Steve Bruce’s Hull score six second-half goals as they move seven points clear of 18th-placed Fulham.
The opening line of this web report on a football match in England tells more about the state of the premier competition than the writer realised.
The premier league has 20 teams, and right now we are exactly half way through the season. A difference of 7 points is not really very large; it is equal to 2 wins and 1 draw. Hull are now in 10th position (right in the middle of the table), and Fulham are in 18th place.
Of the 20 positions in the premier league table, clubs who finish in the bottom 3 positions will be relegated, and at the other end clubs who finish in the top 5 will qualify for next year’s European competitions.
The fact that a team that is now half way up can be described in terms that amount to being part of the relegation battle highlights the fact that the premier league now consists of two competitions, one to qualify for Europe and one to avoid relegation. The competition to qualify for Europe consists of 8 teams (realistically 2 of these are outsiders, but they are maintaing a challenge), and the battle to avoid relegation covers the remaining 12. There appears now to be no in-between zone of clubs who probably can’t reach the top but who are too good to be worried about relegation.
This sounds boring, in that you would really hope a league of 20 clubs would see a larger fraction of this number able to compete for the top rather than having most competing not to be in the bottom 3. In fact this year the top end is more open than usual because three of the habitual top 4 clubs have changed managers and thus have faltered a bit at the start.
The reason why there are two competitions – one for success and one for failure – comes down to money. Some of these top clubs have very rich owner. Moreover, the top clubs have larger crowds and larger fan bases, which bring in income. And finally, money follows success. Qualification for the European competitions brings in a significant income.
Thus the premier league has evolved to a two-state system, which at heart is fundamentally boring. In my lifetime several of the elite 8 clubs have suffered relegation, but it is difficult to see any of the elite 8 now joining the relegation competition or any of the 12 relegation competition clubs joining the elite. This is the consequence of money following success; what in science and technology is called positive feedback.
The inevitable consequence I think is that the elite clubs will need to form a different league, on a European scale, where the money will be greater and where the sense of competition will be more keenly felt.
But at least it is not as bad as in Scotland, where traditionally the elite has always consisted of no more than 2 clubs.