English Premier top four's "unhealthy" domination

"Breaking into the top four. That is the quest, nay, the obsession, of the Premier League's middle reaches. Muscle into the quartet which dominates English football and, so the theory goes, you, too, can be part of the elite. Barcelona and Milan will be regular visitors, every kid in China will want the replica shirt, and Samuel Eto'o's agent will be on the phone. This is the promise that seduces millionaires and billionaires from America to Iceland, Thailand to Hong Kong. Never before has so much money been spent in an attempt to finish fourth," wrote Glenn Moore in the Independent.

In the two other countries which send four clubs into the UEFA Champions League, Spain divided their places among nine clubs, Italy seven. But the English big four dominate their football to an unprecedented and unhealthy extent. In the last five seasons only six clubs have finished in the top four, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United every year, Liverpool three times. Everton and Newcastle made one appearance each, and both failed to take the extra, lucrative, step and qualify for the group stage. Compare this hegemony to the last five seasons of the Football League, then 11 clubs finished in the top four, none of them every year. Among them were clubs of limited resources such as Norwich and Crystal Palace. Diversity used to be a strength of the English game. In that same period (1987-92) only seven different clubs finished in the top four in Spain, eight in Italy.

"And what was the situation 50 years ago, when Wolves' floodlit triumphs against the likes of Real Madrid, Dynamo Moscow and Honved began the process which led to the European Cup, then the Champions League? Between 1952-57 a dozen clubs finished in the top four of the old First Division. Not that anyone except the champions celebrated. In those days fourth really was nowhere. Now, for much of the Premier League, it represents Nirvana," Moore concluded.

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