With the start of the English Premiership approaching in a few days, I was recently speaking with a friend about the upcoming season. He said something that not too many of us would have believed ten years ago:
You know, man, Manchester United just isn't the same. We have great players, but the club isn't as big as it once was.
A few years ago, just about every football pundit in the world had claimed that United would somehow ruin soccer because of their purchasing power. Today, one could make the argument that United's prior practices have made soccer in England more competitive.
Last year, United had a second place finish in the Premiership, which isn't a bad year by most standards. But for the Red Devils, it was a bit disappointing considering the multiple championships they have won in the last decade.
It has nothing to do with the club's leadership, because they have one of the game's brightest managerial minds in Sir Alex Ferguson. Nor is talent an issue, especially when you have the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
What is an issue is the trail of bread crumbs United left behind it when creating a plan for success. And no team has followed that trail as successfully as Chelsea FC. In short, Chelsea is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abromovich, and features a projected lineup of players who all started for their respective national teams in the World Cup. Actually, they did more than just start - some of those players were the catalysts for their teams.
But Chelsea isn't alone - Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspurs have also followed United's example.
Granted this has made getting premier players harder for United, but it has made the English Premiership a stronger, more competitive league as a whole. After all, nobody wants a league were one team is dominant, leaving intrigue only in the race for second. This added pressure to attract top talent forces teams to actually go out and spend money in order to improve and compete with their peers.
While this makes the race for first that much more exciting, it also begs an interesting question: What is the next trend that a team will set? Not just in soccer, but in any sport?
Remember, the same thing that I am saying about Manchester United has been said about the New York Yankees in the United States. But now that other teams are spending money to get good talent as well, there is parity in the race for the championship. How will teams now go about separating themselves from the pack?
Manchester United may not have David Beckham or Eric Cantona to power their way to a championship or much else these days, but you have to give the boys in red credit. Because without them, who is to say where soccer in England would be?