The Damage of the top 4




With just over 1 month left of the 12/13 Premier League season remaining and with the title race all but sewn up by Manchester United, the subject of who will finish 4th seems to be one of the most talked about in newspapers, on skysports news and by the Twitter football fraternity. Arsene Wenger has already stated many times that a top 4 finish is worth more than a trophy. Brendan Rogers believes Liverpool are capable of finishing 4th and Chelsea fans are worried that Benitez could lead them to 5th place….or even worse. All this talk, hype and hope over finishing 4th. Am I the only one who finds this a bit strange? 4th place?

The reason there is so much hope of this 4th place finish is of course, the fact that it brings the opportunity of Champions League football, playing against Europe’s elite, some serious money (near enough £100 million) and the ability to lure the worlds best players to your club. Sounds fair enough, that’s a lot of money and who wouldn’t want to have the best players? My issue however is that who will finish 4th is now even more of a talking point than who will finish 1st. Clubs spend millions trying to get to the promised land. Some succeed, Spurs being a good example of a side that has slowly built and improved whilst retaining the core of their squad and are now expected to be in the top 4 year after year. There is another side of the coin however. For every club that makes it, there’s another who gets so close, to then only see the millions spent in trying to get there wasted, fans lose patience, boards sack managers and this can create a spiral that not only damages the club but adds further impatience to an already expectant fan base.

Liverpool have not been in the Champions League since 2009. Since then the club have spent over £185 million on players (yes, a large pony tailed chuck of that was on one player) yet find themselves in pretty much the same position as they did when Rafa Benitez left. Everton nearly made it and ever since all that is ever spoken about is whether they might nearly make it again. David Moyes guided them to 4th once, they didn’t qualify for the group stages after losing to Villarreal and since then every season for them and Moyes is linked to that question of “can they break the top 4?” In fact, Moyes continues to be touted as a possible successor to Sir Alex Ferguson, despite having no real success as a manager… other than of course, that one top 4 finish.

As the Premier League grows more and more predictable, with the dominance of Manchester ever more boring and the interest in the F.A cup and even more so the League cup increasingly low, that fourth place finish has suddenly become the holy grail for teams. An achievement more important than a trophy? How?

Champions League football is fantastic, there is no denying that. The worlds best players pitting themselves against one another, the underdog conquests such as Celtic Vs Barcelona and the occasional big shock, again Celtic Vs Barcelona! But….. the Champions League should be just that; the Champions of each league. Not a team who finished 4th, in some cases 20+ points behind the 1st and 2nd place finishers. This is a view that many hold, fans, broadcasters and pundits. The money the Champions League generates for clubs and UEFA however, means the likelihood of the competition reverting to the days of only top 2 finishers competing, seem very unlikely. I certainly doubt we will ever see this.

My personal view is perhaps a little tinted as my own club Aston Villa are now suffering the after effects of a failed attempt at a 4 top finish. Under the guidance of Martin O’Neill, Villa spent £120 million in just 4 years, only to finish 6th three times in a row and are now staring the very real and very likely prospect of relegation in the face. Having flirted with the top 4 and even at one stage being within touching distance of the top 2, Villa now find themselves languishing in the bottom 3 with the leagues worst goal difference. All as a result of over spending in an attempt to reach the promised land. Martin O’Neill left as he didn’t get assurances the money would keep coming and since then, managers have come and gone, the teams best players have left – all for clubs playing in Europe and their fans could well be watching next season’s highlights at 11.30pm, after ‘Match of the Day’ has finished and premier league club supporters have gone to bed. Villa are perhaps the most recent victims of their own over expectancy. We’ve seen it happen with Leeds United, semi finalists of the Champion’s League themselves in 2001, they almost went bankrupt, numerous times following a similar pattern of overspending, huge player contracts, coupled with a generally poor running of the club by it’s owners. The pursuit of playing with Europe’s elite very nearly ending the clubs ability to continue running.

As a child, in sports days or any competition, can you ever remember anyone hoping to finish 4th? In anything? The sack race, an egg and spoon race, the long jump? I really feel that the 4th place spot has not only made the Premier League worse but it has had a terrible effect on supporters. Ticket prices nowadays are absolutely insane! Arsenal and Chelsea fans in particular are charged well over £60 a game in some cases and that’s home games, let alone away matches. These prices are in place because of the cost of trying to maintain a top 4 finish or regain one is so high. Player wages being by far the biggest output of clubs. The likes of Gervinho at Arsenal earning £50,000 a week. Enough to give supporters nightmares!

Chelsea have spent over £1 billion since Roman Abramovic bought the club. They’ve won league titles, F.A cups and last season, somehow, they achieved Roman’s dream of winning the Champion’s League. This season, they may well not even finish 5th! All that money spent, all those managers sacked, all those players bought and what he was really after was a European Trophy. Which eventually, he got his hands on. It’s almost as if Roman didn’t care about the league once it had been won a few times. He sacks managers because a Champion’s League spot might not be achieved, not because they haven’t won the league. He sacks them even if they have won the league! I find that ridiculous.

I am always curious as to Liverpool fans views on this. Would you prefer to be competing in the Champion’s League every season, at the expense of not winning silverware at home or pushing Manchester United all the way in the League? Personally, that season when Liverpool finished 2nd under Rafa Benitez, when Torres was… well, Torres and the derby games between United and Liverpool made a difference to the title race; that was the best Premier League season I can remember. Better than last years last minute Manchester drama. Why? Because the league mattered so much to them! Like it should always matter. But does the league matter any more? Does Arsene Wenger begin the season hoping to finish 1st, or at least 4th? Nobody enters any competition, hoping to finish 4th surely?

If Spurs don’t finish 4th, Gareth Bale will probably leave. Either for Manchester or somewhere in Spain. The lure of Champion’s League football being his main reason, wanting to play against the best in the world. Fair enough. But I think Spurs, with a few key signings could make a serious title challenge next season. Why would you not stay and try to win the league rather than leave to win a European competition? The league should always matter.

Despite what SkySports will tell you, the Premier League is no longer the strongest league in the world. It’s competitiveness has faded away to be replaced by a predictable and at times boring sequence of results. Germany and once again Italy could now argue they have the best leagues in the world. What the premiership needs is for Arsenal and Liverpool to begin competing again. For Manchester to not be the only battle that needs to be won. We need a top 6 who could really win the league. I’d love to see clubs focus on building a squad to challenge for the title rather than one which may qualify for Europe over an over again without doing much else.

I do think the top 4 is damaging. To be considered a champion in Europe, you should be first be respected for being a champion at home. Or at least trying to be one! Not a 4th place finisher. To me, it just doesn’t make sense. Teams should want to win the league but also believe it can happen. I know every season Arsenal fans must think that ‘this is going to be the year we challenge’ but by December, after another poor start and the focus from Wenger yet again being a top 4 finish, the interest in the league fades and the inevitable ‘it”ll be next year’ thoughts start again.

Imagine the last month of a season where Manchester United and City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool, are all still able to think about lifting the Premier League trophy. Rather than it all be over with 10 games to go. Now that would be worth paying £60 a week to go and watch! But it wont ever happen, not whilst 4th is considered more of an achievement than 1st.

About the author:

Follow him on twitter:@afansopinion

I’m a 25yr old Dad of 2 boys. Enjoy writing about various football topics when I have some free time. Non biased Villa fan. In love with Andi Weimann. I’m no expert, these are just my thoughts, just a fans opinion, on the latest goings on, in the sometimes, not so beautiful game.

Appreciate you reading my thoughts. Any feedback or comments are always welcome.

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