Proof of the unrelenting entertainment offered by the Premier League is borne out by its receipt of roughly £5bn after the global tender for television rights to broadcast the action for the next three years. No other country’s domestic fare can equal the reach of this remarkable ‘brand’, screened as it is in 212 territories worldwide.
What’s more is that the level of media investment, even in financially straitened times, is growing exponentially. When the Premier League concept was launched amid much fanfare in 1992, Sky TV paid what at that time was a mind-blowing £304m for exclusive rights to cover matches for the inaugural five years of the competition. Along with BT’s input – they have secured a deal to show 38 fixtures per campaign from next term – Sky’s spend on their latest package accounts for 60% of the astronomical total heading the way of top-flight clubs between 2013 and 2016.
These sums wouldn’t be spent unless those parting with the cash were sure that what they are purchasing is a bulletproof ‘product’. Of that there is little doubt. There is no league in the world able to compete with England’s top-tier for the compelling storylines it provides on an almost daily basis.
The soap opera that is played out through the country’s 24-hour sports channels, ubiquitous football phone-in and chat programmes, and the written and social media, is broadly complemented by riveting combat on the pitch. That was especially true as Manchester City captured their first title for 44 years in May, and has continued into this goal-laden season.
What is up for debate however, is the standard of football on display in England’s foremost league. The most rudimentary method of comparing the relative strengths of Europe’s elite divisions is to analyse the success of their representatives at the highest level of competition. Regardless of Chelsea’s – still jaw-dropping – triumph in Munich, our clubs are coming up short in this most exalted sphere.
City’s limp offering as they concluded their miserable Champions League group with an insipid 1-0 defeat against a weakened but superior Borussia Dortmund consigned them to history as the worst English performers at this stage of the competition since a group phase was first introduced in 1991. Their three point return was entirely commensurate with displays across six matches.
Roberto Mancini’s team are unrecognisable from the swashbuckling outfit who couldn’t stop scoring and looked virtually unbeatable little more than a year ago. Indeed, when they went to Old Trafford in October 2011 and tore their bitter rivals Manchester United to shreds on the way to a 6-1 victory, the result and nature of the display seemed to confirm not only a cross-city power shift, but the beginning of an era in which the Citizens would dominate the landscape of English football.
Within months, City were showing a vulnerability away from home and eventually staggered over the line with Sergio Aguero’s championship winning strike and a chunky assist from United who squandered the late season advantage they had striven so hard to gain.
As each game passes this season, the impression grows that rather than improve from a position of strength, the Eastlands club have, at best, stood still. Javi Garcia is a downgrade on Nigel De Jong as a holding midfielder. This has a particularly unwelcome dual effect on the side, as without a player in whom the manager has complete trust to operate in that vital role he continues to turn to Yaya Toure in the position, so denying his team the extra attacking thrust they undoubtedly possess when the reins are taken off the towering Ivorian.
The underwhelming Adam Johnson was allowed to depart the Etihad but has been replaced by Scott Sinclair, a man in whom Mancini has a similar lack of faith. There is no Evertonian who would have been surprised by Jack Rodwell’s utterly bland start to his City career and subsequent injury absence. It is difficult to fathom what Maicon’s arrival is expected to add to the unit.
Having initially needed to spend vast sums in a short period of time after the Abu Dhabi takeover of the club in order to make up considerable ground on the Premier League’s established powerhouses, there now appears a lack of clarity in City’s transfer policy.
Particularly vexing for Mancini is his side’s loss of potency in front of goal. Much of that problem may be attributed to the fatigue being experienced by their talismanic playmaker, David Silva. The Spaniard was key to City when they were performing with such a swagger and strut 12 months ago. Like his team, Silva’s form tailed off as the season wore on and, after spending the summer playing a prominent part in his nation’s Euro 2012 success, he has yet to rediscover his zest while also suffering with hamstring troubles.
Against this backdrop, City have been exposed in Europe, yet remain undefeated in the Premier League and lie in second place just three points behind their neighbours. This speaks of an admirable resilience, but also a lack of competition when they return to these shores.