The scenes in Naples over the weekend were astounding. Overtures of Neapolitans flooded the streets in a sea of blue to celebrate the attainment of the evasive Scudetto. The Serie A crowning jewel had evaded the legendary club for 33 years until this week. Drawing with Udinese confirmed the destination of the title, ending an eternity away from the summit of Italian football. A total of 79 points proved the requisite for success, making them untouchable from the rest of the league. If Napoli played in the English Premier League, however, this figure would just about guarantee them Champions League qualification.
A Different Ball Game
This epitomises the sheer disparity between both leagues. Current Premier League leaders Manchester City find themselves four points clear at the top with four games remaining of the season. City is closely pursued by Arsenal on 78 points, the closest competitor this season. Arsenal has adopted the role of chaser that Liverpool Football Club had to settle for over the past five years. The unceremonious responsibility to keep Manchester City honest, ensuring they don’t turn this league into a dictatorial empire of sorts.
Up until the last few weeks, Arsenal had their destiny in their own hands. They have spent 93% of the season at the summit of the league table, being many people’s favourites to end the domination of Manchester City. Arsenal’s charge for the title lasted for eight months and collapsed in the space of three weeks. If Arsenal were to be compared to a boxer, they would be the Rocky Balboa of this story. Manchester City would adopt the role of Ivan Drago. Damaging draws to Liverpool, Southampton and West Ham felt like sucker punches, bringing Arsenal to their knees, with the knockout blow coming in a defeat at the hands of Manchester City themselves.
The reality is, by standards of other leagues and even by the English Premier League standards of old, Arsenal should still be in pole position for the title. However, they are faced with a financially doped juggernaut in Manchester City. The Mancunian club were saved from mid-table mediocrity in 2008 after Sheikh Mansour, owner of Abu Dhabi United Group, completed the acquisition of Manchester City.
Since that fateful day, the Premier League changed forever. Mansour himself has an estimated net worth in excess of $40 billion. This wealth has been acutely invested in turning the football club into an unrelenting monster. Winning everything there is to win domestically, season after season since the acquisition has turned the competitiveness of the league on its head.
Fateful is the perfect adjective for this situation, as Manchester City have made a mockery of the league in more ways than one. They have won everything there is to win, backed by financial wealth unparalleled until recently. Manchester City have also on numerous occasions been accused of allegedly breaching financial fair play (FFP) rules. In February of this year, the Premier League alleged that the club breached over 100 FFP rules in the period between 2009 and 2018. During this time, they won the Premier League three times amongst other domestic honours.
Hopefully, a clear picture has been painted as to the difficulties that Arsenal would have had to overcome to surpass City to the title. Liverpool has fell victim to these same high standards in previous seasons by losing out on the title to Manchester City by one point, on two separate occasions. Liverpool amassed both 92 and 97 points, without clinching the title. Arsenal never stood a chance. Things are only going to get harder, with further investment into the league becoming an unfortunate reality.
In 2021, Newcastle United were purchased for a £300 million fee by a Saudi consortium. In the space of a season, through shrewd managerial appointments and transfer spending, the club have been transformed from relegation contender to Champions League elect. In the space of one season, they are already competing with, and besting, the established clubs of England’s elite.
A dangerous precedent was set by allowing the wealth of middle eastern investors to encroach on the Premier League. With various ethical, moral and legal concerns set aside, it creates a huge financial disparity in the league. Soon, Manchester City and Newcastle will be in a league of their own.
Competition, at What Cost?
To play devil’s advocate, investment breeds competitiveness. Whilst in my view, not the right kind of competitiveness, it nonetheless ensures the best teams in the world will be in the Premier League. City currently is far and away the best footballing superpower on the planet, flashing stars such as Erling Haaland, Jack Grealish and Kevin De Bruyne and are the favourites to finally win the Champions League.
Newcastle has the pockets to match City’s level of investment and compete on the European stage alongside them. Chelsea has also recently been acquired by wealthy American owners, with Manchester United finding themselves close to their own Qatari takeover.
This makes for bleak reading for clubs such as Liverpool and Arsenal. Both operate under the stringent purse strings of owners, having to carefully invest their resources. It is an approach that has brought Liverpool success over the years, but this season’s struggles have showcased it is not sustainable. Arsenal have found this out this season. Whilst still in with an outside chance to win the Premier League, it is highly unlikely. If they played in the Italian league, they would find a league free of financially doped superpowers. A slightly fairer race. Unfortunately, it will have to remain a “what if”, as for now they are stuck under the boot of Manchester City’s financial power.
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