In the 2010-2011 campaign Manchester City broke the tripartite cauldron that has mainly consisted of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool since the 1998/1999 season. Apart from a couple of exceptions for a season each – Leeds United in 2000 and Newcastle United in 2003 – they are the four clubs that have consistently finished in the top three. The positions may have changed hands each campaign, but it has been more or less the very same teams occupying those spots every season. Alex Ferguson’s United side’s have been in its vicinity for twenty seasons on the trot dating back to the 1991/1992 campaign! The number of clubs that have broken into this triad since 1999 has declined in comparison to the decades since the post-war period.
There were only six different clubs that finished in the top-three in the 2000’s compared to thirteen in the 1990’s, 1980’s, 1970’s, twelve in the 1960’s and eleven in the 1950’s. The teams finishing in one of these privileged positions were so much more varied in these decades. Take a look at some examples from the 1990’s. In the first five season’s, starting from 1989/1990, only Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester United featured more than once – the team from Merseyside finished as champions and runners-up in 1989/1990 and 1990/1991 respectively, Villa were runners up in both 1989/1990 and 1992/1993 whilst United came second in 1991/1992 and then top of the pile in the two campaigns preceding that.
All the other clubs that managed to break into the top three from 1990 to 1994 did so only once. They are as follows: Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday, Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers. A far more varied array of teams than the ones from the previous decade I’m sure you’ll agree.
There was no seasoned ‘big four’ that were consistently at the top challenging for the league championship around this time or the decades before them, but why has the competition for the title or at least a place in the top three dwindled so significantly?
One of the reasons may be that teams can rarely gel with each other as a different man comes in with new ideas an average of every twelve to eighteen months unlike in days gone by when managers were given more time to get to know their team and incorporate a style that best suits the players that they have at their disposal. Another factor may be money. Despite what many people say, I think it’s a good thing that City have broken the mould as it’s refreshing to see a new name near the top of the table just like it was a pleasure to see Tottenham, who even though not quite breaking into the top three, managed to edge themselves into the top four bringing with it Champions League football last year.
These two examples have given everyone a kick up the backside at a time when it was becoming a bit stale at the top. I’m not so keen on teams becoming a billionaire’s toy, but there’s no doubt that their ascensions are breathing new life into other clubs as well as themselves; just look at the way that City’s neighbours United have splashed out this summer; they know that not only do they have to fight off Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs, but they also have to contend with Roberto Mancini’s City side who are arguably one of the biggest danger’s to Ferguson’s men and who will surely attempt to rebuild year after year in striving to get bigger and better.