“In soccer, money is destiny,” Brian Phillips wrote in 2011. “And destiny’s not distributed equally.”
At its best, the Premier League is an exhilarating spectacle sustained in part by a moneyed elite that spends millions on superstar players. At its worst, the Premier League feels like a lame excuse for the moneyed elite to play for more money. In the early 1990s, English clubs broke away from the old Football League and formed their own competition designed to realize the commercial potential of a new, streamlined league that would fully embrace live television. Since then, a small band of financially empowered teams has dominated. Sometimes they’re a “Big Four;” sometimes they’re a “Big Three;” once in a while they’re even a “Big Five.” While those clubs vie for major honors, the rest of the Premier League invents and then competes in a series of phony battles, the most notable of which is “The Battle To Avoid The Drop” and the most banal “The Battle To Finish In The Top Ten If, By April, We’re Too Good For The Drop But Not Good Enough For Europe.”
Occasionally, it’s possible for traditionally weak teams to break into the top tier; however, such maneuvers require the type of money that Chelsea, traditionally a promising but never truly successful club, has enjoyed since 2003, when Russian billionaire and celebrity yacht-owner Roman Abramovich decided, virtually on a whim, that he rather liked Stamford Bridge. After a couple of seasons of steady investment, self-proclaimed “Special One” Jose Mourinho secured Abramovich’s team the Premier League title. And last year, after numerous failed attempts, Chelsea became the first London club to win the Champions League, or European Cup — as it was known before a certain fascination with the green stuff necessitated a rebranding.