The English Premier League is considered by some to be best in the world so it will be interesting to see how crowds and viewing figures hold up in a season that follows a massive disappointment for the national team in the World Cup. Chelsea are the favourites to win the 2014/15 title but a salient fact is that only two of their current squad of 26 players are eligible to play for England and one of those is John Terry who has retired from international football.
That means when Roy Hodgson looks at the Chelsea squad he can only have Gary Cahill in his thoughts. After the debacle of the World Cup in which England defended poorly even that option may have been eliminated because the England defence was found wanting in Brazil. Jose Mourinho is not concerned that he has so few English players to consider. Ahead of a new season that is the dilemma facing the national sport.
There is a theory that in order for a domestic league to thrive its national team must be performing well in international tournaments. However, the Premier League is dominated by overseas ownership. Bill Kenwright can put on 100 shows a year in the West End but with relatively modest investment Everton will never be able to compete with the teams that regularly qualify for the Champions League.
There is a direct relationship between a club’s wage bill and success on the field. In all the major leagues around Europe the wealthiest teams do best. For example, in Spain Barcelona and Real Madrid are by some way the richest teams in the league. In total these two teams have won La Liga more than twice as many times as all the other side combined.
The best model for combining a strong domestic league with a successful national side is that of Germany. It’s significant that Bayern Munich have a bigger quota of players who are eligible to play for Germany in their squad than any other side in the Bundesliga. Borussia Dortmund have a good mix of overseas and home born players and they are the second best team in Germany.
In the context of the relative strengths of the national side and domestic league England is the best example of how to get things badly wrong. The Premier League is almost a honey pot and everybody wants a piece of the action. The owners of Manchester City are not too bothered if England embarrass themselves every two years. Only six players in the City squad are eligible to play for England.
Glenn Hoddle has identified that while less than 40% of Premier League players can be selected for England the national team will not win the World Cup. At least half of the players registered to play in the Premier League should be eligible for England. Hoddle has the intelligence and reputation to be allowed to introduce this quota if he is ever given a key role in football in England.
However, the parochial nature of the English game and the influence of Sky and BT money on the Premier League means radical changes are unlikely. It is in the interests of the subscription channels to present English soccer as flourishing as long as the Premier League continues to sell satellite systems and broadband. No Premier League chairman will vote for the number of teams in the league to be reduced from 20 to18.
The richest two teams in England are Manchester City and Chelsea and its less than even money that one of them wins the upcoming Premier League. City have been champions in two of the last three seasons and have a squad equal or more powerful to the ones they have had over the last three years. There have been no significant signing but Yana Toure seems to have settled his differences with the club.
Chelsea have again invested heavily over the summer in particular with the purchase of Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid. With Fernando Torres continuing to make a fool of himself and Samuel Eto’o seemingly leaving the Special One is gambling on Costa delivering though he is hedging his bets somewhat by re-signing Didier Drogba.
Manchester United are third favourites but it will take more than a change of manager to rebuild a relatively weak and aging squad. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have left the club so that’s three quarters of the regular defence from the last few years no longer at the club. This will be a big season for Juan Mata who has to start justifying the fee United paid Chelsea for his services.
Arsenal will be looking to build on winning the FA Cup last season as they strive to win the Premier League for the first time since 2004. Theo Walcott will be a key player on return from an injury that kept him out of the World Cup. Jack Wilshere can make the impact his talent justifies as long as he can stay away from pool parties in Las Vegas with Joe Hart.
For Liverpool this season is all about two players, one departed but another still a key member of their squad. Luis Suarez has taken his nastiness and bad habits to Barcelona but Steve Gerrard is very much in the picture after retiring from international football. In a deeper role he will be his side’s ‘quarterback’ for this season at least.
Tottenham have still not recovered from wasting the Gareth Bale money. They invested in quantity not quality but the seven signings from overseas did not gel as a team. T hey have recruited Mauricio Pochettino from Southampton but he is unproven in England with a team with the stature of Tottenham.
The key to Everton’s chances of reaching the Holy Grail of European football that is qualifying for the Champions League is the future of Ross Barkley at Goodison Park. In a great piece of business for Bill Kenwright and Roberto Martinez the best young English player in the Premier League has committed his immediate future to his hometown club.
The four teams at the head of the betting are also the richest in the Premier League and that is the nature of European football in the current era. Its 10/1 bar Chelsea, City, United or Arsenal winning the league but even at that price the four superpowers cannot be ignored in the context of which team will win the Premier League.