the Premier League doing clubs more harm than good?
Portsmouth FC is the classic example of what chasing the dream of the Premier League can do to a club. During the tenure of Milan Mandarić as chairman, the club saw investment enabling it to secure promotion into the Premier League in 2003. The club enjoyed success in the form of an FA Cup in the 2007-2008 season and qualification for the UEFA Cup in 2008-2009. However, the club was dogged by changes in ownership and financial problems which eventually contributed to its relegation from the Premier League in 2010, and subsequently its back-to-back relegations leaving it currently residing in League Two.
Portsmouth remains the classic example of how not to get your club into the Premier League. Financial management is the underlying reason for its dramatic fall from grace, the club regularly struggled to pay players wages when its roster included Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe. The common mistake that newly promoted sides make is to franticly spend money on players that they believe will keep them in the Premier League. Only a few days ago it was alleged that Bournemouth were interested in signing striker Dimitar Berbatov from Monaco. Such a move could potentially destabilise a club like Bournemouth and leave them with a gaping hole in their budget as a result of astronomical wages.
The Premier League is undoubtedly a competitive division, but it is disappointing that clubs feel that they have to spend in order to compete with the big boys. In many ways it is perhaps not the Premier League that is the undoing of a club but rather the clubs’ approach to the league. Refreshingly for the last two seasons, Southampton have managed to achieve success in the Premier League without an over-reliance on marquee players. The club has adopted the approach of being shrewd in the transfer market, utilising young players in the senior squad and investing in facilities for their renowned youth academy. It is a sustainable model that provides great football on the pitch and is a lesson that newly promoted sides should take into account.
The German Bundesliga should also stand as a shining example of what clubs can achieve if they invest in youth development and manage their finances astutely. Following the national team’s collapse at Euro 2000, German Football invested £600 million into youth scouting and development and changed the league regulations so that no team would be granted a licence without a youth academy, which also had to meet the exact standards set out by the league. The recent dominance of German football at both club and national level is surely a testament to this approach.
Newly promoted sides should take note, the priority may be to remain in the Premier League but the lessons of the past indicate that without a strong sustainable model for success clubs could be facing more than just a relegation dog fight next summer. Their long term survival could be on the line.
Image Rights; Ingy the Wingy | Flickr