For most fans, the uncertainty at the top of the Premier League has made football more exciting than it has been in years. The guarantee that Arsenal, Chelsea, City, United, Liverpool and Spurs will battle for the top six spots is becoming less and less certain, leaving room for upsets such as Leicester’s 2015/16 title win or Norwich’s stunning defeat over champions City at Carrow Road the other week. It has given smaller clubs something they have not had for a long time: hope.
Yet for several big clubs, the outlook is bleak. Although City and Liverpool look set to dominate domestic football for another season, it has been a frustrating start for Spurs, United and Chelsea. Pundits and fans have offered a plethora of theories as to the cause of these teams’ woes, often blaming individual players or managers. But the problem runs much deeper than that. These clubs have lost their way. Instead of developing a strong identity and ethos, clubs have thrown money at their problems in an attempt to fix them.
United, who have fallen into a deep post-Fergie depression, are a shadow of their former selves. The culture at the club under Alex Ferguson, which was demonstrated so strongly by the class of 92 — cohesive and disciplined; formidable yet humble — is no longer present. Instead of rebuilding Fergie’s trophy-winning approach after Moyes, United brought in Mourinho, whose controversial cult-of-personality managerial style could not be further from their traditional club values. Similarly, Spurs have splashed out on a state-of-the-art ground in an attempt to catapult themselves to global success. However, their league cup defeat to Colchester last night is symptomatic of issues which cannot be remedied by flashy facilities.
These big clubs must return to the values that have helped them to achieve historical success, but their boards seem unwilling to invest the time it will take time to rebuild. As is so often the case in modern football (and wider capitalist society), organisations favour quick financial fixes over long-term integrity and character. For City and Liverpool, the cash injections are working. But for how long?