The entire nation of England will be tuned into Moscow on Wednesday on a landmark day for English league football.
It’s historic, but it’s no surprise that Chelsea and Manchester United are the two teams representing England in the final, because along with Liverpool and Arsenal, the “Big Four” has established a big divide between them and the rest of the league.
Four out of the last five years, the Big Four has represented England in the Champions League, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. 2008 was a banner year, as all four advanced to the quarterfinal stage, and now the stage is set for a final in which an English club is guaranteed to be crowned champions of Europe
Manchester United and Chelsea are two of the highest-spending clubs in Europe, and will always stay in contention because they can simply buy the best talent.
Liverpool is not too far behind. In spite of its squabbling owners, Rafa Benitez shelled out 26 million pounds for superlative striker Fernando Torres, who proved himself to be worth every bit of that staggering amount this season. One can only foresee the Reds’ budget substantially increasing if Dubai International Capital (DIC), the investment arm of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, succeeds in gaining ownership from the current bumbling owners.
The only Big Four team that looked vulnerable prior to the season was Arsenal, because Arsene Wenger prefers to spend on a budget, and had shed many of his star players in recent years. When talismanic striker and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry was sold to Barcelona this past summer, many thought it would be a rebuilding year for the Gunners.
But Wenger has a keen eye for young talent, and his tyro squad surprised everyone by leading the league for a majority of the season. They also made an impact in the Champions League, knocking out holders AC Milan on the way to the quarterfinals.
Now, Arsenal has the most promising future of the Big Four, because of its talented group of youngsters—a group that certainly will improve as they mature.
Of course, the Gunners can always use the finances derived from being the third-richest club in Europe to their advantage, just in case they ever need to pony up some cash.
Tottenham was supposed to challenge for a Champions League spot this year, but the Spurs were mired in the relegation zone until Juande Ramos took over as manager. Ramos succeeded in bringing Spurs out from the abyss, and won the Carling Cup—upsetting Chelsea in the final.
But even with Ramos, Spurs finished in the middle of the standings, and will need to spend large sums on defenders in the summer to even think about competing with the Big Four.
The only club that mounted a challenge to the established hierarchy was Everton, who fought Liverpool for the fourth and final Champions League spot for much of the year. But the Toffees couldn’t keep up with the Reds at the end, because they simply did not have the talent to match Liverpool.
This is not an insular problem in England, it is seen throughout Europe’s other leagues. Barcelona and Real Madrid have split the last four La Liga titles, and Olympique Lyonnais has reeled off an incredible seven straight Ligue 1 titles. But no other league features four teams that have established a consistent stranglehold on the standings.
The Premier League is already the most lucrative and popular league in the world. Can you imagine how much more exciting it would be if more than four teams were challenging for the title each year?
Tomorrow is a historic day for English football, but the day a team outside of the Big Four wins the Premier League will truly be an occasion to savour.